Mist slid down the treetops of the valley side and hung like thick smoke over a slithering ravine. A clatter echoed across the gap when loose stones came tumbling from a precarious mountain path; having been tipped over the edge by a careless rider.
“Watch yourself Gallagher, or you'll be tumbling for quite a while.” Said a Mounty from beneath his wide brimmed Stetson.
Gallagher nodded, and then cast a nervous glance over the ledge. Shaw, the Mounty, wasn't lying. Beneath them was a several hundred meter drop into bright evergreens poking through a dense morning fog. Gallagher's heart jumped into his throat every time he fought reason and dared to let his eyes wander over the precipice. He'd much rather keep his eyes on the path, or what Shaw seemed to think was a path. The moss and undergrowth that dominated the crag along the valley wall was not what he expected when Shaw said that it had not been used in some time.
Shaw peered through the fog as the path began a steep descent. “We're nearly there now.” He said, tugging at the Sam Browne that pulled his red tunic tightly against his waist. “We'll follow the stream up the valley for a while. Do you need a break?”
Gallagher shook his head. “No sir, thank you. I'm no stranger to mountainous terrain.”
Shaw faced ahead and chuckled. “Alright.”
Though he wore a double breasted vest, his suit jacket having been taken off due to heat a few miles back, Gallagher was not lying about his knowledge of similar terrain. After all, he came from what his Daddy still called the California Republic. The state had been admitted into the Union when his father was just a baby, but there was some form of pride in the family that seemed to mean the Gallagher's never quite gave in to this whole “United States” trend. This made it a little uneasy for the young man when he became a U.S. Marshal just before the turn of the century. Suffice to say, he was not on speaking terms with the old man.
As the two riders broke into the treeline and through the fog, the slapping of water against rock could be heard.
“We'll take a break here.” Shaw said, bringing his horse to the stream.
“With all due respect sir, I don't need a rest.”
Shaw looked up at the man, his clean cut appearance did not suit the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. “My horse needs water.”
“Ah, I see.” Gallagher said, nodding uncomfortably. “I meant no disrespect.”
“I know.” Shaw replied, walking the horse through the dense brush that separated them from the cold water.
“How far now you reckon?”
“Oh.” Shaw looked upstream. “Maybe a half hour. You know, you don't have to do this.”
“Yes I do sir. The man owes us enough. I think this little request won't be so difficult for him to oblige.”
“There's a reason he lives up here.”
Shaw nodded. “Alright then.” He said, leading his horse back out from the brush and mounting up. “Let's get to it.”
In less time than expected, they reached a small ranch nestled in the depths of the valley. At the gate, Shaw stopped. “I'll ask you one last time, are you sure about this?”
“Yes sir, I am.” He said, riding forward. It took him a few minutes to realize the Mounty had stayed behind. “You coming?” He shouted.
“Nope.” he said, his rifle drawn. “You're on your own. I'll wait for you here to guide you back to the outpost.”
Gallagher nodded and faced the ranch once more, a stab of fear piercing his heart. The man who owned this land was the fastest gun in the west. In his prime they called him Fast Eddy, sometimes Fast Steady. Gallagher heard the stories from his predecessors in the Marshal's, this man was a hurricane; a stone cold killer. A stone cold killer that one day found God and decided he'd begin repenting for all the sins of his life. Here, on this ranch, was a man who could shoot anybody. As a matter of fact he did just that for a good while.