Chris Scott Wilson Writer
January l0th, 1884
Routt County, Colorado
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“That bastard. That black-hearted bastard!”
Her voice contained all the hatred, loathing and anguish it was possible to crush into a whisper. She directed it at the back of the man standing in front of her, fifteen feet from where she crouched in the calf-deep snow, the metal of the big Colt freezing in her small hands. He was a tall man, made to appear taller by the fact he was dressed entirely in black; a black low-crowned Texan hat, a long black frock coat brushing the back of his thighs, and black trousers tucked into shiny black boots. Breath cloudy in the frosty air, he was reading aloud from a leather-bound book in his hands, eyes lifting to direct the words at the man hanging from the oak tree.
The corpse swayed in uneven circles, pushed by the wind, limp legs moving back and forth above the hard crust of trampled snow five feet below the dangling boot heels.
“Thou shalt not steal, sayeth the Lord…”
The dead man wasn’t interested in what the Lord had to say about it. The dead man wasn’t interested in anything anymore. His eyes, still open, bulged from their sockets, fixed in a glassy stare. Above his raised eyebrows, which alone betrayed surprise at his death, his ginger hair suffered the curious fingers of the wind. His whole face was purple and the swollen tongue poking between his drained lips showed the rope had done its work fast and true.
“That bastard. That evil Bible-clutching bastard,” the woman whispered, staring beyond the man in black to the immobile face of the hanging man. Jack Keble hadn’t been a handsome man, or even much of a good man, but he had been her man. Sophie James’ man. He had stayed with her for the last two years, eating the food she cooked and sharing her bed, even if they’d had to keep moving every time a man with a tin star had got too close. It was the price they’d both had to pay for Jack being one of the gang that robbed the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad down on the Arkansas River in Prowers County, a few miles from the Kansas border. The newspapers had spilled out lies, as always, claiming the gang had escaped with fifteen thousand dollars. In truth, there had been little more than a thousand and by the time they’d shared it out there had only been a hundred in it for Jack. Then had come all the running. And now it had caught up with him.
She and Jack had headed north, figuring whoever came after them would think they’d crossed the border into Kansas. The weather had caught them up in the foothills of the Park Range Mountains and they’d picked Steamboat Springs to winter and also wait for the birth of the child she was carrying. As soon as mother and baby were well enough to travel the plan was to hightail it up to Wyoming where the law had nothing on Jack and where they could find a place to settle down. It was not to be. Out of a howling blizzard, the man in black had come riding into the Springs on a big black stallion, his clothes caked with snow, eyes restless below the brim of his hat, and his mouth full of awkward questions. He had nosed round for two days, closing in on them until Jack’s nerves were jangling and he was drinking his way through three bottles of whiskey a day. Finally, he had cleaned and checked his guns then gone out into the night, tossing a few words of reassurance over his shoulder. Come the dawn he would return and the man in black wouldn’t be asking any more questions. Frightened, she had watched him leave, the last sound