'The Haulage'

By Phineas Redux


Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, Deputies and lovers in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, take part in a well devised security operation that, it transpires, involves more effort and difficulty than they imagined.

Note 01:— Phoenix, Arizona, was only incorporated in 1868, and had few inhabitants for years after and no Bank till 1878, but this tale is a fantasy after all and so I have followed the concept of an already generally thriving Wild West fictional township rather than reality.

Note 02:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.

Copyright:— copyright ©2024 Phineas Redux. All characters are wholly fictitious representations, and the overall local geography may be questionable, too.


Leverstone Margitson Rowlands was a man who had gotten to where he wanted to be, reached his pinnacle, done right by himself, left the losers in his dust; in short, he owned his own Bank, that of the Arizona National of that Ilk, offices in Tucson, El Paso, Phoenix, Firbank, and Red Flume, Territory of Arizona. On this sprightly morning of September, 187-, he strode into the Sheriff's Office of the latter township with all the authority inherent in a person of such grandeur—in short, he didn't knock.

"What's the emergency?" Henrietta Knappe, famous bear hunter and now Deputy, not impressed by his sudden influx while she was preparing to take a pre-masticatory nap,—before lunch!

"It's that time o'yar agin!" Lever, as he liked to be addressed, nodding officiously, scrabbling in a pocket of his silk suit for a cigar.

Henrietta, not quite yet on the ball, screwed her eyes tight to better observe the state of her visitor, who had now drawn from his inside jacket pocket said cigar; an item in itself so large in circumference and long it resembled a Colt Walker .44.

"Which'd thet be, partner?" She knowing full-well to whom she spoke, and not meaning to kow-tow in the slightest.

Having drawn his magnificent Bernardino QX cigar Lever now spent a substantial time biting off the tip, and lighting it with a lucifer match that itself filled the room with noxious fumes before he was satisfied.

"What be thet last question? Didn't quite ketch it's drift."

Henrietta sighed mournfully.

"Cotton in yer ears, or what? What yer want, Lever?"

"Y'ever thought Time, as Time, goes by mighty fast?" Lever puffing clouds of pale blue smoke around him like clouds forming on a stormy day. "Quick, even? Sometimes slow as molasses, I allows, sometimes fast's a floodin' mountain stream? It's time fer the next Haulage, is what, Harry!"

This did catch the Deputy's attention.

"Oh, no!"

"Sure, as the President's You Know Who!" Lever certain of his purposes. "Startin' h'yar, in Red Flume, then takin' in, in alphabetical order, Firbank, Penhampton, Reid's Bend, Matlock, Wolf Rock, an', final, Phoenix. Give yer a printed schedule t'morrer."

"When's it fire-off?"

"Nex' Tuesday, ten-thirty, mornin' sharp."

Digging in the drawer of the desk where she sat Henrietta found a slip of paper and a pen and ink bottle.

"OK, lem'me write this down. So, next Tuesday?"


"How much?"

"Startin' h'yar, with twenty thou, goin' on ter Firbank fer another twenty thou, then Penhampton fer fifteen thou, then Reid's Bend fer ten thou, Matlock fer eighteen thou, Wolf Rock fer twelve thou, an' so t'Phoenix."

Henrietta had been hastily scribbling as her visitor spoke now, catching up, she glanced over at him with a beady eye.

"What state's all this dough gon'na be in?"

"From h'yar, half an' half, gold dust an' paper money." Lever brightening-up considerably, puffing away like a forest fire out of control but smiling bravely through it. "Much the same fer the other stops, except fer Reid's Bend which'll be all dust."

"An' comin' back from Phoenix?"

"Ah, waal, thar ye be, sure!" Lever being somewhat hazy.

Henrietta raised her eyebrows, waiting on her visitor's pleasure.

"From Phoenix we'll be startin' back with a quarter of a million in dust, gold bar, an' mostly paper!"

"F-ck me!" Henrietta caught off-guard by this huge sum sprung on her out of the blue semi-fog now encircling Lever, itself threatening to take over the whole room in its miasmic roamings. "We'll need a dam' army of security!"

"Figure thirty, fer sure, not less, yeah." Lever nodding in agreement. "Was thinkin' of takin' on a buggy rebuilt t'take a Gatlin' Gun! Still thinkin' about same; tell ye in a few days if'n it'll come t'anythin'."

Henrietta found her propensity to raise or lower her eyebrows severely strained by the level of information not of the good sort now being flung in her direction.

"I'll be dam'med!"

Lever was up for this, though.

"Never fear, ma'am! I mean, who'd be stupid enuff ter hit the Haulage, well guarded as I dam' well mean it t'be! Why, only fools, o'course!"

The fact that Henrietta could, off the cuff, think of at least four large outlaw gangs in the general neighborhood, and some five other individual robbers who were crazy enough to think a lone attack not out of bounds, was now setting fair to spoil the rest of her day.

"I'll tell Sheriff Donaldson when he returns in an hour or so."

"Good-good!" Lever perfectly happy that he had spread the news to all who mattered. "Well, be on my way. I'll be in Phoenix next Tuesday, t'oversee the changeover thar, o'course. See ya there, bright as Spring chickens, eh?"

"Yeah, sure, bye! Leave the door open as yer leaves, thanks."


The afternoon War Conference, in the newly aired Sheriff's Office, took all the attention of the inmates there. Henrietta had given all the detail Lever had passed on; Sally Nichols, don't ask what she did before becoming a Deputy, but now a Deputy and lover of Henrietta, and Sheriff Charles Donaldson; himself an old hand at keeping Law and Order in the region from the far distant days when you just needed to ambuscade a criminal from hiding, shoot him to pieces then claim self-defence to these heady days of Modern Regulated Law but less fun.

"How many's Lever bringin' t'the clam-bake?" Charles morose as all get-out.

"Ten himself on his own cognisance, but figgers we ought'a look t'aroun' thirty at least in toto." Henrietta consulting her notes.

"Need a deal more'n thet!" Sally frowning darkly over the logistics of the forthcoming event.

Henrietta and Charles gave the young Deputy a passing glance each.

"We kin corral, oh, some ten others, I'm thinkin'."

"Fair, Charlie, but still not enuff." Henrietta facing the reality of the problem. "I'm thinkin' thirty more'n thet, jes' t'be safe, y'know."

"Where'd we git an army thet big?" Sally all at sea.

But Charles rose to head the vanguard like the hero he was.

"We telegraph t'all an' sundry, sendin' scouts out afoot ter grab the locals—especial thet thar latter! Citizens round h'yar wants a strong Law, let 'em take part themselves, see how they likes bein' on the ground with bullets whizzin' past their ears every thirty seconds! Show 'em, at least, what we goes through most or'nary days; wake 'em up some, meb'be."

"Keepin' it secret long's we kin, as usual?"

Charles regarded Sally with an even more mournful expression.

"Never has stayed secret, in the end. Meb'be we git two, three, days if'n we're lucky; but after thet it's all comers in the publicity racket."

"Includin' the dam' weekly rags." Henrietta nodding, as from past experience. "Just as well the Red Flume Scout ain't a daily! Might get away with it till the day a'fore we heads on out!"

Sally had been concentrating on another aspect of the preparation, however.

"What about this proposal, by Lever, of takin' a dam' Gatling along fer the ride? Think sich'll happen?

"Fun n'games if sich does turn up!" Donaldson snorting with a degree of contempt. "Those things fires-off, everybody an' their gran'mas'll have ter look t'cover; they, Gatlin's, layin' a swathe across the whole landscape entire, come who thar may-be aroun'!"

"Never seen one go-off a'fore." Sally pulling a face redolent of a deep wish to see just that.

"Saw one in action down t'El Paso, yars gone-by." Henrietta pushing her memory to its limits. "Fired-off like a tornado roarin' down on a wheatfield, scared all the hosses within half a mile, most o'the spectators too; near a full-on riot, several injured in the rush ter get out'ta the firin'-line, it slidin' sideways out'ta control o'the handler some excitin' fer the nearby crowd—think, in the end, six folks got hit by bullets."

"What happened?" Sally all ears.

"What happened?" Henrietta assuming a tone of contempt. "What happened? It was El Paso, back in the wild days, dear! Nuthin' happened, o'course! Everyone jes' went home wiser an' sorrier folks than when they'd clambered out'ta bed thet mornin, an' thet was it!"

"Got a mighty strong mind t'taboo said machine, if'n brought out at all by dam' Lever!" Charles asserting his authority. "Danger t'all an' sundry, never mind it's defensive natur'."

Henrietta was already sailing along on another course.

"What about pullin' thet stunt we had on the last Haulage, six month since?"

Charles and Sally turned interested faces to their friend and soulmate.

"What, precise, would thet've bin?" Charles raising a shaggy brow; pretending to search through his foggy memory.

"Gettin' in touch with one of the Gangs, Tim Vibarts it were las' time, an' givin' 'em a percentage o'the take t'act as defenders fer us instead o'attackers!" Henrietta shrugging casually as she brought the subject up. "Worked with Tim, he took the two thou with a smile an' did fine when Frank Carter an' his gang tried t'ambush us jes' outside'a Jenkin's Folly thet time."

A quietude settled, like swamp gas, on the trio in the small office as this idea percolated their consciousness's.

"Yeah, well, gim'me time ter think on it." Charles hesitating to make an instant decision. "Y'know what trouble we had las' time over Lever wantin' nuthin' ter do with shellin' out sich an enormous amount o'cash. Said then it weren't any more'n cold-blooded ransom on Vibart's side, an' a dee-fine-ite crime in an' of itsel'. Near enuff took us t'dam' Court over it, before havin' sense knocked in'ta his wits, or what passes fer sich on a good day!"

Henrietta made a noise through pouting lips.

"Changed his tune at Jenkin's Folly, bullets flyin' past his head from all directions! Mighty glad of heavy back-up then, as I recalls!"

"Suggestion should pass some easy." Sally smirking at the remembrance. "The thought of Lever running around like a headless chicken thet time, warmed the cockles o'my heart all through Springtime, so it did!"

"She laughs easy!" Henrietta trying to both explain and excuse her lover, not very successfully in either case.


Making a move to enter into a business arrangement with a band of outlaws, wanted posters out across three states as well as the Territory, turned out to be a difficult operation. Sheriff Donaldson put the lid on the Sheriff's Office doing so on any official terms; Sam Barkin, a local rancher, when asked told both the Sheriff and his two Deputies just what they should do with their offer, if written on thick parchment and tied with red ribbon; finally Leverstone himself, on a short visit back from distant Phoenix, bit the bullet and said he'd put his organisation onto the problem. Two days later he returned with good news.

"Tim Vibarts is out, somewhar's up t'Nevada; Frank Carson can die in a dam' ditch, dam' him! Leaves Jenny Shannon an' her bunch. How's about it?"

Donaldson nodded in agreement, Henrietta and Sally smiling in their turn.

"Could be worse, Jenny ain't wanted fer murder, at least." Henrietta giving this biographical note for what it was worth.

"That we knows of!" Sally of a wholly more practical mind.

"How many's she got behind her?" Donaldson focusing on the points that mattered.

"Appears she leads around twenty-two, meb'be twenty-five."

"Substantial!" Donaldson making some mental calculations. "With the thirty we already have thet should be enuff."

"What's the armament like?" Leverstone addressing an important point. "Sure ya don't want the Gatling? I can have it on station within twenty-four hours, y'know."

"Nah, we'll git along fine without it, thanks." Donaldson putting his foot down purposefully. "Harry, ye bringin' yer Henry?"

"Sure am, want's a deal o'practice on live game!" Henrietta grinning from ear to ear.

"What about ye, Sal?"

"Bringin' my Sharps, o'course, but my Smith an' Wesson point thirty-eights'll be fine, too."

Donaldson nodded happily.

"I've got my trusty Savage Navy thirty-six; take down a bison at close range, an' a runnin' criminal at long range."

"If it hits anythin' at all, y'mean, Charlie!" Henrietta having her little laugh at the expence of the antique cap and ball weapon.

"When I shoot, it hits, no worries thar, folks! Lever? When'll ye have Jenny on board?"

"Tomorrow, fer sure; holdin' out nearby Penhampton when we reaches same."

"OK, more'n halfway t'Phoenix, thet's good." Donaldson nodding agreement. "Then comin' back, we'll be loaded down with the heavy stuff. Good-good!"

Sally had been, this long while, thinking on her own account.

"All very well, but what if somebody hits us on the way up ter Phoenix? They figurin' ter go for what we has at the outset rather than wait fer the heavily defended half million on the way back from Phoenix?"

Donaldson shrugged.

"We'll jes' need'ta get along as we kin', in thet sity'atin. We'll do well enuff, fer sure."

With this judgement they all had to be content for the moment.


The Arizona National Bank, Red Flume, on a cold morning at the start of the week, hardly showed as any kind of up and coming community hub. The streets, at 7.30am., were virtually deserted by any form of life, except for a group outside the Bank. Here a robust group of men and women, dressed for the part, had come into being, surrounding three large canvas covered wagons each hauled by six horses.

Sitting astride their mounts Sheriff Donaldson, Deputies Henrietta and Sally, and several other Deputies, kept a close eye on the contents of these three wagons.

"All loaded?" Donaldson shouting this to anyone who cared to answer.

"What? The gold an' money?" Sally seeking clarity.

