Gunslingers of Paradiso–The Slasher

December 8, 2009

The Slasher

It had been twenty years since the last wagon had left Beaumont for the West. After that, people began to catch on that they would not be making their fortune in the frontier. Once billed as the gateway to the west, Beaumont was no longer the last stop before venturing out in the unknown. Most visitors to the city were traders, merchants and Indians–the city now a trading center for any from the west and little more.

It was on a cloudy day–promising some much needed rain–that the rider came into town. The townspeople stared as the horse strode into town, carrying the rider slowly. The rider–concealed beneath a wide-brimmed hat and wrapped in a gray scarf–gazed straight ahead as the horse walked on. The long coat wavered in the wind as the rider made way across town.

The horse stopped in front of the saloon and the rider dismounted, pushing through the swinging doors and entering the darkened room with a strange authority. The portly bartender watched as the stranger sat the bar, pushing down the scarf to reveal her soft feminine face, green eyed and framed by dark brown hair.

Give me a whiskey,” she said. Her voice was rough and low–intentionally lowered to be almost inaudible.

Haven’t seen ya around here before,” the bartender said. “Ya new in town?”

I reckon so. I’m actually looking for somebody who came through here years ago. You ever hear of a man named McMullin?”

McMullin? I don’t think I know any McMullins. Name sounds familiar though.”

They went west. Twenty years ago. During the war.”

That’s right… Blacksmith and his family. Wife and two daughters I think it was. He was in a real rush to get out there. I only remember now because of that. Said he was heading towards a town called Paradiso.”

Sounds about right.”

The bartender eyed her suspiciously.

You chasin’ after them or somethin’?” he asked.

You might say that,” she replied.

Who are ya?”

Someone you’ll never see again after today. Another shot.”

He poured her another shot as Sheriff Carson and his two deputies walked in. The rail thin sheriff with his two young prototeges sat a table and waited for the bartender to come over, looking crisp in their denim with shining badges and gun belts.

Good mornin’ Ezra,” the bartender greeted. “How’s the day treatin’ ya?”

Not badly Everett,” the sheriff replied. He looked at the woman at the bar. “Who’s the stranger?”

Don’t rightly know,” the bartender said. “Says she’s lookin’ for someone named McMullin who left here for the west twenty years ago.”

The sheriff looked at the stranger.

You there,” he said. “What’s your name?”

She spun on her stool and faced them, leaning back against the bar.

Who wants to know?” she asked.

You’d better answer our questions,” the sheriff said. “The law around here don’t take kindly to outside dissidence.”

I’m not looking for trouble. Just trying to gather some information. I’ll be out of town fast enough.”

Tell me your name or we’ll have trouble.”

I tell you my name, trouble is going to come through regardless.”

One of the deputies tilted his head as he looked at her. His jaw dropped as he realized who she was.

It’s her,” he said. “The St. Albans Slicer.”

I don’t want any trouble,” she reiterated. “I’m just looking for the McMullins.”

You’re wanted in seven states,” the sheriff said. “Dead or alive. Preferably dead.”

I can’t let you arrest me.”

They went for their guns.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

She shot the three men, skilled enough to aim to disarm–not to kill. Hitting their shoulders, they dropped the guns and staggered back as she slowly drew her second gun. One of the deputies charged forward, trying to tackle her. It was an easy movement for her to redirect him out the door–following him to the street. He started to get to his feet–but her own foot kept him pinned down.

Stay down,” she said. “If you know who I am, then you know I’ve killed before. Many times. And I would have no problem killing you.”

Why don’t you?” he asked.

I’m just one of the unluckiest people there is. All I ever meant to do was help. And I’m trying to set things right.”

She stepped away and went to her horse. She mounted and looked down at him.

I don’t wanna kill anybody today,” she said. “Do yourself a favor and forget I came this way.”

Holstering her gun, she continued out of town.

#

A week had passed since the St. Albans Slicer left Beaumont. The sheriff had no choice but to add a couple of new deputies while he and the first two deputies healed. It was at the end of the week that the two men arrived. He recognized them immediately: Bounty Hunters. One was an older man, tough and leathery with long white hair. Despite his age, most could tell he would be able to hold his own in most situations. The other was a younger man with a thin, dark mustache and long black hair. Both were dressed in black, looking menacing on their steeds. They stopped in front of the sheriff’s office. The sheriff came out to greet them.

Afternoon,” he said. “Can I help you?”

