November 26, 1881
The early cold announcing the onset of winter ripped through the front range of the Colorado Rockies, whispering wickedly like the voices of those long dead, through the buildings of a sleeping town, not a glowing lantern in sight. It was twenty miles outside of Greeley, a town called Buffalo Creek and the dead black sky plunged into an even deeper hue by the rolling clouds threatened to dump snow on the region. The bitter wind felt like frigid steel teeth biting into any flesh left exposed to the air as a lone horse carrying two riders toiled silently up the street, its footfalls drowned out by the screeching gusts. It spooked and quickly stepped away from a building as a shutter slapped the siding, a sharp crack startling the animal that was immediately pulled back into line by his rider, stiffened with cold. Huddled against the man’s back was a boy of thirteen, clutching his father and hiding his face from the cruel elements, bundled in a wool blanket that draped partway down the back of their steed. They didn’t stop, having drifted in from the south along the steel tracks their destination was not this town and upon reaching the end of the street the rider pulled a lantern from under his duster and lit it, raising the wick twice he flashed the bright flame and then continued on. From out of the shadows arose a gang of horsemen just as dark and sinister as the night, a half dozen in all and they followed the first rider through the streets and then just as quickly as they had come, like the wind, they were gone again having left no trace of their ephemeral presence.
With his hips swaying to the gait of the elderly horse beneath him the leader of the gang lifted his lantern as they distanced themselves from the town, the wind now rushing through the groaning trees, ripping the last of the brittle autumn leaves from their branches and blowing them across the road. Two miles later they came to a fork in the road, the ruins of a ranch house lying in a charred pile across the trail, its remains a victim of the wrath of a madman as well as the elements of Mother Nature, rotting and stinking like a corpus in a stand of tall weeds. Piercing blue eyes scowling over a black scarf took in the sight, their cold nature suddenly taking on the heat of a long burning hatred, narrowed and reveled in the destruction of the house as if fondly remembering its demise, its death. The boy seated behind him coughed and gagged into his scarf and a gloved hand left the horn of the rider’s creaking leather saddle to assuredly squeeze one of the arms wrapped around his waist. In a voice burnished by years of smoking and drinking the rider promised the boy they had nearly reached their journey's end.
The tarnished bronze weathervane on the peak of the ranch house roof spun madly, stopping once in a while to point east back toward what used to be a prospering farm and vineyard. The house had burned down some years ago, no one had bothered to clean it up and nature was slowly reclaiming it as its own. From up the road there came seven riders traveling in single file, making their way up to the house in the dead of night and not a star shone in the deep black sky. Only the first rider carried a lantern to light the way, his son shivering against his back. They bypassed the house, hugging the fence to keep the distance between them and the house with the blackened windows and instead headed toward the barn where a smaller cottage sat off to the side of the road among a stand of junipers. The riders all dismounted and led their steeds into the barn, all but the first who carried his ailing boy to the front door of the cottage and tapped on the door hoping the man inside would receive him with hospitality. The home belonged to the ranch foreman who quickly slipped out of bed to answer the door should his unexpected guest knock again and wake his wife and children.
Rusty’s expression was nothing short of ashen when he opened the door and locked eyes with his cousin, then one of apprehension and Henry watched the man’s jaw muscles suddenly contract as he gritted his teeth, clearly biting back a few harsh words,
“Please, he’s sick, I can’t take him anywhere else.” The pleading words drifted into the house and the foreman was more concerned about letting the cold air in than leaving his cousin and ailing son outside and ushered them in, taking a moment to watch the last of the gang enter the barn,
“You gotta get them outta there.” he hissed once the door was closed again, pointing in the direction of the stables to emphasize his demand. Henry laid the bundled up boy on the couch and crouched next to him, placing a bare hand on his forehead after removing his glove,
“We’ll be gone by morning, promise . . . he doesn’t have to know I was ever here.” He whispered calmly, not looking up from the boy’s face as he reassured the flustered man who was now making his way into the kitchen. Henry held his boy’s chilled hands between his own, trying to warm them up as Rusty returned from the kitchen with a damp rag and felt his forehead as well,
“He’s burnin’ up, Henry. He won’t be able t’travel tomorrow . . . you’ll hafta leave ‘im here.” already knowing what his cousin would say to that he wasn’t surprised to see him shake his head, the wind blew hard against the windows, rattling the glass in the panes and shaking the shutters on their hinges as the fireplace glow threw the dancing shadows of the two men on the opposite wall,
“I won’t leave him.” he stated definitively.