"Nah, bullets an' shot!" Donaldson making plain his preferences.

"I got my thirty-eights." Sally confirming what everybody already guessed, she only ever taking these weapons off to have a bath and even then this action only surmise on most folks part.

"I got my Henry." Henrietta making plain that anyone within a range of approximately quarter of a mile who had the temerity to shoot at her ought to say their last prayer first.

"My coach gun's loaded with double-ought!" Lingonberry Jackson, commonly called Ling'n, a black young woman on the second wagon piped up, waving her long-barreled weapon in the air in confirmation; she dressed in jeans, wide leather belt with a holstered .38 to go with her Spencer rifle, and red shirt with wide brimmed hat. "Take down a dam' buffalo at a hundred yards—make mincemeat of any attacker!"

"My kind'a gal!" Sally letting out a whoop of pure joy at her sister shootist's attitude to self defence.

Donaldson turned to the Bank Manager, this while standing by the entrance to his domain, surveying these preparations with a worried look.

"Mister Groggins? Ye satisfied all's well with the cargo? All here an' shipshape fer ye?"

"Yeah, ten thousand in each wagon, gold an' paper." Groggins affirming this amazing total, waving his gloved hand in recognition of the question. "Drivers armed with pistols, security all with coach guns on each wagon. Everyone else, pistols an' rifles. You're ready t'go, Sheriff!"

"Then let's ride!" Donaldson giving a long wave to stir everyone into motion. "Let's get this show on the road, folks!"


Firbank lay some fifteen miles west of Red Flume, across a scrubby desert before fading into grasslands rich enough to support cattle. About half as big again as Red Flume it was a rancher's town, noisy, untrammeled by the Higher Laws, and as dangerous by day as by night. By the time the three wagons, loaded down with gold dust, gold bars, coin, and paper-notes, reached the outskirts of the community around 11.00am everyone in the surrounding defensive force was on edge and about ready to shoot at a prairie fly if one got too close to any part of the precious cargo.

A mile out from the town Sally had dropped back to engage with her friend Ling'n on the second wagon in the row.

"How's things, Ling'n? Ready fer bear, I hopes?"

Ling'n, dressed in a long jacket, jeans, and boots, all topped by a wide-brimmed hat; somewhere in her late twenties, dark of hair and brown of eye, gave her pal a wide grin, brandishing her double-barrel with girlish gusto.

"Let 'em come, baby, let 'em come, Ling'n's ready fer 'em all!"

"Thet be the spirit thet opened the dam' continent from one side t'the other, sure enuff!" Sally nodding in agreement with this sentiment. "Keep it up, gal!"

Further up near the van of the convoy Henrietta was having trouble with the lead driver of the first wagon.

"What fer yer slowin'up, Bob? We're near enuff home ter Firbank a'ready!"

"Front axle's stickin', needs oilin' some." Bob taking the time, amongst his many duties, to lean sideways to spit comprehensively, thus relieving his feelings. "Git it seen to in Firbank—jes' don't push me none, OK?"

"Yeah-Yeah—fine!" Henrietta giving him the benefit of the doubt. "Jes', give it some more steam, OK? Thar's a snail on the pebbles over t'our right's thinkin' mighty strong about givin' us all a race fer the town outskirts; an' I think, right now, he's got a dam' good chance o'winnin' his bet's all!"

"Mighty funny, lady—mighty funny!"

Meanwhile Sheriff Donaldson had been touring the edges of the convoy from rear to van, trying to make sure the outlying scouts, keeping track of the line of wagons from around half a mile out on either side, were doing their appointed duty. The trouble of making waving motions with his hands in hopes of sending comprehensible messages across these distances having proved absolutely impossible he now rode back to the van of the train sporting a scowl more suited to Lucrezia Borgia when one of her potions had proven more abortive than otherwise.



"Whas'sup? All well?"

"Couldn't be snickerer, Charlie." Henrietta shrugging where she sat on her saddle; not an easy task though she managed it with ease—practice proving yet again its worth.

"Harph!" Donaldson grunting in reply. "Hey, Bob! Yer thinkin' o'stoppin' h'yar fer a holiday, or what? What's the dam' hold-up? Thar's a dam' snail I sees close by my boot's got a better chance o'reachin' Firbank a'fore us t'day!"

Bob, struggling with his unruly rig, had taken enough and exploded in retaliation.

"Go-d-d-m snails! If I hears of another o'the dam' species I shall create a holocaust thet'll wipe out every single representative o'the line in the whole o'the dam' Territory, so I dam' well will—dam'mit!"

Finally the train of wagons did indeed reach their first major destination, though this turned out something of an anti-climax, if seething hurrahing crowds were expected—which they weren't of course.

"Place's dead!" Sally making this derogatory remark as the wagon train pulled into the Main Street. "Ho! There's someone!"

This party, standing in the middle of the street, proved to be Sheriff Morgan of that domicile awaiting the arrival of the expedition along with his four Deputies, all armed to the teeth with an assortment of weapons as if ready for a re-run of the late Civil conflict or an Indian raiding party.

"Morgan! Hallo!" Donaldson doing the needful as they rode up to the waiting meeting-group.

"So, ye've arrived at last! Ye're almost an hour late, goin' by the schedule ye posted t'me me days ago."

"Cain't be helped," Donaldson shrugging this off with cool disdain. "One wagon's a trifle sticky, thet's all. But h'yar we be. Got your end o'the operation ready?"

Sheriff Morgan looked as if he had been personally insulted by this question, scowling something awful before replying.

"Yeah, third turn on yer left along'a thetaway. Bank's big enuff so's even ye cain't miss same. Mister Gilbert'll be awaitin' yer arrival by each passin' minute, I has no doubt. I'll get my men out by the Penhampton trail. We cain't accompany ye further than Wilson's Bend, five mile out thetaway, a'fore we needs t'turn back. Thet OK?"

"Have t'be." Donaldson shrugging this off with cool disregard. "OK, folks, let's get goin' h'yar! Things ter do, an' mighty quick, too!"


Mister Gilbert, of the United Farmer's Association Bank, was a worrier and the present circumstances were almost handmade to cater to his worst fears, as he very quickly made plain on the train of wagons rolling up to stop outside his premises.

"At last! At last! Thought ye were never comin'. Had every expectation ye'd given up the idee altogether, an' we'd get a telegraph t'thet intent soon's not. So, ye're h'yar?"

Donaldson, who generally didn't take fools gladly, merely shook his head pretending not to have heard.

"We'll need yer moneys out h'yar quick's ye likes, Mister Gilbert. Cain't waste no time; long ways t'go yet a'fore we reaches civileezation. Got it ready?"

Gilbert puffed-up at this veiled sarcasm, going slightly red in the face.

"Of course everything's ready! Been so since last night, if'n ye must know. Gim'me two minutes an' ye'll have all ye needs. Thar's twenty thousand in old notes, another twenty thousand in gold dust, an' some certificates t'the value of fifty thousand themselves. Keep those last safe's ye can, they being very delicate an' easy torn or burnt. Make sure no-one's smokin' ceegars anywhere's near 'em, or there'll be hell t'pay later, is all."

Donaldson waved a hand regally at this request, enjoying himself more than not.

"Have no fear, Mister Gilbert, we'all h'yar's experts in our fields an' can guarantee yer moneys'll make it safe ter Phoenix, as per contract. OK, boys, let's git this pile loaded aboard, time's a'wastin'."


Sheriff Morgan, as he had outlined, left the train some five miles out from Firbank, having to go back to keep order in the disorderly township, leaving Donaldson to head on along the dusty desert trail leading to Penhampton with only his own group of defenders.

"Whar-aways'll we meet Jenny an' her bunch?" Sally asking this relevant question around an hour later as they made their way past a line of rocky 150 foot high mesa's on the left of the trail that could have hidden a whole army of bushwhackers amongst their arroyos and tight winding canyons. "Mighty fine country round h'yar fer ill-nat'red folks t'get evil idees."

Donaldson, riding by Sally and Henrietta's sides, raised a gloved hand to his hat brim, took it off to wipe his brow, then replaced it carefully before replying.

"We ain't actil gon'na meet her in person, not ter say hand ter hand. Thet same bein' mighty contradictory t'all nat'ral idees of civil an' polite rules. Nah, she'll keep her distance, actin' like a bunch o'outlyin' scouts some mile or so on either side o'the trail from some ten mile a'fore we reaches Penhampton till we hits Phoenix much later. Shouldn't need'ta set eye on her at all, if'n all goes well."

"Harrph!" Henrietta not happy with this information at all. "She's got a pile o'Wanted Posters out on her thet'd break a person's wrist if'n they tried t'handle 'em all at once! Mighty rather'd put a bullet in her than shake her dam' hand!"

"Easy, Depity, easy." Donaldson spreading sweetness and light like seeds in a cornfield. "She be workin' fer the right side, at least fer the next few days."

"What's ter stop her teamin'-up with anyone who feels they're strong enough t'give us a run fer our money?" Sally making a point of some substance.

Donaldson shrugged.

"We kin only hope thet three thousand dollars in hand, which's what we sent her two days since fer her involvement, will keep her happy an' focused on the job at hand."

"Not much hope o'thet, ask's me!" Sally not convinced in any way, gently fondling the butt of her left-hand Smith and Wesson .38 just for the comfort of the thing.

"Sal," Donaldson, just about having had enough rain falling on his parade for one day, feeling the strain. "How's about goin' back along the line? See everybody's comin' along fine?"

"Hiirph!" But she pulled her mount round to follow instructions, though with no great glad face about it.

Bob had sorted his axle back in Firbank, the second wagon was rolling smoothly, but the third, loaded down with the majority of the gold bars, was making heavy weather of the whole task—lagging some fifty yards behind the others and beginning to cause some concern.

"Tom! Why's cain't ye catch us up? It ain't no big thing, surely!"

"Too heavy."

Tom Brixon, was an old muleteer looking the part from head to toe. His hat was tipsy with a broken rim a foot wide; his jacket, probably leather, was so dirty and torn it looked like a sheet left out in all weathers for a year; his trousers were better not described in company at all, while his boots looked as if stolen from a scarecrow. The fact his partner by his side sported what appeared to be an old muzzle-loader from the pioneering days not helping matters in any way.

"Do yer best, then. I'll go back—see if Donaldson'll let us re-distribute the load; make it easier fer ye."

Having been told of the state of play Donaldson did indeed agree to Sally's plan, the convoy coming to a halt on the dusty trail, a line of two hundred foot high hills lying close on the left of the route with many gullies splitting the hills apart.

"Enuff hidey-holes fer a dam' army of bushwhackers!" Henrietta making public what was plain to one and all. "Any sign of Jenny an' her gang yet?"

The answer being no everyone settled to the task of taking some of the gold bars from the last wagon and replacing them on the other two wagons; a time consuming effort that broke sweat out on the workers involved, gold being what it was.

"This'll take bloody hours!" Sally, after heaving the third of the bars, realising her deficiencies. "My arms are about t'fall off. Think I've torn my shoulder muscle as it is!"

"Yer doin' jes' fine; jes' take it easy's all." Henrietta, in no better shape, offering what solace was available. "Come on, make an effort, or we'll be here till dam' midnight!"


"Hoi! Who's thet, comin' out'ta the hills—thetaway!"

The man who had shouted this pointing over to the left where a dust cloud could be seen approaching the line of wagons from a narrow dark mouthed canyon.

Struggling over to the nearest wagon the Deputies off-loaded their present cargo before sprinting for their mounts. On climbing into the saddles they brought hands to their hat-brims, studying the cloud rapidly approaching across the scrubland.

"Six, I makes out."

"Seven! Yeah, certin, seven." Sally deducing this with her sharper distance eyesight. "What the hell they think they're up to? We're most of thirty-five up an' down the line h'yar?"

"If they shoots first, lay waste t'em in yer own time!" Sally shouting this as a general instruction to the other watching defenders. "If they doesn't shoot, shoot 'em anyways, when ye sees the color o'their eyes!"

Less than thirty seconds later this moral conundrum was cast aside when the group of attackers spread out into a wide line, drawing revolvers and proceeding to shoot at the line of wagons from a hundred yards out. Sally, satisfied as to their intent, letting fly with both her pistols while Henrietta, by her side, took a few seconds to aim with her long-barreled Henry rifle. The crack of the rifle sounding loud over the duller pistol shots.

As a result of this first return broadside, everyone on that side of the wagons taking their own chance to shoot, several of the incoming assailants dropped from their steeds in a variety of dust clouds, leaving empty horses to go their own ways. Seconds later another blast of gunfire did for the remainder of the enemy, resulting in a group of riderless horses galloping in numerous directions through the sagebrush.

A pause ensued, the defenders waiting to see if there were going to be any kind of follow-up, but nothing happening, Donaldson took command.

"Harry, Gordon, Jeff! Go on out an' take a gander; see what the hell they was, if recognisable. Everybody else, look to your pieces an' keep an eye out on those dam' canyons an' arroyos over thar."

While Henrietta was away on this job Sally sat her mount, carefully emptying her revolvers and re-loading with fresh cartridges before slipping them back in her holsters. After which she rode forward to join Donaldson at the head of the convoy. A minute later Henrietta returned, shaking her head.

