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January 30, 1883

The activity of the gang decreased significantly over the next year until it had dithered down to practically nothing. One of them was captured just outside Santa Fe, throwing up his hands and coming along without a fuss. The marshals held onto him for three months trying to get information out of him but whether it was his lack thereof or just a bunch of lies they never got any closer to Scarborough or the remaining gang members and sentenced him to life in May of ’82. In August a second member was shot and killed in a game of poker in Phoenix when he got caught cheating and it had been so long since there was a robbery that could even be pinned on the gang the Marshal Service began to consider the outlaws had disbanded and were no longer in the business of knocking off banks. In November, almost exactly a year after he was last spotted in Colorado there was a reported sighting of him and his son in the wilderness of Southern Utah, clear indication he was not heading to Old Mexico as the rest of his boys had been suspected of doing.

Daniel Helm could only sit idly by, reading the papers and hoping to hear some good news. The boy he had tried to save was now a young man and had missed out on his childhood because he hadn’t been able to hold onto him. Telling his mother when she arrived in Buffalo Creek that he had lost her child again was one of the most difficult things he had done in a long while. More difficult than issuing a kill on site order to his men should they spot the man he used to call his best friend.

They came in the night just as they had the last time they were here, only in the bitter chill of winter rather than late fall. The white faced stallion walked with his nose nearly brushing his knees, having covered thousands of miles in a lifetime he was tired, sore and used up. Every once in a while he would shuffle to a stop, dragged along into a stiff walk by the rope tied to his bridle attaching him to the saddle of his daughter who walked ahead of him. An encouraging word from the boy astride the mare would sometimes move him along as well but with Hellfire Ranch in sight memories not only stirred in the minds of the riders but the tuckered out horses as well and neither required any sort of coaxing with the promise of a warm stall and food. The man hunched over in the old paint’s saddle turned his head into the bend of his elbow, his body suddenly wracked with a coughing fit as they arrived at the same cabin in the stand of junipers and Danny dismounted to knock on the door for his Uncle Rusty. He still referred to him as such, although the man had told him now, more than once that he was not actually his uncle. It was just past midnight when he opened the door, rifle in hand which he quickly set off to the side,

“Danny!” the kid was taller than him now! “You sprouted up like a weed kiddo!” he exclaimed and gave him a playful jab to the arm before he saw his cousin slouched over on the horse standing in the shadow of the house, “No.” he said before Danny even got to ask, “No, Danny’ll kill ‘im, already said he would and I don’t think he was kidding.”

“Maybe he won’t and even if he does it wouldn’t matter, not now.” he tried to explain and gave Rusty that pleading look. His hair was shorter, he had shorn off all those curls and was probably shaving too, unlike his father, Rusty could see the beard from here. The foreman faltered, stood there in the doorway deep in thought and knowing he could lose his job,

“I’ll help you carry ‘im into Ricky’s room, he moved out last year, he can have his bed.” He didn’t even ask how long he would be staying, from the looks of things once they got Henry into the house he wouldn’t be leaving it, alive. He was barely conscious when they carried him inside and laid him on the bed, working to get his clothes off, “Danny . . . go get a few rags an’ wet ‘em down real good, we gotta get ‘im cooled off.” His wife wandered into the room and gave him a disapproving look, “He’s sick.” obviously he was sick, she still didn’t want him here and glowered at him again before going back to bed.

January 31, 1883

He could see the ranch hands from his porch before he even closed the front door. Tucking the ends of his scarf into his coat lapel Daniel Helm crossed the lawn, sipping from his coffee and quickening stride as the concerned expressions of his hires became palpable.

“Want me to fetch Faraday?” Munroe asked as Helm leaned over the door of the stall and took in the sight,

“ . . . no, get me Doc. Not a word of this t’Faraday.” opening the stall door he knelt beside the head of the wheezing horse sprawled out on the straw, his ribs painfully visible with each breath and his hips prominent, “Easy Wabby . . . what’re all you standin’ around for, help me!” they pulled the stallion to his feet, the buckskin overo next door looking on concernedly, “Don’t you do that shit again.” he warned the twenty-three year old horse and stroked his face, having to practically hold his head up he was so weak.

Wabash had been the horse Henry was riding when he and Danny first met in the summer of sixty-seven when they ran a pony express route to Denver. He was fleet of foot with a cresty neck, lively eyes and a bad attitude. Now he was just washed up, a sad sight and Helm held more sympathy for the horse than he did for his rider and hugged his thin neck, looking across to the horse’s best friend, “He just rode ya into the ground, huh? I’ll get ya better again, don’t worry.” the blue eyes blinked slowly at him, ears listless and sticking straight out from the sides of his head. Danny threw a blanket over him and ordered one his employees to keep an eye on the horse should he go down again and left for the house.

Rusty was lucky it was Caoimhe who answered the door, Danny wasn’t about to snap at her and ask her why in the hell Henry’s horse was in the barn. She just assumed that she would be packing a bag soon when he fired her husband,

“Where is he?”

