November 27, 1881
The boys moved out at sunup when the ranch hands filed out of the bunk houses and shuffled sleepily toward the barns to saddle up their mounts, no one saw the outlaws exit out the back through the early morning snow fall but they left behind their tracks as they cut across the back pasture toward the tree line. Daniel Helm was leaving his house, taking in the view of the vivid winter sunrise as a wisp of steam curled from the cup of hot coffee in his hand when he spotted the tracks coming onto his property from the main road and paused to mull over them. All his hires had been bedded down yesterday evening before the snow, these tracks were frozen solid, whoever made them had come in very early this morning, maybe around three or four. Crunching snow slushed beneath his boots, moving quickly to the stables and hoping his fears were not true he entered the barn and saw the bald face and blue eyes of a very old and rundown Thoroughbred cross,
“That son of a bitch!” he growled venomously through his teeth and slammed his mug down hard enough to bring forth a startled nicker from some of the barn’s residents, the white faced stallion didn’t so much as flinch. He was the once much esteemed mount of one Henry Scarborough, a man he had once called his best friend before his life went to shit and he decided to make his last hurrah the most idiotic thing he could think of. His most recent job had been a bank in Laramie, it had made the papers. He was most likely heading South when this storm hit and was looking for a place to hole up until it blew over. Daniel Helm would be damned if he let that bastard stay here warming his feet another minute!
Rusty was opening the door about the time he caught sight of his boss storming across the lawn and he froze with an expression of dread, fearing the wrath of a man who was notorious for his temper.
“Danny-” he began and backed into his doorway as the man didn’t shorten his stride, Rusty braced himself in the entryway of his house and Helm stepped up onto the porch, “he was just leavin.’” he finally added as he was pushed back into the cabin and Helm’s frame loomed in the doorway, the scuffle waking the man sitting in the chair in front of the fireplace.
“You, get your shit and get out!” he barked and the banker turned bank robber was wide awake now and slowly rose to his feet, a little too slowly and was quickly seized by the collar of his jacket the way one would a dog by the scruff of its neck and tossed outside onto the porch, “I mean it, Henry! Off my property!” the rancher bellowed and proceeded to push the still groggy man down the steps as he favored his bad leg,
“I need to get Danny.”
“The kid stays! . . . I want you gone, and don’t come back.” he could see the flush of Danny’s cheeks as his anger boiled just below the surface, rising like a raging fire in his eyes. He had seen him this angry before and pushed his luck still further, stepping up onto the bottom step of the porch,
“I can’t leave him.” Helm stood several inches taller than him and was intimidating enough given his size and ill-temper but Scarborough was one of the few brazen, or stupid, enough to push him. When he came rushing down the steps at him and shoved him back again however he did something no one in town had the gull to do and whipped his revolver from his hip, leveling it at the rancher but looking away either in disgust of himself or afraid if he looked at Danny he would feel less compelled to follow through.
“Henry!” his cousin pleaded with him from the doorway, still pulling on his jacket but the outlaw didn’t abate, eyes focused coldly on the corner of the deck he listened to the breath whistle through Danny’s nostrils as he stood there only getting angrier,
“You’re pullin’ a goddamn gun on me on my own fuckin’ property, you son of a bitch!” Helm watched the barrel of the Colt bobble in the hand of an uncertain man, “After everything I’ve done for you.”
“Just let me take my son, he’s all I’ve got.” Henry begged and turned his head to face the man he was trying so desperately to reason with but still couldn’t bring his eyes to meet his.
“No.” as Helm’s anger ebbed away it seemed to pass itself along to Scarborough who only found frustration in his inability to convince Helm that he could shoot him, “You won’t shoot me, I know it and you know it, just walk away.” his heart pounding in his throat Helm watched the trembling bore of the revolver and then finally met the eyes of his old friend and saw nothing but heartache and defeat, could almost hear him grinding his teeth in anguish as he cursed him,
“Goddammit, Danny!” his voice carried over the hills and died off in the distance as he lowered his gun and eased the hammer back down, looking away again trying to collect his thoughts, “I’ll just help myself to a hundred head of your cattle then.”
“Take ‘em.” Helm snapped, immediately calling the man’s bluff and watched as he turned to face him with disbelief in his eyes, the bitter wind brushing his lengthening blonde hair over his brow. He knew he hadn’t meant it, his cattle were safe, the boy was safe and Henry finally seemed to begrudgingly relent,
“This isn’t over.” he claimed in a whisper, the sadistic grin curling his lips and accentuating his widened eyes finally showing who he really was, a bat shit crazy man hell bent on getting what he wanted and Danny’s stoic calm seemed to falter just a bit, for a moment he was afraid but didn’t show it,
“Oh, I believe you.”
Seeing that transformation had been nothing new to Helm, nor Rusty but just as disturbing. From a man practically begging broken heartedly for the return of his only child to one subtly threatening them with that crazed look in his eye would have chilled any man in his boots.
“He’s fuckin’ crazy.” Rusty heard those words again, in a voice low with apprehension and trembling in uncertainty, perhaps a little remorse, “We should’ve left ‘im in that asylum, they told us he was crazy I just . . . I didn’t know, I didn’t know he would be like this.” They had all thought they were doing Henry a favor, that it was an injustice to have him locked up like he was when he had spent over a month locked up in prison as an innocent man, “What did they do to him?” he asked more to himself than to his foreman.