"Think it was Teddy Roscoe; at least it's a guess. His head's blown apart, but I recognise his look an' the yaller dustcoat, well's the Frazier pistol still clutched in his hand."

"Roscoe?" Donaldson grunting in mystification. "What the f-ck'd he think he'd accomplish? Never had a chance; even if he'd bin twice as strongly accompanied."

"I recalls talkin' t'Roscoe, some three yar since." Sally frowning over the memory. "Didn't think his inteelec' was world-shattering then, probably worse still now!"

"Waal, we got other things t'look to." Donaldson taking command again. "Let's git this wagon train movin', folks. We got a ways ter go t'hit Penhampton, an' the c'yotes has a feast awaitin' 'em over thar. So, let's move on out!"


Ten minutes later things took another turn.

"Folks! Up thar, on the top o'thet high mesa 'bout half a mile off t'the left! Looks like a bunch o'riders. Is one wavin' a hat at us?"

Everyone turning to stare in the direction pointed by the unusually astute observer, Donaldson reached back to his saddlebag twisting back with a single eyeglass in hand. Sliding it out to its full length he took a good while to examine the group in the distance.

"It's Jenny, an' her gang. Can see her sharp's anythin'. Know her in a crowd; so, our extree defence is at hand at last—thet's good!"

Sally, hearing this, had swiveled in her saddle to examine the open scrub over to their right.

"Nuthin' over thar, thet I kin see, anyways. Suppose they's thar, though; hopes so, anyways."

"How long till Penhampton now?" Henrietta tiring of the long haul through the dry desert and beginning to have delightful thoughts of cold showers of water after diving into a deep tin bath full of such.

"Around another hour." Donaldson consulting his waist-watch on its silver chain. "Let's git movin! Quicker we move on quicker we'll hit the dam' town. Move it, folks!"

In actual fact it was only a matter of another forty minutes before the ragged outline of the low buildings making up their latest destination came into view in the distance. A few minutes later they rode along Main Street to the local Bank, where the expected welcoming committee awaited them.

"Sheriff Paterson, glad t'see y'all." The man, sitting his dark horse, looking like a Sunday preacher with the toothache. "Took yer all a while's t'git h'yar, I allows; but now yer h'yar, let's git t'shiftin' the money."

"Hold hard, Paterson." Donaldson moving swiftly to take command of the unfolding situation. "We all's h'yar are some tuckered-out, what with one thing an' another. We'll take a break, in shifts, so's we git our breath's. Hold off the loadin' fer a few hours or so, till we've sorted ourselves out, OK?"

The fact Paterson was in no way happy with this option was made clear by his dark scowl, but he caved against the overwhelming odds against him doing anything else. So, at last, Henrietta and Sally got their cold baths, freshening themselves up like Naiads in a Classical river, curtesy of the nearest Hotel with a wash-house at its rear premises. A quick snack in the dining-room and they returned to the Main Street and the wagons renewed in spirit as well as body.

"Feel sort'a bad fer Jenny, out in the scrub, thar." Sally picking at her teeth with a spent match. "Under the hot sun an' all. She's sure workin' fer her pay, at least."

"Yeah." Henrietta nodding her agreement. "She'll jes' have'ta take joy in the fac' she's doin' a good turn, in opposition t'her usual social role."


"You two the main Depity's in control o'this fiasco?"

This question coming from Sheriff Paterson, having snuck up on the women amongst the crowd of defenders still surrounding the three wagons.

"Sheriff Donaldson's in overall charge." Henrietta clarifying the point. "What he sez goes aroun' h'yar. Why? Somethin' needful ye wants ter bring up, Sheriff?"

"Only when yer gon'na return from Phoenix, with our new load o'money?" Paterson looking now even less happy than when first encountered. "Jes', I got things ter take up my day h'yar without this dam' extree duty takin' up my time. Suppose it cain't be any less than t'morrer, eh?"

Sally scratched her left underarm, frowning the while.

"Three days after, actil. We got'ta stay over ter relieve ourselves, sort out the moneys we're takin' thar, then wait on the moneys we needs ter bring back ter one an' all. So's, two days from t'day, no sooner. Meb'b even a day or two later, if things is slower than expected or we catches too many hold-ups."

"That ain't no good!" Paterson firing-up at this. "I'm the Sheriff of a energetic community h'yar; not jes' the town, the surroundin' country round about—ranches, an' outposts an' whatever. I cain't hold my Depity's h'yar all day, or fer the rest o'the week, jes' in hopes of yer returnin' within a day or so—meb'be a week, even! Tell Donaldson if he takes more'n the day after t'morrer he'll find me away doin' more important things, OK?"

With which tirade he stalked off, losing himself in the growing crowd of pedestrians now filling the sidewalks; Sally turning to her lover with a shrug.

"Figur' we've bin told, lady!"

"Seems so. Should we pass on his message, y'think?"

Sally thought about this for a few seconds.

"Let's leave sich till we hits Phoenix; plenty of time then, I figure."

"With ya, love, with ya all the way. Is thet a pack o'they ham sandwiches from the Hotel in yer right jacket pocket, dear?"

Sally had the grace to blush slightly.

"If they is, what of it, lover?"

"Well, jes' wonderin' if the idee o'sharin' had ever flitted through the dark echoing caverns o'yer mind's all, lover-dear?"


"Yes, my Love?"

"Sometimes yer tries me sorely; jes' a gen'ral remark's all."

Henrietta thought about this in her turn.

"Is thet a yeah, or a nah? Jes' so's I knows whar I stands."

"Thet's fer me t'know, and you ter make out in yer own time, dear." Sally strolling-off towards the third wagon with an air.

"God! What a woman! Every last little bit o'her!" Henrietta smiling broadly to herself.


Reid's Bend sat on the left flank of the Little Pebble River where it curved round the side of a high mesa; a small community based on a silver strike which had petered out years ago it had a hangdog look to it not helped by the majority of the buildings now showing their age; but it did boast a small Bank, all the same, giving the reason for the presence of the wagon train of currency and gold.

"How much're we pickin'-up h'yar?"

"Aroun' ten thou, Sal." Donaldson twisting his left shoulder as they entered the town; the least motion on his part he felt the hamlet justified. "Be on our way in half an hour, hopefully."

The three Lawmakers were riding ahead of the first wagon, glad to have reached their latest destination, late in the day as it was; then Sally raised a cautionary gloved hand.

"Hold on, folks! Sheriff Gordon meant t'be awaitin' us, ye sez, Charlie?"

"Yeah, cain't see him much yet, mind ye."

"Nor cain I." Sally stopping her mount in the middle of the road a hundred yards from the building that must be the Bank. "The which's concernin' me some big. Whar be he, an' his Depities? No-whar's t'be seen. Somethin' ain't right aroun' h'yar—feels it in my bones."

"How many Depities does he have on call?" Henrietta asking a relevant question. "Should be a solid group outside the Bank, moneys' all ready fer transfer t'us. But there ain't."

Donaldson, so warned, gazed all round at the empty street.

"See's what ye means, sure. Something fishy h'yar, indeed. Hey, y'all," He motioning with a wave of his arm to the line of wagons and their crews. "hold hard, an' look t'yer pieces, everyone. Somthin' may be up h'yar. Gals, take opposite sides o'the street, I'll ride down the centre. Let's see if anythin's really goin' down."

All three rode slowly along the deserted road towards the Bank glancing all round as they went; there were a few citizens casually walking along the covered sidewalks in the distance, though not many, and none looking as if they were afraid of anything out of the ordinary.—but the Bank's main entrance was firmly closed. Henrietta, on the Bank side, pulled her mount up just outside, leaning sideways to read a notice pinned to the closed door.

"Sez they're holdin' a audit, open in the mornin'."

"There ain't no need fer sich, far's I kin figur'." Donaldson shaking his head. "Somthin' ain't right—see t'yer pieces, ladies."

Before anything else could go down a window on the first floor opened to reveal the upper torso of a middle-aged man in a dark suit.

"Hey, out thar, Tom Buckley's in h'yar, with two others. He sez ter leave a crate o'gold bars on the sidewalk outside the main door an' be on yer way ter Phoenix. If yer don't, he sez, he'll commence ter killin' me an' my five tellers one by one every hour!"

Donaldson, and his two Deputies, however had come across this sort of grift several times in the past, and had formed a precise plan of offence in opposition.

"Mister, fall back inside, hit the floor, an' hope none of our upcomin' fire hits ye! Do it now!" Donaldson putting said plan into instant operation. "Harry, go to it! Sal, with me—open up with every dam' thing ye has. Hey, you'all back thar, come on up an' git ter hittin' the Bank every which way!"

As several Deputies and other armed guards strode forward, sidearms and rifles at the ready, Henrietta dismounted and ran down a narrow lane by the side of the Bank, searching for a back entrance or window. Waiting till the man at the front window had disappeared from view, and his helpers had come up alongside him, Donaldson waved an arm in signal and opened up with his trusty massive Savage .32 revolver—everyone else letting fly through the Bank's several windows with whatever they had to hand—rifles, carbines, shotguns, buffalo guns, and revolvers of all varieties.

The noise was tremendous, white clouds of noxious smoke wafting in the air like rain clouds in Spring—shrapnel blasting from the frontage of the Hotel and scything through the air in all directions—the windows themselves disappearing in fragments in bursts of glittering shards. An instant later, round at the rear, Henrietta found a small window by a closed locked door; seconds later, after shattering the window with the butt of her pistol, she was inside dashing along a dark corridor. Figuring that no-one would be on the first floor but safely up on the second, she took the first stair she came to three at a time, finding herself on a wide landing with two doors to choose from. One was already partially open and in the room revealed she could see the man in the dark suit lying on the floor, hands over ears.

"Whar's Buckley? Quick, no time t'lose!"

"In the room across the way." The man raising his head to stare at Henrietta with a scared look. "He's got a teller in thar, sayin' he'll kill a'fore bein' took if anyone tries sich."

"Iz'zat so!" Henrietta twisting her lip in disdain. "Depends how fast he be. Let's find out!"

Turning, she stepped over to the other closed door, raised a booted leg and with one strong kick tore the door off its hinges to fall lop-sidedly into the room inside. Dashing in Henrietta took instant note of the inhabitants—two men, one young in a suit, the other slightly taller, dressed in jeans, gunbelt and red shirt with wide-brimmed hat; his face covered in dark stubble and sporting a mean expression—the revolver in his hand answering any lingering question of identity.

Without waiting for introductions, or to issue orders, Henrietta fired from the waist with both her revolvers, Colt .45's. The man, seeing he was in a position of instant danger took his eye off his victim to defend himself—but far too late. Henrietta's bullets hit him in the chest like a rainstorm of drops in a Spring storm. Staggering backwards his arm falling to his side he managed to get off one shot into the floorboards before himself sinking to his knees then flat out on the floor. A few twitches, a couple of dragging breaths, then silence and immobility.

"You're OK, bud." Henrietta addressing the young teller. "Go on down stairs. Lem'me go ahead; jes' be careful. Hold hard though. Wait a minute."

While they spoke a fusillade of shots had broken out downstairs, followed by a ear-splitting silence after—then the sound of Sally shouting came to them.

"Hey, up thar, all's OK down h'yar, the other thugs is seen to all round. Everyone else OK. Come on down. Ye OK, Harry?"

When Henrietta reached the ground floor, ahead of the young man she had rescued, Donaldson and Sally were waiting in the wide public hall of the Bank, two bodies lying on the dusty floor.

"How was it?" She speaking as she entered the Main Hall.

"Easy!" Sally nodding satisfactorily. "Bunch o'amateurs, all round. They never knew what was what—rang rings round 'em, like c'yotes in a dust-storm. Upstairs?"

"Nuthin' to it!" Henrietta shaking her head nonchalantly. "Buckley was a amateur too—took him down easy!"

"Waal," Donaldson glancing around at the scene of devastation. "thet sorts thet little conumbrance out. Show's jes' what pre-plannin' an' experience can do."

Two hours later the convoy was on its way out of Reid's Bend once more, leaving behind a relieved Bank Mananger and his staff.

"What's next on the schedule?" Henrietta riding by Donaldson's side as they made their way back out into the barren scrub desert.

"It's nearin' late afternoon." Donaldson on top of this detail. "We'll make Oleander Creek in about an hour; thar's a coupl'a Hotels thar we kin use overnight, a'fore goin' on t'wards Matlock in the mornin'."

"Sounds good ter me." Sally grinning widely. "Bin a tirin' kind'a day so far; hopes the beds're soft at the Creek!"


8.00am in the morning and the convoy had left the small hamlet of Oleander Creek behind an hour since. Now the line of wagons, accompanied by around thirty mounted riders, was some miles out in the barren wastes of the Grissom Plains—a wasteland of dry sand and rock broken by groups of deep arroyos and high mesas; deep canyons splitting the terrain in several directions.

"When'd we reach Parker's Canyon?" Sally on tenterhooks for this latest major geographical point on their long journey. "Never bin through it; it true it's some twenty mile long, with sides three hunner foot high on either side?"

"Yeah," Donaldson riding van as usual. "in places, anyhow's. Trail through it winds aroun' like a rattler with the gripe; sides are mostly vertical, never less'n fifty foot high, often, as yer sez, some three hunner so! But thar's many a scree h'yar an' thar, lettin' folks climb or even ride up or down from top ter bottom, or the other way. Wonderful place fer a well-planned ambush."

