The Ride of the Impossible PosseMature

Up until 10:14 on the morning of May 9, 1880, the sheriff of Candelaria thought he had a pretty good job. There'd be the occasional drunken miner to run out of town on the odd Saturday night, and a couple of scrapping Slovanians to settle pretty much every day of the week, but otherwise Charles Chase had a peaceful town.

Even when Billy the Kid rode through in January.

"I hope you're just stopping by, Kid," Chase had told him at the Wagonwheel Saloon. "We don't hold much with gunplay around here."

The newcomer was all skin and bones and sneer, sitting at the back table with only a bottle of whisky for company.

"Just passing," the Kid had said, looking up through eyes made stone by sun and killing.

"Welcome to," Chase had smiled. He gestured with his chin at the half-empty bottle. "Next one's on me."

"Just passing," repeated the Kid.

He'd rode out the same night.

"I hear the Kid's up near Stinky Wells," said Felix now, as the big clock gonged ten from the the corner of Chase's tiny office.

"Right place for him," answered the sheriff, who was fussing with a wobbly rivet on his gun belt.

"Garrett'll find 'im," suggested the part-time deputy. He was bigger than most Mexicans, with arms the size and texture of cacti, and a belly swollen like a buffalo hump. He was working today because the men from Kerrit's Mining and Surveying Company delivered the safebox to the assayer's office on Mondays, and two officers of the law were always better than one.

"Find 'im? Find 'imself looking down a gun barrel, more likely," said Chase absent-mindedly.

Felix snorted a laugh that tapered first into a rustling chuckle, then swelled to a ripe cough that shook his jowls.

"Damned dust," he wheezed.

Chase yawned mightily and looked up at his deputy. In the little white light seeping through the lone window, Felix was slightly blurred by the thin tawny veil that hung over all of Candelaria.

The lawmen's companionable silence was shattered by a sudden staccato spit of gunfire.

While scrambling to his feet and fastening his gun belt, Chase looked at the clock. 10:14.

"Too damn early for Kerrit's. What the hell, Felix?" he shouted, heading for the door.

The big man was right behind him as they stepped out into the full blast of Nevada sun. Shouts and screams were coming from the slight rise at the near end of Candelaria's only street, and Chase pulled his gun and loped in that direction. Felix followed at a lumbering walk.

It took the sheriff slightly more than a minute to reach the home of Ned Blevine, the mine supervisor. His wife Mable stood screaming at the foot of the front stairs, looking to the north.

"They took my Becky. My Becky. That way, Sheriff," she screeched as he approached. Her arms were waving wildly.

The house was the town's newest and, behind her, Chase could see it sweating pine resin in the desert heat.

"They shot Ned. They took my Becky. He's in there," she sobbed.

Chase turned and called to Felix to fetch a doc. A hundred feet behind, the deputy stopped, drew great gulps of dusty air, and turned back to the main street. Chase took the three front steps in one stride, and strode through the gaping front door with his Colt at the ready.

"Ned. Ned," he called out loudly, "Law's here."

Blevine lay like a rag doll in the kitchen corner. Blood seeped steadily from a wound high on the right side of his chest and his pants bore a tattered round circle above his left knee.

"Bastards. Bastards," muttered the mine supervisor brokenly through clenched teeth.

"Who was it, Ned?" asked the sheriff.

"Dunno, Charles. One guy; maybe I've seen him at the saloon. Big droopy moustache. The other two. I don't know. They took my Becky."

"I know, Ned. I know," said Chase. "Doc's on the way. You'll be all right. We're going after them."

He ran back outside, where Mable had sunk to her knees and was beating at the hot sand with her fists.

"Did you see the colour of the horses, May?" he asked.

"My Becky. My Becky. My Becky," she answered, bringing up a small swirl of sand with every beat. He grabbed her thin shoulders and brought his face inches from hers.

"The horses, May. I need to know. We're going after them. What colour were the horses?"

"One dun. One pinto. One chestnut," she stammered before wrestling herself free and falling to the ground with a gasping cry.

As Chase ran back to town, he passed Dr. Willard and Felix hurrying towards the Blevine house. He stopped them and briefly described Ned's injuries to the doctor, who already smelled of gin.

"Felix," he said as the doctor hustled off, "I'm going to the office to get a kit together. We're going to need a posse."

His deputy nodded mutely. Sweat was pouring off him in rivulets. Chase hacked another lungful of scorched dust, and spoke as evenly as he could. His peaceful town had never rounded up a posse.

"Get to the livery and bring some good horses to the office. Then bring me some men. It's gotta be quick."

"But who, Charles?" asked the deputy. He had the eyes of a whipped puppy.

The question was a good one. The miners were all busy cajoling silver from the hills of rock and sand at Argente, and every other man in town was either old, sick with Miner's Consumption, or running the saloon or assayer's office.

Except, thought the sheriff.

Except

"Three strangers came into town the last three days. They're at the hotel," he said quickly. "Get them. Tell 'em there's pay."

Felix wheezed a long raspy breath.

"And you've got to stay here, Felix," said Chase. "The Kerrit men are coming,"

Felix nodded his big damp head.

"And there's not too many horses would cart you around the countryside anyway," added the sheriff. "Do it now, Felix. Quickly."

The two lawmen - one wiry and quick, and the other immense and slow - headed for town at very different gaits.

The End

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