Don’t know,” the young one said. “Heard that the Slicer came through here last week. That true?”

My men are going to be mightily disappointed if it wasn’t. She shot us up. Still recovering.”

She’s a dangerous one. She cleared out, I suppose?”

Yeah. Went west. Probably never see her again.”

There’s a $5,000 reward out for her arrest. $10,000 or more if we can swing things the right way in a couple of counties. We’ll take on any men who want to come with us. If they carry their weight and are worth having along, we’ll give them an equal share of the bounty.”

The sheriff nodded.

And who are you?” he asked.

Name’s August Warner,” the young one said. “My partner here is Cyrus Tull.”

I’ve heard of you both. If you want to ask around town about men who could go, you have my blessings.”

Thank you kindly.”

#

The Bounty Hunter recruited five riders to go with them: the two deputies that had been wounded, a couple of their friends, and Geoffrey Jenkins, a man who lived in the town for the past twenty years and wanted an opportunity to head west. The deputies–Dwight Ferguson and Harrison Queen–were nearly healed when the party set out to the west, looking fit in their trail gear and coats. Their friends–Jim Forrester and Jeffrey Atkins–looked around anxiously as they rode out. They were younger than the two deputies, kind of heavyset and slow with shaggy brown hair.

They rode in two columns behind Warner, Jenkins and Tull directly behind, with the two deputies bringing up the rear. The sun was beginning to set when Warner finally stopped the party to set up camp.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover,” he said. “She got a week’s head start on us. Too much of one if you ask me.”

Do you think we have much of a chance to catch up to her?” Dwight asked.

It’ll take some time,” Warner replied. “If we’re lucky, she’ll get slowed down in the Indian Nations. They don’t take kindly to white men passing through, I doubt they’ll be much happier about a white woman.”

#

They set up camp on the top of a hill on the plain. The group sat around the fire as the sky grew dark. Warner looked at the others with a cold and evaluating glare.

We’re going to reach the Indian Nations tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll figure out if they can tell us anything useful about the Slasher. I want everybody to be clear on what we’re doing there. Do not speak unless I say so. These people are extremely sensitive and can be tricky to deal with if you don’t know what to be expect and how to handle yourself. To make sure things go smoothly, I’ll do the talking.”

What did this girl do?” Dwight asked.

The better question is what didn’t she do,” Tull said. “A sheriff in Vermont put up a wanted poster on her for cutting up a couple of boys. They had apparently beat up some whores when they had too much to drink–a couple of well respected boys though. She left them half dead before the sheriff caught and brought her in. She tricked a deputy and escaped. From there, they’ve linked her with a variety of crimes. Arson, murder, bank robbery, prostitution, extortion and vigilantism all across the country.”

Whew!” Harrison whistled. “She’s been busy. How long have you been chasing after her?”

About a year,” Warner said. “The family of the two boys she cut up hired us to track her down. She’s been evading us pretty well up to this point. Had a shoot out in Indiana. Tull took a bullet in the thigh. We were slow on picking up the trail again after that–thought we might catch up in Beaumont.”

I was wondering about something,” Jenkins said. The old farmhand looked starry-eyed as he spoke. With short gray hair, he was the second oldest of the group. “When she was at the saloon, she asked about someone named McMullin. That have much of anything to do with all of this?”

Not that I know of,” Warner said. He stood up. “Get some sleep. Tomorrow we figure out if we’re actually gaining ground.”

#

It was midday when they reached the Indian Nations. Starting at dawn, Warner permitted only a quick breakfast before they moved out. Their pace was quick and the sun was high when they came up on the edge of one of the outer villages, a small gathering of tents and wigwams on the plain. The Indians gazed at them as they came in, riding slow and deliberate.

Keep close to me,” Warner said. “We’ll talk to the chief and see if we can get safe passage through.”

They went to the largest of the tents and dismounted, the group waiting at the door for the guard to permit them to enter. Warner ordered them to disarm and had Tull stay outside to watch the horses and weapons as the others went in. The others entered the tent cautiously. Inside there was a wizened old Indian sitting behind the fire. He wore an elaborate headdress and had an old cloth draped across his left shoulder and going across his torso. He regarded them cautiously and with a blank stare. Beside him sat a young white woman. She wore an animal-skin dress with a large number of beads sewed onto the hems, her red hair equally decorated.

The old chief spoke quickly to them.