At this point there came a shout from one of the outlying riders, some twenty yards to the left of the trail.

"Light off'a thet mesa over t'the left. Sparkly lights!"

All three leaders, Donaldson, Henrietta, and Sally halted as one to stare off towards the spot indicated by the scout's raised arm.

"Ah, heliograph, usin' Morse Code!" Donaldson on the ball. "Sal?"

Sally, who knew this esoteric language as one who had grown up with same, raised a gloved hand to shade her eyes, staring intently at the flickering light far-off in the distance.

"Code fer Jenny Shannon. Her scouts report large group of riders waitin' by the trail some five mile further on, in the depths o'the canyon. Clar t'be a set-up, ambush. Sez she'll take her group over t'the left an' go down a trail she knows, in'ta the Canyon. If'n we kin get t'the spot in about an hour she'll be ready t'hit the ambushers from behind when they strikes us."

Donaldson mused on this news for a minute before answering.

"Tell her we agrees; we'll be ready t'stand 'em off when they attacks, an' she counters 'em."

Sally leaned back to open one of her saddlebags, from which she extracted what seemed a large round mirror. Dragging the head of her mount round till she could catch the Sun in the mirror she raised it and began flicking it towards the far light, angling the rays of the Sun just right to give a series of flashing dots of light of varying lengths. Within another minute she had finished. In the distance a short reply was obvious before the far light disappeared for good.

"Affirmative, Sheriff. She's got the plan OK."

"Good, waal, let's git to it." Donaldson nodding satisfactorily before turning in his saddle and raising his voice to the following riders. "Hoi, everyone! We's gon'na have some trouble in the Canyon. But Jenny Shannon's got our flank, an' we'll give the ambushers what fer when we needs ter. Let all look ter their pieces an' be ready fer a feisty bust-up of a fight when it comes, OK?"

Parker's Canyon made itself known when the lay of the land took a sudden decline downwards, high cliffs of red sandstone rising on either hand to enclose the travelers who found themselves on a constricted trail with what seemed the actual ground level scores or hundreds of feet above. The trail was wide enough that the Sun flooded the path between the cliffs, so there was plenty of space to ride along though there were screes on either side rising at the bottom of the vertical cliffs. The Canyon twisted and turned as it bit into the landscape, with various off-shoots on each side, smaller canyons, disappearing it seemed into the heart of the terrain to who knew where.

"How'd we keep track o'the right trail?" Sally considering this likely danger almost immediately.

"Main trail's clar enuff, don't worry." Donaldson soothing everyone's fear in this direction. "Jes', don't try goin' fer any shortcuts along likely lookin' side canyons—ye'll be lost fer days, if'n ye survives at all, thet is!"


After forty minutes the travelers also discovered another disadvantage to their present location.

"Dam' hot, ain't it?" Henrietta pausing to wipe her brow with a gloved hand. "Never felt dam' hotter a'fore."

"It's the canyon." Donaldson nodding knowingly. "We're so deep down h'yar, rock all round an' high cliffs on either hand, it works like to a oven! Focuses the heat, y'see; could git anywhar's to twenty degrees hotter down h'yar than up on the open ground atop the cliffs."

"Cain't we git up thar, on the open plain, then?" Sally grumbling too. "What fer we need t'struggle along down h'yar?"

"We're actil on the true ground level h'yar." Donaldson giving a lesson in geography as they cantered along, kicking up dust clouds as they went. "Up high, on those mesa tops an' clifftops, thar's jes' a series o'broken pinnacles an' peaks, separated by the indeevidul side canyons—only true way through this region bein' this h'yar trail."

"Sh-t!" Henrietta not pleased by this revelation at all. "Hopes fine we gits through a'fore the water runs out. Thar any springs or creeks or pools o'water anywhar's in this maze o'rocks?"

"Nary a one, Harry; jes' sip from yer water-bottle, don't gulp like a starvin' beggar an' ye'll make it OK."


All this fell by the wayside twenty minutes later, however, when the line of wagons came to a particular feature of the canyon.

"We here's about t'hit the Avernus Pit, folks!" Donaldson bringing the wagons to a halt by way of a waved hand signal while he shouted back to the drivers and riders. "It bein' a Hollow or Pit about some hundred feet lower than whar we be right now, an' meb'be five hunner yards wide. Trail goes down fine, though some constricted. Cliffs on either hand, not vertical but not accessible by riders either. Two flat-topped Mesa Points swing out from either side forming an almost equal circle aroun' the Pit, broken only by the narrer Pass out agin on the far side. We got'ta go down, struggle across, then drive on up the far side a'fore continuing through the Canyon proper. It'll mean haulin' the hosses some strong, but we'll git thar, eventual, OK?"

"Ain't thar any other route, Charlie?" Sally expressing the anxiety of most of the other riders.

"Nah, we wan'na git through this dam' hellhole, this's the only way."


The trail had narrowed considerably meanwhile and now they came to the entrance of the geological feature detailed by Donaldson. From the narrow opening between the looming cliffs on either hand the travelers had a wide view of the so-called Pit. The ground fell away at a steep angle to the lower floor of the Canyon, the surrounding cliffs, now some three hundred yards away on either hand, in a circular curve and around two hundred feet high with wide screes at their feet on all sides. On the other side of the circular declivity the trail rose to slip through a narrow cut in the far wall of the Canyon about half a mile in the distance.

"Looks mighty like a pan on an oven!" Henrietta growling under her breath. "Only needs water an' we kin boil t'our heart's content! Kin our wagons git up thet trail in the distance? Looks mighty steep."

"Yeah, seen it done a'fore." Donaldson nodding his agreement. "Not easy, but possible."

"Oh well, let's git to it!" Sally shrugging unhappily at the likely outcome of the next few minutes. "Hey, look! Thar's several other side canyon's on both sides. Anyone kin ride out'ta any o'them an' hit us unexpected."

"Not if we're ready!" Donaldson looking around at his followers. "An' we're ready, sure 'nuff!"

Ten minutes later the convoy had reached the floor of the wide basin, the encroaching cliffs all round seeming far higher than they actually were. The atmospheric heat had also noticeably increased making everyone sweat far more, shirts sticking to the skin, showing damp patches all over. The trail here was flat and obviously quite well travelled, but still rugged and broken making the wagons, with their heavy loads, work for every yard gained by the struggling horses. As a result the overall speed of the line of riders and wagons had slowed to a crawl as they made for the far exit to this deep hollow in the Canyon.

"So this's what Hell'll be like when I gits thar!" Sally coming it rather more melancholy than the situation required.

"You!" Henrietta taking the opportunity when offered. "They'd never let the likes o'ye in'ta Hell, darlin'! They havin' reg'lar standards t'keep up, like t'anybody else, y'knows!"

"Oh, Ha-ha-ha!"

This light-hearted banter came to a swift conclusion however with the appearance, over to the left hand side of the encircling curve of cliffs, of a small dust cloud approaching from the entrance to one of the small side canyons cutting the line of high cliffs.

"We got visitors, folks!" Henrietta calling out this warning to everyone. "Look t'yer pieces!"

As she gave this warning a fusillade of shots rang out in the circular stony natural arena, coming from the approaching group of riders, showing their criminous intentions from the get-go.

"Use yer coach-guns at a hunner yards, pistols when ye sees the whites o'thar eyes!" Donaldson giving out good advice.

Henrietta twisted in her saddle, grabbing the stock of her trusty Henry .44 rifle with which she was expert. Only seconds later she had brought it to her shoulder, aimed, and got off her first shot. Having 15 rounds in the magazine she took only seconds to get off the rest in a series of shots, aiming at the group of attacking riders in general rather than individuals; but it became instantly obvious her aim was true, at least two of the rapidly approaching riders falling from their saddles in secondary clouds of dust.

At the same time the shotguns on the wagons had opened up in their own right, though to far less consequence—the mass of concentrated gunfire at least having the result of making the approaching bandits spread apart to give less of a mass target for the incoming fire. Donaldson had his Savage Navy .36 in hand, firing meticulously at pinned targets, while Sally had both her single-fire Smith and Wesson Model 3 .44's in hand firing broadly at whoever she caught in her sights at this still long distance.

The attackers, it could be assumed, had thought a sneak fast attack from hiding in this enclosed space would take the wagons and what few defenders they thought might be present off-guard, resulting in a swift victory; but nothing could have been more mistaken: by the time the group of bandits had come within forty yards of the line of wagons they had already lost seven of their members, the remaining eight or so spreading out on either side of the broken trail to escape the defending fire for which they were totally unprepared—all idea of a resolute attack gone with the wind. Two minutes later, just as Henrietta downed another outlaw at long range and Sally had equal success with her revolvers, the rest turned tail to retreat to the dark side-canyon mouth they had originally emerged from; a few seconds and only the trailing dust cloud in their rear remained to speak of their ever having been present.

"Hoskins, take a coupl'a men an' see if'n any are still in the Land o'the Livin'." Donaldson taking a professional interest in those who had fallen by the wayside under the enormous defending fire-power. "Everyone else, reload an' look sharp—they may make a second attempt, meb'be."

"Fools if'n they does." Sally grunting sarcastically as she bowed over her saddle, reloading with expert speed.

Henrietta was intent on doing the same for her Henry, though glancing quickly sideways to where Donaldson was engrossed in the arcane matter of reloading his cap and ball Savage.

"By the time yer reloaded, Charlie, the outlaws'll have developed white hair an' rheumatiz, I expec's!"

"Ha! Laugh as ye will, leddy!" He not put out in the least. "I'll swar by my Savage any day, aginst any other moderner weapon whatsoever, so thar!"

"All wounded bandits reportin' dead as turkeys on the Fourth o'July, Sheriff!" Hoskins back from his scouting expedition.

"Sure enuff!" Donaldson nodding quietly. "Makes things easy; leave 'em whar they's all fallen; if'n those who got away want 'em they kin come back ter bury 'em themselves, thet's all! Let's head on up out'ta this dam' Hellhole. Wagons Ho!"


Having skirted the burnt out remains of the former township of Pendleton, which had succumbed to a series of unfortunate events a couple of years since culminating in a sweeping fire, the line of wagons was soon out on open desert again, much to Sally's disgust.

"Don't this dam' scrub an' sand ever stop? Is the whole o'Arizony made of sand from horizon t'horizon?"

"More'n less, yeah—why?" Donaldson taking the Stoic attitude to what could not be changed by Human hand.

"This's all barren desert," Henrietta making an obvious statement. "Why'n Hell's Matlock set fair out h'yar? Nuthin' but rock an' dust all round; nary a blade o'grass or watercourse in sight."

"Railroad." Donaldson coming up with the answer true to form.

"What's thet?" From Sally, hardly interested.

"Phoenix-El Paso Railroad goes through Matlock." Donaldson giving this information with a disinterested tilt of his head. "Rather, it scratches one side o'the town as it passes by. Anyway's, thar's a station halt thar, so makin' the place sumthin' o'a reg'lar stop fer some. Doin' mighty well from it, so's I hears."

"We jes' passin' through oursel's?" Henrietta glancing towards the Sheriff for the hoped for answer.

"Nah, stoppin' at the Middleton Bank ter pick-up some twenty thou in old notes. Gon'na drop off aroun' another twenty thou in gold bars on our return."

"Heigh-ho!" Sally miffed beyond measure. "Who'd take on the life of a Depity these days? Only a fool's who!"

Matlock made its appearance on the horizon like a mirage flickering in the distance. No house or building was more than a single storey high, all made with some form of dark wood which made the whole community look black and ominous as if painted that way.

"My God! Folks live h'yar!" Sally appalled by the first sight.

"A few hundred, yeah." Donaldson nodding as the wagon train pulled up outside a brown-painted building with a steel gate for an entrance and a large sign letting any passer-by know it was the Matlock General Bank; but of any welcoming committee nary a sign.

"Nobody out'ta the Bank eager t'meet us." Henrietta sitting on her mount gazing at the empty sidewalk outside the building. "Should we wait on 'em comin' out, or go in after 'em?"

Donaldson shrugged under his long yellow duster, not impressed either.

"Harry, take a look inside; see what the dam' manager's up to, thanks."

Slipping from her saddle Henrietta stumped over to the sidewalk, passed under the sloping roof and disappeared inside. For the next few minutes a lengthy silence prevailed, nobody having anything interesting or relevant to contribute. Then finally Henrietta reappeared.

"Manager sez he ain't had any information about the Haulage comin' through t'day. Sez he ain't sorted any moneys out, so's we better jes' be on our way. He'll meb'be get things sorted out fer our next run through in six months time, he sez."

Donaldson considered this in silence for a few seconds before coming to the obvious conclusion.

"Sumthin' mighty fishy goin' on h'yar. Harry-Sal, get on in thar, grab the Manager an' bring him out h'yar—I wantin' some strong t'exchange words with him—go to it!"

Sally dismounted reluctantly, twisting her reins round the sidewalk rail before following Henrietta back inside the Bank. Less than a minute later they returned, Henrietta almost forcibly dragging a small dark-suited middle-aged man by his shoulder.

"This h'yar's Mister Brian Foster, Manager o'the Bank." Henrietta making the introductions. "Mister Foster, h'yar's Sheriff Donaldson."