“You know he’s not gonna let you stay here, he made it clear the last time an’ the time before that, he doesn’t wanna see you here anymore.” he spoke firmly and clearly as though speaking to a child, perhaps Henry had forgotten the last time he was here and the landowner had not received him well, “In fact, no one wants to see you here.” he added and watched his cousin shrug his shoulders as he accepted the cool rag from him and placed it across his boy’s forehead,
“How is everyone?” he asked, clearly not taking what Rusty had just said seriously and the foreman rolled his eyes and sat on the arm of the couch, leaving the chair open to his cousin,
“Sam’s still kickin’ ass, threw a guy outta the saloon just yesterday in fact.” He scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest,
“Really? Damn he’s gotta be close to seventy now, he’s gonna throw his back out.” Henry replied in a hushed tone, being surprisingly respectful of the other sleeping residents of the house,
“Sixty-seven, just turned sixty-seven last week.” there was a tone of somberness to the younger man’s voice and for a moment Henry thought Rusty was getting a little regretful that the town patriarch was getting so old. But there was something else there,
“What else?” he had known the man nearly all his life and could tell when something was off and for the first time since he had come into the house he looked up from his son and at the hospitable homeowner,
“Davion’s dead . . . somebody shot ‘im last month.” watching the shocked expression wash over his cousin’s aged face he went on, “It was completely random, guy just rode into town, called out to ‘im an’ as soon as he turned around he shot ‘im in the belly. Mary was right there, saw the whole thing, he died in her arms . . . Doc said the bullet went through his liver, shattered his spine too . . . he couldn’t be saved.” he hadn’t been there, this was all information he had received second hand, but he had received it fairly fresh from the horse’s mouth and was sure no wild accusations or exaggerations had tainted it just yet. Someone said the marshal had staggered out after his killer, drawn his revolver and fired after him but his source told him the man died with his gun still in its holster. When he had turned to see who it was calling out to him the early morning sun had blinded him, he never saw the gun and once he had been hit he was too stunned to react and dropped to the boardwalk like a heavy stone.
“Boy he wanted you in iron, I can remember that. Wouldn’t leave us alone last year when he got wind of you.” he added.
“Damn, I’m almost sorry I couldn’t have given him the satisfaction.” there had once been a time when Davion and Henry had been friends, hell he had been friends with nearly everyone. Now their stomachs crawled with the mere mentioning of him, he was loathed and to speak his very name would garner a harsh and heavy glare from anyone who heard it, “Don’t.” he suddenly added, seeing the thoughtful look cross his cousin’s face, “She doesn’t wanna see you.” Mary had always received Henry with open arms, no matter what trouble he was in or had gotten himself into but after Davion died she had joined the ranks of the others in town and decided she would shoot him next time she saw him, for her husband, “You’re the one that got away, she’d kill you.” Mary always was the sort to do something brazen, she had more sand than almost any man he had ever known.
“It’s too bad, maybe he just got slow ya know, he was what fifty something?” Henry asked remorsefully and his cousin nodded,
“Woulda been fifty-four.” he answered and watched Henry pull himself to his feet, limping over to the chair to slowly sink into and rest his weary bones, blinking slowly at the ceiling at dancing shadows.
“You’re too damn old for this shit, Henry. Why don’t ya just stop? Take Little Danny somewhere nice, build a house, get out of the business an’ just live out the rest of your days? He’s sick . . . he’s gonna keep gettin’ sick if you keep draggin ‘im all over creation.” He tried for the thousandth time to talk some sense into his kin and try to get him to realize what he was doing was crazy. It was a well-known fact Henry was crazy, had been ever since he had been to prison in sixty-nine. He had once been a businessman, an entrepreneur and then ran for office in Denver to become the next city treasurer, his life was heading in a great direction until he vanished off the face of the earth. The police searched for him for days, calling it off when the only trace of him was a bloodied wagon someone claimed to have seen him tossed into when a couple of Micks beat him and carted him to the train station. For weeks Davion and his friend Cyrus Savage, another local lawman, scoured New York for the men responsible after it was revealed to them that the Irish Mob had a hand in the man’s disappearance. He had been running against one of their own and after refusing a bribe to back out of the race they dragged him to Boston and locked him away in a prison fort on an island seven miles off the mainland. He was there for over a month, locked in the dark and forced to wallow in his own excrement. When they finally got him home he was dazed, didn’t seem to recognize anyone and didn’t speak for weeks. When he finally did he stammered and spoke like a child. His limp was more pronounced and he never walked well again after that, eventually needing a cane to get around town when he returned to some sort of normalcy. Rumors spread, folks whispering that the local businessman was crazy. He certainly acted differently Rusty noticed, his wife took note as well and often found her husband despondent and dazed on the floor of their washroom, completely unresponsive. Rusty had been out to the house several times to drag the man out of the floor and put him to bed.