“Who?” there were three different men he was possibly referring too,

“Never mind, can I come in?”

“I reckon ye can, Boss.” she agreed and stepped aside, closing the door behind him as the thud of his boots disappeared down the hall,

“Get out!” suddenly rang through the house and Caoimhe was happy she had sent her other children up to the main house. The cracking voice told her the voice was that of Daniel Scarborough, “I’ll kill you if you lay a hand on him, I swear!” hushed voices tried to calm the lad and Caoimhe stood by the door with her arms crossed over her chest but couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, “I’ll go back to New York with my mother, I promise just leave him be please!” she bit her lip, fighting back the urge to cry hearing the boy’s voice crack again and knew he was crying. Was it the fact he was losing his father or that he actually felt saddened by the man’s passing, she wasn’t sure. No one should have been lamenting the loss of this man in her opinion.

“Danny, son nobody’s gonna hurt ‘im I promise, I just wanted t’see ‘im.”

“No, you wanted t’make sure he was sick, I bet if he was healthy you woulda killed ‘im!” Helm took a moment to think and the boy saw through his silence, “Yes . . . yes you would have. He ain’t robbed a bank since Laramie, we were doin’ just fine then he got so sick I didn’t know what else t’do so I came here . . . you gotta help ‘im.”

“I’ve already sent for the doctor . . . why would I send for the doctor if I wanted t’kill ‘im, Danny?” that question seemed to convince him and he stood there for a moment thinking. He had just threatened to kill a man he liked very much in the name of his no good father. Having grown up with the man however, he never really saw any flaws in him and when he had caught the other gang members talking bad about him, saying he was deranged, he had stood up for him.

“Okay . . . but don’t try anything.” he warned coldly. All his threats didn’t mean a thing to Helm who was just happy to see him, and see him alive and embraced the boy despite his hesitation when he nearly shied away from him, still unsure of the rancher’s intentions. Through all the yelling the man on the mattress had not stirred, not even once and as Helm looked over the shoulder of the boy he watched his old friend draw a shuddering breath and gave Rusty a worried look.

“He could be layin’ in there dyin’ of some disease that could be contagious, what if Danny’s got it?” Rusty asked concernedly as they waited on the porch, shivering in the cold awaiting the arrival of Doc Schwankl, the Buffalo Creek physician.

“God don’t say that.” the rancher warned, “Who knows what it is . . . coulda caught it from a brothel . . . another man, you saw ‘im last time he was here.” he mentioned with a shudder and Rusty actually smiled for a moment,

“That was proof to me that he’s always been a little too fond of you.”

“ . . . shut up Rusty.” he muttered dismissively and looked down the road, waiting to see the doctor’s hat peep up over the rise of the eastern pasture.

“Your hair musta smelled real nice.”

“He smelled my hair?” Helm asked with a disturbed expression.

“Oh yeah . . .”

“ . . . Jesus Christ . . . I’m gonna go check on Wabash.”

“Hey uh, Doc?” Munroe spoke up so the old man riding next to him could hear him, or rather wake up from where he had dozed off in the saddle,

“Sorry, didn’t catch my nap today.”

“It’s only eight o’clock . . .” Schwankl shrugged at this revelation and Bobby chuckled to himself, “Just wanted to wake ya, we’re here.” he added and they turned their horses onto the Hellfire property and headed for the barn where Danny tended to the weakened black and white stallion. Doc insisted he had not been asleep, typical of a man his age when Bobby was pretty damn sure he had heard the man snoring.

“He any better?” Bobby asked when he dismounted in the barn and looked at the old horse.

“I don’t think he’s got much left . . . what’re you dismountin’ for?” he suddenly asked and Munroe quickly hopped back up onto his animal and rode back out into the chill to his designated pasture, it was calving season and Helm needed all able bodied men out in the fields ensuring he didn’t lose any calves or breeding cows.

“I got his papers an’ all, but there’s no records after seventy- four.” Doc informed the rancher as he carefully dismounted and Helm handed the horse off to a stable hand.

“He’s got a fever, talkin’ nonsense an’ everything . . . you didn’t tell anybody he was here though?” Doc shook his head and followed Danny up to the porch,

“Nope, but it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out, Danny. Just be ready for that.” he warned and mounted the steps, holding onto the railing as he did so. Doc would be seventy years old later this year, around the time Little Maggie turned thirteen. Danny couldn’t believe how the time had flown.

“Phew!” Doc shook his head upon entering the home and Danny winced a bit.

“Yeah he just had a  . . . movement.” he explained.

“Can he control ‘em, his functions I mean?”

“Oh, yeah . . . yeah he just needs help.”

“Good . . . I thought you hated ‘im.” with that comment Helm fell silent, not sure what he felt anymore. In truth he was just letting this play out because the Scarborough boy had promised to go back to New York if they didn’t call the law or kill his father outright. He was trying not to get close to his old friend, knowing the inevitable he didn’t think he could handle the man’s passing if he allowed himself to get attached.