"This is despicable!" Foster starting-off on a high note of clearly forced anger. "Do you know who I am? The Manager—"

"We figured so," Donaldson expertly cutting-off the man's flow. "which's all by the way, as thing's presently stand. What we—what I wan'na know is why ain't ya got yer Bank's moneys' ready fer transport t'Phoenix, is all? Ye havin' bin informed of our presence t'day weeks since, whatever ye wants ter say aginst sich."

"I have not been told of your arrival, and you must just take my official word for such, Sheriff. Now, if you order your Deputy here to unhand me, I will get back to my official duties, if you please."

Donaldson's expression showed what he thought of this suggestion; he dismounting in his turn to join the group on the sidewalk.

"Mister Foster, let's us all go in an' take a look—a close look—at yer Books, OK?"

Foster, faced with this offer, turned a nasty shade of pale teal, twisting his head from side to side as if seeking an escape.

"What-What!" He almost visibly wilting. "You have no authority for such. I—"

"Haul him back inside!" Donaldson taking the initiative. "Let's go!"

Inside the Bank they found themselves in a wide Public hall, with a long counter on the left side protected by high wood barriers. In the wall behind which two doors led who knew where. Four tellers stood at their positions gazing at the unfolding drama with open mouths, clearly wondering what their part in the matter might turn out to be.

"Whar's yer office?"

"There—the door on the left."

"Let's go, then." Donaldson indicating the next move with a toss of his head. "Harry, let him go."

Acting on this instruction Henrietta released the small man from her iron grip, who instantly took a couple of long strides away from her.

"I'll, ah, I'll jes' unlock the door—locked, y'know."

With this he dashed through the low gate leading behind the tellers' counter and, without using a key at all, disappeared through the door closing it firmly behind him. The metallic scratching which immediately followed telling all that needed to be told of his next move.

"Locked his'sel' in." Sally turning to Donaldson, looking for the next move.

"Got things t'hide, seeming." Donaldson nodding as he approached the closed door. "Foster! This ain't doin' ye any good. Open up so's we kin get t'the bottom o'this fiasco, like gentlemen. Kin ye hear?"

For a few seconds there was complete silence, then came the sharp bang of a single gunshot, followed by a thump as of something heavy falling to the floor.

Pausing only to quickly glance at his Deputies Donaldson stepped forward, raising his left foot to give the door a forceful kick. He being much stronger than he looked the door splintered from its hinges, flying open at an angle with a screech of broken metal and wood.

Inside they found what was expected—Foster lying prone with a pool of blood sweeping out from the region close to his head—or what was left of his head.

"Nasty," Sally bending to take a close look. "used a Derringer—a forty-five Derringer! Blown most o'his head clean off—blood, bone, an' brains every-dam'-whar! Watch whar ye steps, folks!"

An hour later the wagons once more moved off on their way to their next destination, leaving a handful of Deputies and others to make what they could of the Bank's dubious position regarding its finances. Henrietta, Sally, and Donaldson resuming their positions at the vanguard.


"What ye think was his intent?" Sally still reflecting, as the line of wagons progressed with its band of defenders along the dusty trail, on Foster's motif.

"Cain't say fer sure." Donaldson replying off-handedly. "These private Banks, run by the fella's who opened 'em, they has a repy'tation fer goin' bust at the worst moments."

"Why so?" From Henrietta.

"Mostly 'cause they weren't so good Bankers as they thought they was!"


Their next destination, some twenty-five miles distant, was Wolf Rock; a small community but famous—or more aptly infamous—for a long held reputation for lawlessness and general despoliation. The setting was on the high plains, cold and frosty at the best of times and often snowed under for weeks at a time in Winter but also surrounded by wide pastures, almost pampas, of rich grass highly suitable for raising cattle: so the general populace was centred round this widespread activity, weekends in Wolf Rock being, thereby, somewhat hit and miss—mostly hit, because of the numbers of carousing ranch-hands and outright cowboys intent on a good time.

Of the four Saloons present it might be relevant to state that none any longer boasted mirrors in their public salons for obvious reasons; those with first floors also sported thick oak, or double-boarded, ceilings between the ground and upper rooms, to stop bullets from over-raucous customers penetrating.

Gaining its name from a high mesa half a mile to the south-west whose pointed crest somewhat resembled, if looked at through a drunken eye and from a certain angle, the head of a wolf or coyote, the township had itself gone from pinnacle to pinnacle of destitution, desolation, decrepitude, until finally arriving at its present condition of near outright depraved decline—next stop—ghost town!

On arrival on the outskirts Sally for one was not amused.

"Seen outhouses not cleaned fer a month in better condition than this debilitated pile o'ruins. Thar surely cain't be a Bank h'yar? I doesn't believe it—nor will, if shown fer my own eyes, neither!"

"Waal, prepar' t'be astonished." Donaldson wrinkling his lips in the closest grimace he ever came to offering a smile. "Thar she be, on the left o'the street, over thar. See?"

"Sh-t!" Henrietta no more convinced than her lover. "That broken down derelict? Looks like it's bin abandoned since the War!"

Donaldson shook his head, as one well versed in the contrarieties of the Human condition.

"Looks is often deceptive. Knowed a old gentle-faced lady, yars since, y'wouldn't ha' thought butter'd melt in her mouth—turned out she'd killed three husbands fer their fortin's, an' got away with all three; seeming still livin' the high life summers out ter San Francisco, last news!"

On entering the wide single street of the town the visitors found themselves between two obviously opposing camps; on one hand, the Bank presently defended by around 12 men armed with shotguns, rifles, and revolvers; while on the other side of the street, outside Harraway's Saloon, stood a group of roughly dressed hangdog looking cowboys intently watching both the Bank's defenders and the approaching line of wagons.

"If'n those boys over thar," Donaldson on top of the situation. "gives the slightest sign of wantin' ter git in amongst the gold an' paper money, shoot t'kill, an' don't be miserly with the ammo neither!"

"Thought Jenny Shannon'd be coverin' our rar's by now?" Henrietta discussing a point of order that had been annoying her since breakfast that morning. "Whar be she? Ain't seen hide nor har since yester morn?"

"She's only contracted t'keep us company on the way back from Phoenix, when we has all the new gold an' paper money." Donaldson heaving a sigh himself. "Don't worry, she'll be around somewhar, with her boys, jes' ter see us right an' easy, if anythin' fires off."

"Won't be much good t'us if anythin' breaks out h'yar, though." Sally looking around suspiciously at every move of the few other citizens brave enough to be using the sidewalks this chilly early afternoon.

"Oh, if all goes t'hell she'll bear down on the suspects when they makes their getaway out yonder on the plains." Donaldson taking the Stoic attitude. "Knock 'em all down, an' have a mighty nice pension curtesy o'the regained gold t'retire on as a result. She not bein' able t'lose any which way in thet sity'ation."

"Sh-t!" Sally shrugging disgustedly. "Why's it al'lus the other folks who gits the good breaks, never me?"

Standing on the sidewalk in front of the so-called Bank a short man in a dusty well-aged suit of checked grey linen and a small-brimmed hat made himself known to the visitors.

"Hi'ya, George Gardner, Head o'this h'yar Bank; everythin's ready an' waitin' inside, if'n ye wants ter come on in an' lend a hand."

Over the next hour a well rehearsed plan played out; the travelers loading their wagons with the gold dust, in jute bags along with a handful of gold bars accompanied by four small wooden crates filled with old paper money of various denominations. Finally the work was done and the travelers were ready to continue their trek across country.

"Hear anythin' o'stray bandits in the region anywhar's?" Donaldson asking this of the Manager as a last request before departure.

"Nary a thing." The Manager shaking his head. "Ain't bin out in the desert mysel' this last week, nor sent anyone prospectin' thetaways; not thinkin' it any o'my business."

"Ah-yeah, jes' so." Donaldson nodding as if having expected just such an answer. "Waal, see ye in a week or so agin, 'bye."

Three hours later the terrain had changed once again, on the slow rise up to the high plateau where Phoenix, still many miles off, sat. The grasslands had disappeared, the scrub had faded out too, until only dry earth and sand remained. The general terrain that of broken arroyos through which the trail wound a snaking path often with low sandstone cliffs some twenty or thirty feet high on either hand. The heat of the day had also returned once again, sweltering all round so that everyone felt their shirts sticking uncomfortably.

The trail was on a slight upward incline so the horses were beginning to feel the strain hauling their wagons with increased effort and slowing to a crawl as a result. Then a dramatic climax occurred with the leading riders rounding a sharp corner within one of these arroyo declivities to find a lone mount standing in the middle of the trail some fifty yards ahead, obviously waiting on their arrival.

"Is thet a woman yonder?"

Henrietta, so questioned by her lover riding beside her, halted her own mount to raise a gloved hand to shade her sight.

"Yeah, it is. Could be Jenny hersel'."

As she spoke they all watched the figure in the distance turn his or her's mount to head in the wagon train's direction. Half a minute later the rider, clearly now a woman dressed in jeans, shirt, and long yellow duster, came to a halt beside Henrietta, Sally, and Donaldson.

"Hi, folks, well met—I'm Jenny Shannon, glad t'meet y'all. How's things bin so far, if'n I may ask?"

"Bloody awful, in a nutshell!" Donaldson taking command of the conversation. "Glad t'meet ya, sure. So's how things with ye?"

"Oh, gettin' along some easy." Jenny grinning in reply. "Was gon'na stay away some distance, till after Phoenix, but somthin's come up."

Sally and Henrietta looked at each other with similar expressions—that of disgust and tedium.

"What?" Donaldson aiming for the main point of interest.

"Thar's a bunch o'bandits, don't know who exact, that're waitin' on yer arrival some five miles along the trail t'wards Phoenix. Thought ye better know ahead o'time."

Sally perked-up, the possibility of imminent action giving her a much needed shot of energy after an already long day.

"How many?" She eager for the fray. "Think they have a plan, or jes' millin' around hopin' fer the best in an ambush?"

"Twenty odd, meb'be a mite more. Seems they has a leader an' some kind'a plan of attack." Jenny shrugging as she spoke. "They're layin' out in various groups along a line around three hundred yards long to the side of an open area of ground behind a long rocky ridge some fifty feet high. They meanin' t'jump out'ta the scrub bushes along a long front an' attack ye all at once."

Donaldson pondered this information for half a minute before coming to a conclusion.

"Ye ready t'back us up?"

"Yeah, sure." Jenny nodding agreement. "My boys still have the high ground behind 'em, they not knowin' of our presence. We kin fall on 'em with full surprise, no worry."

Donaldson nodded.

"OK. Wait till we arrive thar, we'll be ready an' waitin' fer their attack. When it comes we'll defend oursel's some heavy, fer sure; you fall on 'em from behind at the same time an', fightin' on two fronts, they should fall apart complete without effort."

It was Jenny's turn to contemplate this plan; finding it, finally, acceptable.

"Yeah, sounds likely; gim'me an hour t'get back t'my boys, then by the time y'arrive we'll be ready fer 'em."

"OK, git to it. 'Bye." Donaldson agreeable to this set-up.

A moment later Jenny had turned the head of her mount and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

"Things seem some t'be hottin'-up!" Henrietta making this statement to one and all.

"Better go back along the line an' make sure everyone knows what t'expec'." Donaldson covering the important points. "Everyone t'load-up an' look t'thar weapons; tell 'em t'shoot at long range, so puttin'-off the raiders right away. When Jenny attacks from their rear they'll fall apart immediate, like I said. Whole thing shouldn't last more'n a few seconds."

"What about the wounded, after?" Sally regarding an important facet of such a battle.

"We go on regardless." Donaldson taking a cold attitude to this problem. "They wanted the fight, they take the consequences. If those of their friends who survive want t'go back, when we've passed on, t'succor their pals let 'em. Otherwise they, the wounded, are on their own—thet bein' Life in sich circumstances."

"Umm—right." Sally acknowledging reality, whatever her own feelings on the matter.


The wagon train took this opportunity for a rest and light meal, readying for the coming fray later. The wagons were kept tightly together while the defenders broke up into small groups, each making a small fire to themselves, mounts and weapons close to hand. Soon the energising smell of coffee and beans percolated the neighborhood to grand effect going by the laughter and cries of light-hearted badinage that broke out as everyone relaxed.

"What's this?"

"Beans, what else?" Sally replying to her lover's scowling remark with spirit. "Ye think I'm a Eastern chef or what? What were ye expectin'? Clams an' chowder or champagne? This's wild Arizony, lover, jes' be glad yer got beans, is all!"

"Sorry I spoke." Henrietta nonetheless squatting by the small fire, picking up a spoon and tin plate. "Finds, actil, I'm some hungry after all."

"Waal, thar ye be, baby."

The surrounding ambient temperature, at this time shortly before 3.00pm, was sultry and heavy, almost a physical pressure on the shoulders of those experiencing it. For anyone coming fresh from, say, Europe, the heat would have been too much to bear, but for the natives, those born to the terrain and all-encompassing warmth during most of the year, it seemed quite a fresh day; the small cooking fires they all sat round not significantly adding to their general discomfort; Sally and Henrietta soon busy with their meal in advance of all considerations.

"Mmm, thet were good, needed same, doll."

"Thanks, got'ta keep the workers happy."

"Very funny. Looked t'yer shooters, gal? Gon'na be needed in an hour or so."