“It’s not your fault, Danny. It was never your fault. No one in their right mind could’ve left ‘im there.” he reminded him, hoping that moment where Henry had recognized them even through the haze of his drug induced stupor and had embraced his friend, begging him to take him home would justify their mistake. No one could have left him there, no one could have believed he was insane, that he belonged in there, not when he was nothing more than a frightened child trapped in his own mind. To have left him there would have just felt wrong, inhuman.
Last time Henry was here Danny had nearly gotten him to leave without the boy he so badly wanted to get back to his mother. Bella had written him nearly every month since the abduction of her son, asking, pleading for any information hhe may have had on him. Danny promised her he would get him back to her someday, and he intended to do just that. He had his mother’s dark curly hair, her bronzed complexion but his father’s cold blue eyes with that burst of emerald green in the center. He was supposed to be in New York, making friends, going to school, getting into trouble for Christ’s sake. But instead he was being left by his deranged father in brothels, pubs, random inns and even in the middle of the woods with a gang of thieves while Daddy robbed bank after bank across the country.
“Did you see it? . . . the way he just changed in an instant like that? . . . it scares the shit outta me, Rusty.” despite the continuing conversation on just how broken Henry’s mind was as Helm circled the table like a shark and Rusty sat there running his fingers through his hair this discussion was ultimately directed at him. Flinching when his boss pulled a chair back and sat down to glower at him he looked up very tentatively. It had been just short of a year since Henry’s last visit. Little Danny was in his cabin as Helm berated Henry on the front lawn not too unlike what he had just done but had then made the mistake of letting the man back inside to say goodbye. Rusty had known the fleet black and white paint was tethered just behind the house, but said nothing as Henry snuck out a window and made his escape with his son. Helm had vowed, if anything happened to the boy he would have held Rusty responsible. His anger grew over the course of the next few hours as he fumed in the search of the man in his back pastures, returning to the ranch empty handed he had fired his foreman of thirteen years, banishing him from the Hellfire Ranch. Two months later he had a change of heart when he saw a very tired looking Rusty stocking the shelves of a mercantile in town, his second job after mucking stalls at the livery down the street, doing what he could to support his family. Daniel Helm was a harsh man at times, quick to anger but seemingly even quicker to forgive.
“You invite that dangerous bastard into your house again it may be the last thing you ever do. He could’ve killed you! He could’ve killed your wife, your kids, Rusty! It’s stupid! You were stupid! And don’t give me that “he’s my family” shit . . . he’s not your family anymore, he threw that away. It may be your house, but it’s on my property. If you let him in your house ever again I will fire you, this time for good. You can run off with him for all I care because if you can’t see how goddamn insane he is you’re just as crazy as him.”
Daniel Helm had grown up Carson City, Nevada where his father and two older brothers raised cattle on a ranch that soon grew to one of the largest spreads in the territory. This ranch was now just one branch of the one in Nevada. He married Darla Hart in March of sixty-nine almost exactly one year after his best friend, Henry married his wife. Danny and Darla now had four kids, the oldest of which wandered into the room after her father commanded his foreman to get back to work,
“Pa, why are you yellin’ at Uncle Rusty?” Maggie had been born on the last day of October in 1870. Her mother had been very melancholy after the birth of her first child, leaving Danny to care for the new baby on his own for nearly a month and they were still very close.
“I only yell at Rusty when he does something dumb, same as you and your brothers, sweetie . . . and that rotten little sister of yours.” he added with a smile, “Can you do something for me?” he asked and turned in his chair too lift Maggie to his knee, “Your cousin, Little Danny . . . he’s staying at Rusty’s but he’s very sick.” he quickly added when he saw his daughter’s eyes light up, “Can you go keep an eye on ‘im for me, make sure nobody’s botherin’ ‘im . . . he needs his rest, okay?” little Maggie agreed to her father’s request and excitedly trotted off to get dressed and head over to the foreman’s cabin. Danny just hoped he could keep everyone safe when a knock came to the door and he quickly rose to answer it. It was Bobby Munroe, a boy that had worked here since the ranch began, he was nearly thirty now and Danny stepped out of the house so no one could hear him and pulled Munroe to the side, “Henry was here this mornin.’”
“I know, I heard . . . y’all were awful loud ya know?”
“I managed t’get ‘im t’leave his kid.” Helm finally topped the cake of conflict and watched Bobby’s eyes widen a little, “He’s gonna be back, I know he is. The gang crossed the back pasture about an hour an’ a half ago, tell Faraday, tell ‘im t’get as many men as he can . . . track that son of a bitch down I don’t want ‘im comin back here, there’s no tellin’ what he’ll do . . . and wire Bella, let her know I have her son, t’send someone t’get ‘im right away while I still do.” with that he pulled the corner of Bobby’s duster away from his hip as they descended the porch steps, “Keep that gun on you at all times, make sure the others know about this too when you get out t’the fields today, every man needs a gun. Shoot any man you don’t recognize . . . especially Henry.” he finally added a little remorsefully.
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