In the end perhaps it had been his stint in the prison or the beatings he had taken during the initial abduction but it was concluded that it wasn’t the physical abuse he had taken that would ultimately last him a lifetime, it was the mental trauma that plagued him afterward. It started out innocently enough, his pockets mysteriously filled with knickknacks from the stores on Market Street, things he didn’t remember pocketing. It eventually ended with him getting locked up by the late Marshal Davion Murphy, an embarrassed wife having to bail him out. It escalated to mood swings coupled with memory loss where he was so frightened or frustrated with not being able to remember something he would lock himself in a room and refuse to come out. Rusty eventually visited the home in the fall of seventy-one and was greeted at the door by Henry’s wife, the side of her face sporting the consequences of the man’s most recent temper tantrum. Little Danny was nearly three at the time, Bella’s daughter from another father was also in the home and the man’s violence greatly concerned her. He was curled up in the tub the day she left him, unable to handle his outbursts anymore and knowing it was not his fault it was one of the most difficult decisions she had ever made and locked the door and left him there while she essentially escaped. He didn’t have to sit there long, she had already arranged to have him taken care of.
It was weeks until anyone found out what had happened to him, he was in Utica in upstate New York, in an asylum where his wife clearly felt he belonged, committed in January of seventy-two. It was a lovely institute and in her sympathy and perhaps love of the man he used to be she had placed him in the best hands she could afford. It took the collective efforts of Rusty and Henry’s mother to have him released in October of that same year, it turned out to be a big mistake. He brought his cousin back to the ranch where he stayed in this very house or the one across the way with the rancher, Daniel Helm, the man’s best friend. There had been a time when Henry and Danny were as close as brothers, so close in fact Henry had named his son after him. For a year the enduring rancher took great care of his friend but Scarborough’s debilitating depression at the loss and betrayal of his wife weighed him down day after day and gradually wore down the efforts of his caretakers. An eternal gloom seemed to settle over the ranch, behind that closed door at the end of the hall in the Helm home laid a man that had essentially given up on his life. Toward the end of seventy-three he started venturing into town and almost appeared interested in taking up his old life and began attending work at the bank again but soon fell to drink. It was March of seventy-four when he finally snapped and shot and badly maimed a man in town, rode like hell up the road and burned down his old house then boarded a train for New York and ended up in Lower Manhattan where he tracked down and fatally shot a man named Sean Duffy with vengeful determination. Then slipped into a window of the Clair home where his wife was staying with her parents and reclaimed his own son. By this time it was also noted that ten-thousand dollars was missing from the bank in Buffalo Creek, what Henry had done with it no one knew, it was far too heavy to simply carry around. Wanted for robbery, murder, attempted murder and kidnap all within a span of a few days a warrant was issued for his arrest immediately following the kidnapping but so far no lawman had even come close to catching him. Having spent years tracking down outlaws himself as a bounty hunter in the sixties he seemed to know all the tricks and eluded them every time. He may have been a madman but he wasn’t stupid.
Over the years he had filled his son’s head with stories, Little Danny had such a disillusioned vision of his mother now he never wanted to return to her. Last year when Helm tried to get his old friend to leave the boy he had so selflessly named after him at the ranch the kid had protested with such uproar that Helm never asked again. Rusty wasn’t sure how he would react if he awoke in the morning and found his old friend on his property again, but he hoped like hell Henry kept to his promise and was gone before the man realized he was here.
“Danny’s always been a little sickly, Rusty. Ever since he was a baby.” he explained, excusing the claim that it was his fault the kid was sick, nothing was ever Henry’s fault.
“Just be gone by morning or Danny’ll have my ass.” the foreman warned and rose to go back to bed.
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