"Yeah, jes' think I'll reload 'em agin, cain't be too careful, 'specially with dam' Smith an' Wesson thirty-two's. Charlie really gon'na make do with thet ancient single shot cap an' ball Savage? He'll only have the five shots."

"Never mind, he's got a reserve Colt forty-five in his waistband he don't like ter boast about. He'll be OK."

"Thank God fer thet."

"We'll be campin' out t'night, y'know, doll?"

"Yeah, figur'd." Sally nodding unhappily. "An' ye knows fine how much I likes sprawlin' in a blanket, bugs an' termites crawlin' all over me in the dark with c'yotes grumblin' hungrily twenty yards off amongst the sagebrush!"

"Yeah, I knows fine—ye never failin' ter wake me in the night t'complain, darlin'."

"Oh, you can snigger, lover," Sally not taking any backchat on the subject. "But I've al'lus said what a gal wants, an' needs of a night, is a full spread o'warm blankets atop a fine soft mattress in a weather-proof room with a good roof an' a locked door!"

"Lady, ye fills me with sumthin'. Not quite sure what, but ye gets me right in the heart every time, baby!"


Two hours later the wagon train had left the area of arroyos, dry riverbeds, and small canyons and low mesas to crawl steadfastly over a wider horizoned scrub desert with nothing of any note all round but the line of steadily disappearing hills in the distance they were steadily leaving in their wake.

"Whar'd ye thinks they'll hit us? Sum'mers aroun' h'yar, meb'be?"

Donaldson, riding beside the women, grunted low in his throat.

"Jenny said by a line o'hills or ridge extendin' some along the edge o'the trail. Fancy thet might be it jes' comin' up alongaways thar—see?"

Sally, looking in the direction the Sheriff indicated with gloved hand, just about made out a low ridge breaking the horizon on the left side of the trail.

"Everyone ready?"

"Yeah, made sure o' thet a'fore we started out on this section. At the first sign, or shot, we'll all open up like t'the Battle o'Chickamauga all over agin."

"Whee-hoo!" Sally impressed in spite of her generally morose attitude to such goings-on. "Waal, I'll be right in amongst it all mysel', sure. You, Harry?"

Henrietta gave her paramour a snappy glance in return.

"Need t'ask, lady? I'll git the first shot off, well ahead o'ye, fer sure, anyways."

"Ye thinks, eh?" Sally eyeing her lover with a considering glance.


"We'll see!"

Another hour and the danger area had been reached; a long broken rocky ridge some two hundred feet high ran along the left-hand side of the trail, the jagged line of the peak split by ravines and notches along its length. At the foot piles of loose boulders, some as large as small houses, and scree slopes covered in dense patches of sagebrush ran out from the ridge base towards the trail offering all sorts of hiding for possible attackers.

"Go back along the line, each side, an' tell everyone t'be ready t'shoot at a moment's notice."

Obeying this order Henrietta took the ridge side while Sally rode down the outer, pausing as they went to pass on the message. Having done so Henrietta returned to the head of the line while Sally was held back by the driver of the rear wagon complaining about his font axle which was giving signs of trouble. As a result when Sally headed back to the van she was way behind her partner on the other side of the convoy, and it was at this moment that all Hell broke loose with the appearance of the expected massed bandits opening fire from their hidden positions. Dust bounced off the wood sides of the wagons as bullets hit here and there; the defenders on horseback splitting up to make themselves individually lesser targets while returning fire to the best of their ability.

Then the attackers broke cover, riding forward towards the line of wagons in a straggling line firing still as they rode towards their target. Henrietta had made it to the head of the line, beside Donaldson, and sat her mount firing with her Henry rifle at distant riders; Sally, between the third and second wagon, firing both her revolvers at the advancing raiders, trying her best to pick individual targets with each shot.

There were, in fact, some forty attackers in all, riding in a more or less straight line, so the fire-power they brought to bear was brisk and concentrated in itself. But they were individual amateurs without strong discipline while the defenders were well versed in protecting themselves and their partners.

Sally, sitting her mount between wagon two and three, saw from her point of view a solid line of riders approaching the wagon train, distance some fifty yards. Being, as her old sobriquet suggested, a snapshot she aimed both her .32 Smith and Wesson's with precision, firing both together. Immediately she saw two riders fall sideways from their mounts in clouds of dust, the loose horses slanting across the line of the other attackers so impeding the main charge to a certain extent. She continuing firing as quickly as she could although the mounting dust clouds surrounding the line of riders began to obscure any particular target; the other defenders' fire contributing to the overall noise and drama.

Several of the attackers were knocked from their mounts, especially when the wagon defenders' coach guns came into play. The initial charge, to begin with straight and determined, quickly collapsed into a broken turmoil of separate groups and individuals; still attacking the wagon train but now far less resolutely; Henrietta making splendid play with her long range Henry rifle; loaded for .44 and capable of holding 15 rounds with an extra one in the barrel it was a formidable weapon at the best of times and in the hands of such an expert extremely deadly overall. Henrietta took down her first target at a range of just over forty-five yards without trouble, watching as the duster-coated victim fell sideways into the very dust he had hoped to protect himself from so ineffectually.

Swiftly ranging her weapon across the line of approaching attackers she fired in sequence, hitting two for every one she missed till after her magazine was emptied and her barrel hot she had laid low a further seven bandits, so many loose horses adding to the confusion and difficulties now suffered by the rapidly depleted group of bandits. Firing so fast and extensively had its drawback in that Henrietta now had to pause to reload 15 rounds, but she did this under the protection of the other defenders by her sides, including Donaldson who was having great fun with his ancient Savage .44 cap and ball pistol. This delivered a choking cloud of white smoke with every shot but its bullets hit with the impact and force of a naval gun, tearing its victims from their mounts as if grabbed by an invisible Classical God and flung to the ground more often than not as an immobile heap of rags rather than a living entity.

Reloaded, Henrietta returned to the fray, now picking out individual targets at much closer range. The extensive clouds of gun smoke, from both sides, had the effect of obscuring tracts of scrub and sand, figures and mounts appearing and disappearing just as quickly between these misty vapors; but there was always enough clarity and time for an expert bear-hunter such as she to get a bead on a target and fire accurately—several more bandits falling by the way as a result of her professional capacity; and now, from behind the straggling line of attackers, another group of mounts appeared bearing down on the rear of the bandits.

Jenny Shannon's gang, well-armed and strongly disciplined, some thirty strong swept over the top of the ridge in a close group firing from the saddle as they descended the slope behind the unprepared attackers, having one object in view—complete destruction of their opponents at all costs. The idea of justice, by way of giving the bushwhacking bandits some leeway to break away and disappear back to where they had come from or surrender, was never part of Jenny's plan; what she and her followers had in view was total annihilation across all points. The wave of firepower they therefore laid down hit the wagon train's attackers like a Missouri tornado, laying waste to the body of the combined group as if some mighty God had swept the line of attackers with an invisible but powerful scythe; bodies falling from their mounts in lines like puppets with cut strings almost as if a Gatling gun was operating.

This second skirmish, the bandits now attacked from both sides, was the endgame for the now broken assailants; fighting on two fronts simultaneously is never a good solution to a combat of any sort, and so it proved here within less than two minutes. Finding themselves fighting for their survival, having to swing round in their saddles to shoot behind them before swiveling round again to continue defending themselves from the guardians of the wagon train, the attackers swiftly split up into small groups or even individuals only intent on saving themselves; within seconds a solid phalanx of raiders had turned into a disheveled mass riding their mounts in all directions in efforts to get out of the double fire from opposing directions. Another minute and the group of attackers had dissolved into single riders only intent on escaping from the deadly fray at all costs. Two minutes more and all was over; the surviving attackers having disappeared in both directions back along the trail or out into the scrubland and sagebrush of the waiting desert, leaving a large number of their erstwhile members as bundles of broken bloody rags on the sand.

Jenny's band now mixed, mount to mount, with the wagon defenders, all riding around to make sure the raiders had indeed given up any intent of continuing the attack, also seeing to the dead and wounded scattered round, some crying in pain and groveling in fear. Ten minutes being enough to take account of the results of the extended fight on both sides.

"Seems we's only got three wounded, none serious." Donaldson passing on this collected information to his Deputies. "The bandits, on the other hand, thar be some eleven dead an' seven wounded. We kin git on our way agin too, mind ye, 'cause Jenny'll look after the wounded, see they're taken back t'Wolf Rock. You two OK yersel's?"

"Yep," Sally nodding from her mount. "Bullet whipped through the brim o'my hat, dam'mit!"

"Heard a few bullets comin' close, but nuthin' else." Henrietta giving her opinion. "Looks like we's come through pretty well."

"Yeah," Donaldson agreeing with the end result as shown by the few casualties on their side as opposition to the wholesale debacle suffered by the raiders. "Jenny an' her boys came in handy, sure enuff. Got'ta say, this Haulage's lookin' more'n more like an extended battle all the dam' way t'Phoenix; hopes some hard the return journey'll be a dam' sight easier an' peaceful!"

"With ye thar, Boss." Henrietta nodding decidedly.

"We'll see when it happens." Sally showing her usual resigned attitude to Life and whatever each day might bring.


Two hours later twilight was well advanced, the clear sky turning a deeper blue preparatory to ending in darkest violet-black. The shadows had deepened and the horizons closed in till the several campfires now lit only had a circumference of light spreading out some twenty yards or so. Coyotes, waking-up for their nocturnal wanderings, had begun to hold conversations among themselves in the form of howlings of various loudness and clarity depending on their closeness or distance among the now mostly invisible sagebrush.

Henrietta and Sally had a fire to themselves, as usual, comfortably settled for the evening, their mounts tied on long reins to find what low grass might be available in their vicinity nearby; coffee heating on the fire and bacon and beans ready for the evening meal.

"How're ya holdin' up? On top o'things, I hopes?"

Sally glanced over to her partner opposite as they sat by their fire, shadows flickering all round.

"Pretty well, gettin' some fed-up with all this shootin' thet's goin' forrard, mind ye. Seems every ranch-hand an' their Uncle've developed a sudden wish ter own our gold an' paper money. Appears the simple fac' thet we have same means thet they, these dam' bandits, allows it ought'a be theirs instead! Dam' warped logic an' morals, in my mind."

Henrietta was engaged in using a small stick to poke the fire, pondering on her lover's words as she did so.

"Waal, it's some 'cause of the difference between workin' fer a livin', an' not workin' fer a livin'. Hoodlums, bandits, outlaws, deadbeats, an' rustlers all follers the second o'those idees, t'the detriment of the rest o'us, who tries t'foller the Rules."

"Yeah, sees thet, sure." Sally nodding agreement. "Reason why you an' I're Depitys now, instead o'what we used ter be."

"I was a bear hunter." Henrietta somewhat amused by her partner's attitude. "What were ye a'fore seein' the Light o'the Law? Not somethin' too bad, I hopes?"

Sally grunted, twisting her shoulders and head without looking directly at her partner. "Whatever I was in the past stays in the past, lover. Jes' let it be said thet I'm what I am now, an' nuthin' more nor less."

"It'll do fer me, sure." Henrietta grinning in answer. "Like's ye fine the way ye are, lover; keep it up."


A distant invisible coyote, apparently with an objection to the presence of the many intruders into its territory, had started up a long series of howls, soon answered by a disparate group of his friends or relatives from differing positions in the darkness all round: the resulting wavering symphony being somewhat frightening to those not used to such.

"They're some raucous t'night."

"Yeah, we're makin' 'em nervous." Henrietta glancing round into the dark beyond the campfires. "Cain't really tell how far off they are; some half a mile or so, I figur's. Long's we stays by our fires, bunched t'gether as we are, thar won't be any danger. Wouldn't go far in'ta the dark, when Natur calls, mind ye."

Sally laughed softly.

"When I feels the need I'll jes' get ye t'hold my hand's all, dear."

Henrietta laughed in her own right.

"When ye needs a leak, baby, I kin tell ye ye'll be on yer own all the way, an' thet's my last word on the subjec'!"

"Huh!" Sally still amused. "Some friend, never mind lover, ye turns out t'be when a gal's in dire need!"


At this point Donaldson strode into the circle of wavering light, clapping his gloved hands together as the night air grew colder.

"How's things, leddies? Seem settled comf'tble."

"Yip; everyone OK after what's gone forrard?" Henrietta querying the state of the rest of the group.

"Yeah, they's all well-seasoned folks, thet'll git over the drama quick enuff." Donaldson slapping his jeans trousers with one hand, creating a small billow of fine dust in the air. "Figur' we'll have a quiet night, but I've put guards on the perimeter, all the same. Why I've come around, t'give ye two yer hours—"

"Oh, dam'!" Sally groaning on hearing this bad news. "What's our schedule, then?"

"Thought ye, Sal, could do midnight ter two, whiles Harry kin take two t'four. Sound OK?"

"Yeah, we're on it, chief." Henrietta acknowledging the inevitable. "We'll git our supper an' hit the hay as things is."

"OK, see ye in the mornin'." Donaldson waving perfunctorily as he turned to quickly disappear in the darkness.

"Well, at least we know what our night's about now." Henrietta shrugging where she sat.

"Better git some shut-eye quick, after supper." Sally looking to the important matters of the moment. "Kin ye stir the fire under thet pan some; make the bacon fry quicker?"