My father welcomes you to his village,” the woman translated. “He greets you with the greatest of praise and hopes you come with honorable intention.”

I thank him for his warm welcome,” Warner said. “We appreciate it greatly. We are lawmen in search of a fugitive and request permission to pass through your people’s lands in pursuit.”

My father will grant you this permission. He also has a message for you. The one you seek is a woman, yes?”

…Yes.”

She came here four days ago. She was bitten by a rattlesnake. We tended to her and she left our care yesterday. In her leaving she told us men would follow in pursuit of her. She told us to warn you that she would not be taken.”

Unfortunately I’ve given my word to bring her back where she came. Which direction did she go?”

Northwest. She said she sought a town called Paradiso.”

Thank you for your help and we are honored by your kindness.”

You are good men, and we mean you no harm. We wish you would reconsider your pursuit of the woman though. She was honorable with us and did not seem to have any desire to harm.”

I’m sure you’ll understand that I’ve given my word to chase her down. If there were another way, I would take it.”

#

Warner saw that they were gaining on the query, so he had them continue on immediately and at a faster pace. The terrain grew more rocky and uneven as they went, gradually taking an uphill turn. They came to the top of a short plateau, and on the other side they could see a winding ravine. Looking out beyond, Dwight thought he could see some faint sign of something on the horizon. He asked Warner what it was.

You’ve got a good eye,” Warner said. “Looks like smoke from a campfire. If we’re lucky, she set up camp at the other end of the ravine.”

I don’t like the looks of this,” Tull said. “This type of set up isn’t one to go into without a plan.”

Agreed,” Warner said. “There’s seven of us, so let’s use that to our advantage. I want two on each side of the ravine, taking up cover positions. The remaining three go straight through, single file. That way if she sees us, we’ll be in a better position to track her.”

I want the men on the ravine walls to be on foot,” Tull added. “The horses would have bad footing up there. If they give away our position, this could get messier than we want.”

Agreed,” Warner said. “Tull, you take Atkins, Jenkins and Harrison take the other side. Ferguson and Forrester ride with me.”

The others dismounted, grabbing their rifles and ammunition before they made their way up the cliff side to the ridges along the edges of the ravine. When Tull felt they were far enough along, he began to ride forward and signaled for his two companions to do so as well. They proceeded slowly, hoping not to tip off their query. The rocks on the ground shifted and rattled beneath them, keeping their steeds on a slow and deliberately quiet pace.

I don’t like this,” Dwight whispered. “Something feels really off.”

Agreed,” Warner said. “Keep your eyes peeled. If you see anything, we stop and turn back.”

Dwight looked straight ahead, seeing something glinting in the sunlight ahead, but was cut off before he could report to Warner.

Dynamite planted throughout the ravine walls went off, sending walls of rock closing in on them. Spurring their horses forward, they hoped to outrun the collapsing wall of stone. Forrester’s horse got tripped up by a rock and he was flung off, breaking his neck when he hit the ground. Neither Dwight or Warner noticed. They were almost to the end of the ravine. They could almost escape–

Their horses stumbled and fell, flinging them forward. Their landings were a lot luckier than Forrester’s. They survived. Almost instantly after getting to their feet though, they were taken out by the rock slide.

They were not buried too much, the worst of it confining their legs. Dwight struggled to free himself, looking around as he did. Warner was nearby, unconscious or dead, he did not know for certain. The others were not visible.

Footsteps drew closer. He looked up, seeing the familiar shape of the Slasher, a heavy bandage on one hand. She aimed a rifle at him.

I warned you,” she said. “Your companions are dead. If you do manage to dig yourself out here’s some advice: stop following me. You aren’t a part of this. Walk away while you can.”

Those boys you cut up in Vermont,” Dwight said. “You knew someone they hurt? One of the whores they beat up?”

So what if I did? Does that give them any right to do what they did?”

No. But you had other choices.”

I made the choices that no one else would’ve. When I was in Beaumont you tried to tackle me. Bring me down. Tell me, do you really think you’ve got what it takes to kill a man?”

She turned and went to her horse, riding away quickly before he could reply. Once she was out of sight, he heard a groan from nearby. Warner was waking up.

Damn it all to Hell,” he hissed. He looked at Dwight. “You able to free yourself?”

I think so,” Dwight said.

My arm is jammed, probably broken. Once your free, get the rest of the horses down here. Free me after.”

You still want to go after her?”

I think we have to. We’ve in deep now. Whether we like it or not.”

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