“Hiya Danny!” Doc greeted upon leaning into the doorway, watching the boy slowly turn to face him, his expression worn and tired, aged beyond his years in his misery and the smile fell from Doc’s face, “I’m sorry, son.” he added remorsefully and watched the kid bite his lip in an effort to remain composed, he had thus far refused to cry, “I’m gonna need that chair.” Doc finally said and Danny happily vacated his seat and allowed the doctor to sit down. He folded the blankets down past Henry’s chest, his collar bones clearly visible and listened to his heart, counting off each weak thud as he took note of the time on his watch. He inspected Henry’s hands, his palms and fingernails mostly then pulled the sheets back and looked at his feet as well, opened his eyes and took note of the sickly, sallow hue as well as the smell of his breath Danny had picked up on more than a year ago. Looking up he flashed the boy a quick grin and stood up from his chair, motioning for Helm to follow him out into the sitting room where he sank down into the couch.
“Where’s Rusty?” he asked and opened his bag to pull out a stack of papers.

“Workin’ I reckon, probably pullin’ calves.” Doc scoffed, having always said the man was a workaholic.

“He’s about forty now right? About time t’slow down, enjoy life a little.”

“Rusty, slow down? That’ll be the day.” Helm reminisced and remembered how his foreman had once nearly run himself ragged trying to work here and run his cousin’s enterprise when he was unable. In the end, after Henry left for New York and robbed his own bank he had sold everything for what it was worth and just concentrated on the ranch.

“Well . . . I’m sure you’re aware of the situation an’ I don’t need t’explain t’you what’s gonna become of your old pal, Henry.” Doc finally stated and looked over his glasses at the papers before him.

“I know he’s in a bad way . . . I just don’t wanna tell his boy what’s gonna become of ‘im.” having seen the look on the kid’s face however, Doc was pretty sure the boy knew how sick his father really was.

“Well . . . for whatever reason his liver’s failing. Could be from the drink, drugs, could even be hepatitis which can be caught from other people, drink, drugs or it can even be a virus which would explain the fever an’ delirium.”

“What’s the possibility of his son gettin’ it from ‘im.” Danny asked quickly, seeming to have no concern for how or why Henry was dying.

“Depends on what caused it in Henry.”

“Prob’ly got it from some whore.” Helm muttered under his breath and Doc shook his head,

“Ain’t possible, Henry hasn’t been in a brothel since seventy-three. He don’t have the urges.” he gestured to the medical records in his hand, “He was sterilized while he was in Utica. Whatever he’s got, he didn’t get it from a whore, it’s all right here.” Helm looked somewhat mortified from this news, wondering who had authorized something like that. No wonder the man was so angry,

“I don’t understand . . . why would they do that?”

“ . . . you honestly want more people like him runnin’ around?” this begged the question of how or why Henry had been so . . . touchy with him last time he was here. Maybe just to mess with him, he was good at that.

“Bottom line is . . . he can’t be saved.” this news didn’t exactly come as a shock to Danny and he knew the kid sitting faithfully by his father in the next room was a bright kid and probably knew deep down his father was going to perish, he dreaded telling him, “All we can do is make him comfortable. I can’t tell ya how long it’ll take. Judgin’ by the state he’s in now I’d say he’s on his way out . . . he might live another month, he may not live another day, it’s difficult t’say.” Helm wouldn’t have to tell the boy the verdict from the aged physician, he was leaning out of the doorway into the hall, turning to look at his sleeping father after he got the news. He had been sick all year and Danny knew he wasn’t well. At first he hadn’t thought much of it, maybe he had too much to drink, ate something that hadn’t agreed with him but as time went by his father was bedridden and he stopped planning robberies with the other members of his gang and they left one by one, breaking up into smaller and smaller groups until they were spread out over the southwest, some running off to Mexico while they still could. The name of the notorious Henry Scarborough showed up less and less in the papers, shifting back from the front to the back page hidden between the stories of petty thefts and classifieds. Three weeks ago they had been in Utah, still heading south from a winter that was very nearly over and his father had not been faring well. Danny hadn’t known what else to do and made a beeline for the Hellfire Ranch praying his Uncle Danny would offer them clemency.

His hands were clammy and cold, that sickly yellow hue to the thickened skin of his palms reminding the boy of the short time he had left with the man he had grown up with. He dreaded going back to New York, which was exactly what was expected of him once Henry passed, he would have to return to his mother, a life of high society and he feared he would never see the country again and be surrounded by a hulking mass of towering buildings, lost in the crowds, just another nobody unless of course his grandfather still believed he could take over his importing company. Pressing his cheek to the back of his father’s hand he fought hard to hold back the sting of tears that threatened to spill forth, he was practically a grown man, in his own mind at least, he wouldn’t cry.

An outlaw nears the end of his days and relies on those he once called his friends to offer him some hospitality.

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Submitted on
January 12, 2014
Mature Content