"Anythin' ye wishes, dear," Henrietta nodding acceptance of this order. "Your wish, my command, an' all thet nonsense."

"Won't be dam' nonsense if'n I doesn't git my bacon in the next ten minutes, lady; jes' sayin', some threatenin's, all!"



Two o'clock in the morning was, on its arrival, just as dark, cold, and relatively silent as the earlier hours and those few still to come. Sally, comfortably settled on a wood box on the ground between the second and first wagons, heard her relief coming from behind—her footfalls in the sand sounding loud in the dark.

"How's it lookin', baby?"

"Nuthin' doin', lover." Sally turning to watch as Henrietta strode up, Henry rifle under her arm. "See's yer well-armed."

"C'yotes, bandits, bushwhackers, all-comers—they disturb me t'night they gits shot some powerful!"

"Sort'a outlook thet goes right t'my heart, sure."

"Wan'na git off an' hit the hay, babe?"

"Nah, not sleepy now; figur' I'll stay fer a while an' annoy yer, if thet's OK by ye."

"Finds' I'll survive, yeah. Is thet other box by yer side solid? Take my weight?"

"Yeah, got cans o'beans in it." Sally nodding. "Prob'ly take even yer weight, lady."

"I'm laughin'!" Henrietta well-used to her partner's strange sense of humor. "Any sign of action out thar in the black nuthin'ness'."

"Nuthin', sez it all." Sally growling low as she shifted on her seat. "The usual c'yotes havin' a ball talkin' about us among themsel's; a few random sounds now an' agin, but nuthin' o'note. Bin takin' note, mysel', o'the stars—sumthin' t'keep my attention sharp, y'know."

"Yeah, they's clar enuff t'night," Henrietta raising her eyes to the skies. "Thousands, all over. Y'know any constellations, dear?"

"Not by name, apart from the Great Bear, up thar, see?"

"Yeah, thet's the only one I kin ever point ter, too." Henrietta agreeing as she continued observing the sky. "Hey, thar's a shootin' star!"

"Yeah, bin quite a few t'night; like t'a swarm o'them, seems we might be passin' through a cloud o'the things. Ain't ever seen any actil hit the ground, though—you?"

"Seen a star hit the ground? Nah. Happens, h'yar an' thar, fer sure, goin' by what ye reads in the newspapers, but' never anywhar near me."

"Bin tryin' t'make out which's stars an' which's planets—but cain't, I'm afraid."

"It's got somthin' ter do with the way they moves across the sky, I believes. Starin' at the sky all night ye kin follow the trails they all takes. The planets movin' some faster than stars an' in different directions, goin' by the books."

"Thet so?" Sally shrugging, as not really interested in this arcane detail. "Waal, I ain't gon'na sit an' stare at the stars all night, not when I kin be asleep in the Land o'Nod, anyways."

"With ye thar, babe." Henrietta agreeing again. "Waal, I'm gon'na take a slow walk up an' down the line; y'wan'na come along, or what?"

"Nah, my bedroll beckons." Sally knowing full-well where her best options lay. "See ye in the mornin', lover—don't wake me when ye comes back t'our campfire at four, I sleepin' some light, as ye knows."

"Do my best, baby, but no promises."



Phoenix, on the wagon train's arrival, showed as a spreading community well aware of its status and importance and sturdily determined to live up to such expectations. Instead of wood the majority of the buildings were made of stone, generally brownstone, with some of the streets actually laid over with large cobbles; some even having rails in the ground on which public cars were pulled by horses along designated routes within the municipality. To the north-east the skyline was cut by lines of ragged mountains some two thousand or so feet in height, between which and the growing township lay a scrubby barren desert landscape lightly covered over with tall three-armed cactus and wild coyotes. The Bank of Northern Arizona had only lately been incorporated and so sat gleaming in its newness two storeys high, rather out of place next to its more careworn neighbors, a Dry Goods shop on one hand and one of the forty Saloons of the town on the other.

As the wagon train of currency and gold in various formats pulled into 4th Street late in the morning a hefty variety of citizens crowded the sidewalks taking advantage of this rare subject of local interest. Outside the Bank the Manager, Thomas Johnson, stood by the side of Leverstone M. Rowlands, Chairman of the concern, while Sheriff Vernon Wildacre attended with around ten other Deputies and ordinary citizens corralled into becoming defenders for the day; long rifles very much in evidence along with hard expressions that boded no good for anyone wanting to try anything frivolous never mind serious in the circumstances. As the wagons pulled to a halt, Sheriff Wildacre stepped out to greet his fellow Lawmakers.

"So, h'yar ye be's? Some late, I allows, but h'yar all the same!"

"Hallo ter ye too, Wildacre; jes' as friendly an' welcomin' as I recalls, seemin'."

"Hrrr." Wildacre hardly pleased by this cold reply to his greeting. "Well, anyways, see's yer has the bullion t'hand; any difficulties on the road?"

"Nuthin' we couldn't handle." Donaldson making light of yesterday's drama. "Ye got yer currency t'hand? An' places fer all this dross we've brung along?"

"Yes, Sheriff," Johnson nodding in return. "if ye brings yer stuff inside we'll transfer what we has jes' as quick's quick, sure enuff."

But before this significant, and of course entirely necessary, course of action could be set in motion Leverstone Rowlands came to life, profering the curled lip of disdain towards the entire set-up.

"Hold hard thar! What in Hell's this? Those wagons looks like they's bin through a dam' Indian War! They're splintered up an' down all over; what the hell happened? This is costin' me some big money, y'all knows, dam'mit!"

"Exigencies o'the Times, Lever." Donaldson taking the High Road at this criticism. "Cain't make mollasses without cuttin' down the sugar cane first!"

Taken somewhat aback by this vague aphorism Leverstone took a few seconds to regain his bearings; but on doing so came back fighting.

"Whatever! Takes it y'were attacked by marauders, h'yar, thar, an' every dam' whar else?"

Donaldson mused on this point for a considerable time before answering, much to the businessman's irritation—finally

"Yeah, well, thar was some folks adamant they had better call fer our cargo than we did; but we saw 'em all off in the end, though with a few bumps an' bruises along the way, sure."

"Bumps an' bruises?" Leverstone hardly mollified. "Those wagons cost me fifteen hundred each! Now look at 'em; couldn't give 'em away in thar present condition—some astonished ye were able t'git h'yar with 'em in sich a dam' awful state! Thet thar front wagon, it's front axle looks like its hangin' half-off as it is. God, if I goes an' sneezes anywhar close t'it it'll give up the ghost all the way fer sure!"

"No need t'get so excited, do yer blood pressure no good, y'know." Sally sailing in where more competent folks wouldn't, as was her normal wont. "Take a deep breath, ye'll feel better. We brought the gold an' paper money home alright, didn't we? What more d'ye want? What's a bust wagon more'n less?"

Leverstone bristled angrily, wounded in that part of him that was most susceptible—his business acumen.

"It ain't the material; it's the natur' o'the thing. One doesn't want to lose out on one's stock; this bein' a business consarn all round, ye realises. I'll have t'mark those dam' wrecks off as bust goods, which ain't gon'na make a pretty sight on my Books, is all: me liking t'make a profit every which way, rather than a deficit any way at all. Sure the gold an' bullion, an' paper's, all accordin' t'Hoyle an' Bristol fashion? Y'sure?"

Donaldson had by now reached the far side of his patience and so brought the conversation to a close with professional acumen.

"Let's cut the crap, shall we? I've had a dam' hard few days corralin' this muck all the way from Red Flume halfway across the whole dam' Territory; an' all I wants right now is t'see the back of it. Give us a coupl'a days, when we can re-order oursel's, take the new moneys aboard, an' head back south, then we kin kiss this dam' business g'bye fer the next dam' six months. What ye should be worryin' about, Lever, is whether ye're gon'na accompany us on the return journey, jes' t'add your powerful presence t'our defence in case o'further attacks by marauders? An' don't, fer a dam' second, talk about bringin' yer dam' Gatlin' gun along fer the ride, 'cause I don't wan'na hear it, OK? Well, ye comin' with us, two days from now, or no?"

Caught on the back foot Leverstone huffed like a black bear for a few seconds, before catching at what to him seemed a clear and serious get-out policy, but which to those surrounding the small group came across as blatant cowardice in the face of the enemy.

"Ah—of course I'd come along, ready an' willin', sure; but I got heavy duties h'yar, at the Bank. This re-distribution of so much gold an' paper an' whatnot else in the monetary line needs careful overseein'; some mighty intricate accountin' needin' t'be got into. Takes a seasoned professional like me t'see everything rolls smooth. So I cain't accompany ye likes I'd like to, sure; but thar it be; ye'll jes' need'ta git along without me, sad's I finds the need t'stay h'yar, thanks!"

Donaldson allowed his expression, in face of this diatribe, to show many facets of his understanding—none of them complimentary, but in the end turned to the necessary needs of the moment.

"Time's a dam' wastin' as we all grows some older an' wiser h'yar, folks. Let's git this cargo on the move in'ta the dam' Bank fast's we kin, me at least havin' a dam Life to git on with after. Let's git to it, people! Lever! G'bye!"

Leverstone, relieved of a very dangerous commitment, stood by the entrance to his Palace of all that really mattered—The Arizona National Bank—watching these final preparations with all the reserved tranquility of someone who had no intention whatever of letting themselves come anywhere near the danger zone; finally settling his still jangling nerves by a much used habit—he diving into a pocket for one of his huge Bernardino QX stogeys. A moment later, tossing the used lucifer aside which had brought it to life, he was enveloped in a pale blue cloud as serenity and calm under all circumstances returned to his somewhat disrupted feelings.

As was only to be expected Sally and Henrietta found themselves roped into participating in the physical manhandling of the cases of bullion, coins, paper money, gold dust, and gold and silver bars making up their cargo. Transferring it all to the capacious vaults in the cellars of the Bank, and shifting the vast amount of new paper money, and gold and silver from the Bank to the wagons again, took up most of the rest of the day, so that the women didn't find themselves free till nearly five o'clock that afternoon.

"Jeez, I needs a dam' bath an' a drink quick's lightning'!" Sally offering this request as they walked along the sidewalk away from the confines of the Bank. "Thar some Hotel nearby we kin annoy some with our presence?"

"Yeah, Donaldson made reservations fer us a'fore startin'." Henrietta on top of this eminent need. "The Carlson Hotel, along this way an' down t'the right."

"Mighty fine—mighty fine!"

An hour later two refreshed women strolled along the covered sidewalk again, this time cool, calm, and thirsty as donkeys in the desert.

"Whar's the nearest Saloon?"

"Dun'no!" Henrietta growling low. "What? Am I a Directory o'the town, or what?"

"Jes' askin's all."

"Well, don't!" Henrietta, though, immediately repenting her aggravated tone. "Sorry, lover, had a hard day. Saloon? Thar's supposed t'be over forty o'the dam' things in this h'yar town, so it shouldn't be hard t'bump in'ta one, I'll allow."

Sally, questing eagerly like a hawk in the sky, had already made contact with her victim however.

"Over thar, see? Down this side-street; let's go—last thar pays fer the first round!"

"Oh, thet's jes' great!" Henrietta sounding this off to the fast disappearing back of her paramour, she obviously intent on not being that person.

Phoenix, though still a young community, had existed long enough to collect a raft of Saloons, Hotels, drinking-dens, and Taverns of varying quality. The one picked by Sally, Jenkins' Bar, proving to stand at the higher level of this fluctuating line of superiority. There was sand on the wood floor, a long bar with a metal boot-bar, a fine selection of bottles on shelves behind the bar, and a respectable number of wide round tables in the large public room. When Sally and Henrietta stepped in there was a rustle as the regulars twisted in their chairs to inspect the new arrivals, but on this being concluded they all sat back, as having had their curiosity fully appeased.

"Two whiskies—an' make it the good stuff, OK?"

The middle-aged barkeep, covering the new customers with a raking glance, sniffed somewhat superciliously.

"Jenkins' only sells the best, leddies." He expanding on this preeminent quality of the establishment through set lips. "Ye won't git better anywhar else in this midden-heap o'a community. H'yar ye be."

Henrietta gave her glass, set down on the bar before her with the smugness of a proud owner, an intent examination. Its contents dark brown, as was to be hoped as well as expected, she raised it to her lips, sniffing its fragrance before taking an exploratory sip.

"Huum, pretty fair; yeah, not bad."

"Best Phoenix has ter offer!" The barkeep nodding proprietorially before strolling off to the other end of the bar to continue his prescribed duties.

"Waal, thar we be."

Sally, having nothing to lose, sipped her own drink in turn.

"Hmm, don't taste any different from any other whiskey I've ever tasted—nuthin' exceptional."

"Yeah, it's jes' Red Eye, like any other." Henrietta sniffing sarcastically. "Jes' don't tell that iron-jawed barkeep so, or he'll keep us h'yar all night boasting on the great quality of his stock."

"Other things t'claim my interest." Sally snorting on her part.

"Me too," Henrietta shifting comfortably from one boot on the lower foot-bar to the other. "First o'which's what's gon'na happen t'the train on our way home t'morrer?"

"We got Jenny Shannon's bunch on our side, lookin' t'our borders from h'yar on in."

"All t'the good, sure," Henrietta nodding acceptance of the general positive nature of this point. "but, all the same, doesn't make everythin' wine an' roses across the board. Still lots o'raiders, drifters, outlaws, thieves, kidnappers, an' murderers out thar, waitin' their chance with pistol or rifle. Any o'us could still stop a stray bullet at the least chance, baby!"

"Yer on a low run, lover—buck-up some, cain't ye?"

"Jes' thinkin', Luck's all very well, but Luck runs out fer the very best, eventual, don't ye know!"

"So I've bin told," Sally sighing gloomily as she sipped her whiskey again. "but I'm certin sure I'm on a roll, an'll miss out on thet experience some total, takin' all in all!"

Henrietta glanced at her lover with a curious expression.

"Jes' keep on thetaway, darlin'; it bein' why I loves yer so!"

"Har!" Sally a little embarrassed. "Do my best, sure."

There now came, providentially, an interruption as a dusty raggedly dressed man with a thick but unruly grey beard hove up beside them, clearly on tenterhooks for the first drink of his day; he thumping the bar-top with a dirty hand.

"Hoi! 'Keep! Gim'me a whiskey, quick's ye can."

From the far end of the bar the proprietor of the drinks stored there gave this new customer a reflective, considering glance from under furrowed brows; then deciding that, all in all, another customer could only benefit the Bar as a whole, in the short term at least, he came along with a bottle and none too clean a glass in hand.

"Leave the bottle, pard."

Setting his shoulders in militarily straight lines the bar-keep gave the customer another keen glance, but eventually walked off again, leaving the bottle on the bar by the man's left hand—he already having emptied his first drink and busy re-filling for a second attack on the beverage supplied.

"Yee-aarh!" He setting this second empty glass down with a bang. "Tasted better pig's-piss, so I have! But, when the Devil drives!"

So saying he re-filled his glass yet again, taking this one slightly slower, not forgetting to sigh with pleasure as the liquid began to work its magic on his insides.

"Arrh, thet's dam' better!" He sighing in delight, looking somewhat blearily sideways at those by his side; both women trying their best to pretend he wasn't there. "Nuthin' like a drink on a empty stomach, fer sure. Ain't had a drink, as ter say a drink, these past nine weeks; gold minin' bein' some of a lay thet'll break yer back, if not neck, if'n given the chance whiles under the 'fluence. Learnt thet thirty yar since, when Bob Harte cut his foot off in his diggin's with a loose blow o'his axe! Couldn't stop the flow, y'see's; died less'n half an hour after, me not bein' able t'give sustenance any way h'yar nor thar, sadly. Yeah, boys, never drink on the job, ye'll find thet's good advice in yars t'come. Oh—leddies! Waal, I never!"

Amused by the man's bemusement Henrietta smiled as she addressed their companion.

"Dramatic life ye've led, pard; had any luck in the gold diggin' line these past few months?"

This query, mildly as it was meant, clearly hit a tender spot with the prospector.

"Gold! Ha! Ain't seen enuff o'it these last six month ter gim'me a change o'clothes, sure! Had t'fall back on scratchin' amongst the dirt fer shiny stones—gems! An' them as I have found none too rar neither. Things called tourmalines—green stones, y'know."

Sally paused in sipping her drink to frown over this information.

"Tourmaline? Never heerd o'sich. Valy'ble, are they?"

"Nah!" The man grunting disdainfully. "Only goes after 'em 'cause I exposed a bed o'them lookin' fer gold one time months since. Assayer tell't me there was a market for 'em, but not t'get any hopes up o'bein' rich as a result. Aroun' ten dollars fer one as'll sit comf'tble in the palm o'yer hand—uncut at thet, o'course. Slightly more expensive fer bein' cut ter look like a real gem on the markit."

Henrietta snorted, as not much interested.

"Glad t' hear ye'll manage t'Winter well, anyways, as a result."

"Huh! Jes' about, sure." The prospector pouring himself another drink. "H'yar, gals, how's about jinin' me in a throat easer?"

Seeing no reason not to accept a free drink the women grinned as their glasses were refilled from the prospector's bottle, they all raising their glasses in unison to a combined toast.

"H'yar's t'gold—wharever the dam stuff may be in this dam'med Territory!"

"Likewise!" From Henrietta, much amused.

"Me too!" Sally shrugging half-heartedly, but downing her glass's contents promptly.


Two days later the wagon train had left Phoenix early, just after sunrise, and was now well out in the dry scrub desert again.

"Whar be our first stop, Charlie?" Henrietta looking for clarity on this important subject. "Wolf Rock agin?"

"Nah, a slight detour, t'Groggan's Bluff; got'ta offload some paper money at the Bank thar. Should git thar in around three hours or so."

Sally wasn't having this, however.

"Groggan's Bluff? What fer we're goin' thar? Ain't nuthin' thar but a single Public Outhouse fer travelers an' a dugout fer overnight itinerants."

Donaldson laughed aloud at his Deputy's distaste.

"Must'a grown some since yer last visit, Sal. It's got a Bank, a Corral, a Dry Goods store, an' a Hotel now."


"Whar's Jenny, an' her gang?" Henrietta bringing the conversation back to important details.

"Oh, aroun' sumwhar's." Donaldson hardly disturbed by the visible absence of anyone within a radius of three miles or so but themselves and the three wagons. "Keepin' hersel out'ta sight like a good 'un."

"Dam' well hopes so!" Sally still not assured of the straight nature of the unseen outlaw's motives. "Wouldn't trust thet gal further than I could pick her up an' throw her ornery hide."

An hour later things began to ratchet up again; a light flickering from a rocky ridge some two miles ahead on the left of the trail.

"It's the heliograph agin." Sally on the ball instantly, peering at the intermediately visible light from under her gloved hand. "Jenny's holdin' a stand-off at Groggan's Bluff. Her band on the left of the town, a bunch of heavily armed riders standin' waitin' on the right of the trail outside the town's east side. Some thirty strong."

Donaldson raised an arm to halt the train, then sat his mount in thought for half a minute before reaching a decision.

"OK, at least we knows the lie o'the land, so h'yar's what we does. We goes in hard an' fast, halts outside the Bank, which, I sincerely hopes'll have some sort o'defensive force of its own ready. We offloads our cargo, leaves say eight men t'defend the Bank a little more strongly, till the gang, whoever they may be, gits itchy an' goes off in a huff t' pastures new an' fresh woods."

"Thet thar's a plan?" Sally's intonation saying all that needed to be said about her thoughts on the subject.

Donaldson sniffed austerely.

"It'll dam' well do till a better comes along. When sich does, be sure'n let me know, Sal!"


An hour later, on reaching the outskirts of the tiny hamlet no-one was impressed by the sight now in view.

"I could spit from one end o'the Main Street t'the other! Thet clarly bein' the only sich thoroughfare aroun', too!" Sally getting her view in ahead of any other. "Thar be about five buildin's at most. Y'bin tellin' us a tall tale, Charlie? It'd take a dam' Army Brigade t'defend this dump from a bunch of stroppy kids throwin' stones, never mind a true-blooded bunch o'outlaws tooled up t'the gills!"

"Quit whinin', will yer?" Donaldson all out of patience, with other more important things on his mind. "What have ye in yer veins, woman? Watered down milk, or what? Git ter seein' ter yer piece an' leave the dam' worryin' t'me. Everybody, look ter yer weapons, but no firin' unless they opens up first; let's see if we kin worry 'em in'ta a fit by overbearin' force alone. But if necessary, shoot t'kill, an' make every shot count—me beginnin' t'be some fed-up with this constant annoyance o'folks wantin' money without workin' first fer same."

Groggan's Bluff did indeed rather live down, than not, to its reputation; one street with three two-storeyed buildings on the left and two on the right making-up the whole establishment. Thirty yards out on the left of the township most of Jenny Shannon's gang formed a compact group; while a similar distance out in the scrub on the right of the town a more straggling group of around thirty, or possibly forty, riders sat immobile, observing the nature of the wagon train and its make-up. Outside the building which did duty as the local Bank Jenny herself sat her mount alongside another ten of her gang, while the bank manager stood in the shadow of his entrance door, two men with shotguns by his side—none looking exactly happy.

"Waal, what's t'do?" Henrietta voicing her own, and Sally's, concern.

"We goes on as usual." Donaldson having examined the distant group of apparent outlaws with an eagle eye. "Got some idee they's jes' makin' play with a show, not meanin' much ter go any further, unless pushed. Waal, Jenny, how's things? Last I saw of ye, a'fore these present on-goin' allowances, I was tryin' some powerful t'blow yer head off with my Savage!"

Jenny, sitting her mount beside the trio, laughed musically, wholly at her ease.

"An' dam' glad it was thet broken down relic ye used; couldn't hit a barn door at twenty paces, thank Chr-st! Ha-ha! Sincerely hopes yer goin' ter use somthin' more accurate on those bums across thar, fer sure. Unless it's simply yer intention t'jes' disturb the sagebrush some!"

Donaldson twisted his lips into a disdainful grimace.

"Finds yer conversation's reached it's nadir in the first sentence! You an' yer men capable o'opposin' thet bunch out thar, ye thinks? If'n they decides ter attack in the next hour or so?"

"Sheriff!" Jenny shaking her long black wavy locks like a Syren emerging from the Seas. "I could take thet bunch o'no-good bums on single-handed, an' come out smellin' o'roses sure. Take no note o'them, I'll look after yer rar while we're h'yar, don't worry."


Two hours later the changeover of paper money and a small amount of gold had been safely accomplished; the distant gang of observers making no attempt to disturb the operation. Donaldson spent some time discussing the ongoing defence of the Bank, with the ten men he was leaving to assist the Manager, then all was ready for the continuance of the wagon train southwards once again. As they left the far outskirts of the small town Sally and Henrietta kept a sharp eye on the distant bunch of outlaws; a small group of whom detached themselves to follow, discreetly, the departing train while the majority of the outlaws remained threatening the Bank from a distance.

Half an hour out along the trail and the following outlaws, some twenty in number, paused then turned their mounts' heads to return to the township leaving the train to continue in peace.

"Think they'll try anythin' back at the town?"

"Nah, Harry, they ain't got the gumption or bravery." Donaldson sure of this reading of the situation. "Seen sich often in the past; they makes out t'be some nasty an' dangerous, but ends by bein' jes' clowns with no guts at all. They'll git fed-up spectatin' at the Bank in another hour or so an' slip back in'ta the desert an' lose themselves like cowardly c'yotes in the dark. Next stop Wolf Rock agin."


On successfully regaining Red Flume two days later the wagon train had taken on the aspect of a dusty, slightly scuffed and dented, assemblage which had been through the wringer of Life and only just managed to emerge effectively by the skin of its teeth. The three wagons were battle-tried, one having broken an axle out in the wastes of Palmer's Flats necessitating the loss of five full hours in the hot sun before repairs could be made. Water had become a source of worry on the second day when a barrel had burst miles from any pool or spring; then one rider had fallen from his mount breaking an ankle while another, hours later, had been bitten by a rattler while attempting to relieve himself behind a patch of sagebrush—he having been saved by Sally's expert knowledge in how to administer a particular Indian medicine and treatment, he now safely in the hands of Doc Thompson of Red Flume. But the whole contingent had arrived safely at the end of their odyssey to everyone's delight and relief.

"Home at last!" Sally voicing everyone's thoughts as they dismounted outside the Arizona National Bank on Main Street, Red Flume. "An' not an hour too soon, neither."

"With ya thar, baby." Henrietta just as relieved as they strode along the covered shade of the sidewalk towards the comfort of the Sheriff's Office. "First thing, a pot o'coffee, second thing, signin' off duty an' goin' home ter a well-earned hot bath an' a home-made meal thet don't consarn bully-beef nor g-d'd-m beans!"

"Sounds good, leddy." Sally sighing as she imaged these delights in her own imagination "First dibs on the bath mysel', o'course."

Henrietta paused in her long stride to give her lover an extended and concerned glance.

"Oh, y'thinks so, does yer? Mighty forrard o'ye, I'm thinkin'."

"Hrrph!" Sally affecting a vexed tone. "Waal, how's about tossin' fer same, lover?"

Henrietta was prepared for this oft-used get-out clause of many of their arguments.

"Toss fer it? With thet two-headed dollar yer keeps hidden from sight like a sparklin' ruby?"

Sally raised her eyebrows, blowing a heartfelt sigh of wonder with puffed-out cheeks.


"—'course I knows!" Henrietta continuing along the sidewalk in triumph. "Figgered it out last yar, t'tell the truth."

This revelation caught Sally wholly unawares.

"Y'knew? An' all those times since y've let me win those other argy'ments? Y'were jes' lettin' me do so out'ta kindness an' charity?"

Henrietta stood motionless by Sally's side, looking down at her with a bright light in her dark chestnut eyes.

"Waal, what kin a lover do, when she actil loves her lover likes I loves you?"

Sally shook her head, before reaching out to link her hand around her lover's elbow as they continued walking.

"Ye're some gal, gal! A fine meal, made by me; a wonderful bath, ye goin' first, baby; then bed—an' we won't be sleepin' none, neither, if'n ye gits my drift. Ye gits my drift, don't yer, babe?"

Henrietta pulled her elbow closer to her ribs, feeling Sally's hand there comforting and soothing.

"Finds some I does, lover, finds I does!"

The End


Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.