Chapter Five—More Ugly

     After de-heading the snake and de-branching the tree, I got a little more proof of my prowess with a gun a couple of nights later. I still didn’t know who I was. My head still hurt, but not as badly. I was having more visions and flashes—faces, towns, even a couple of names—Brent Coleman and Jerry Conley, but I didn’t think either of them was my name. I believed that when I did remember my name, I’d know it. But then, I wasn’t sure. I’d never had amnesia before, or if I had, I was currently forgetting it. Like I had forgotten everything else.
     But anyway, I hadn’t come to a town yet, so I was still camping out. I was in some forested foothills and bedded down for the night. It was chilly and I bundled up in my blanket, using my saddle for a pillow. I had a good night’s sleep.
     When I woke up the next morning, it was barely after dawn. I could sense something wasn’t right. I still had my eyes closed, so I wasn’t sure of what it was, but I just…felt…that there was something amiss. Sure enough, when I opened my eyes, I spotted three men—they were standing about 10 feet away from me, and two of them were pointing guns at me. Grungy-looking fellows, whose fleas probably had lice. The two with guns were older, mid-30s; the other fellow was young, maybe early 20s. He appeared a little scared. But the two gunmen looked tough; they were sneering and if they were frightened by my prone position, they didn’t show it.
     “Told ya he was playin’ possum, Pete,” the fellow on the right said. “Should have just plugged him, grabbed his horse, and gone on.”
     “Nah, no sense in killin’ a feller that ain’t askin’ for it. And he ain’t asked for it yet.” “Pete” appeared to be in charge. He then spoke to me. “All we want is yore horse, mister, then we’ll leave ye be. Lost one of ours a mile or so back, so we need one. Give ‘im up easy and we’ll light a shuck outta here.”
     For some reason, I didn’t believe this guy. I wasn’t staring at the salt of the earth here, ok? That he wanted my horse, I had no doubt. That part I believed. It was the “leave ye be” part of it that had me suspicious. I didn’t know how I knew it, but I just did. They’d take my horse and shoot me. Probably the only reason they hadn’t done it yet was that they couldn’t find Horse. I didn’t picket him, I let him roam free and just…knew…that he’d be back in the morning. It had happened the previous night and I was sure it would happen again this time.
     “Howdy, fellers,” I said, all cheerful like. “Would you like some breakfast? I’ve got some rattlesnake meat that would be just up your alley.”
     More sneers. “Funny fellow,” Pete said. “No, I’ve already told you, we want your horse. Where is he? We can’t find him.”
     I shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s around. He’ll come when I whistle.”
     “Then whistle,” Pete said, “or else.” He cocked his pistol and pointed it directly at me.
     I smiled. “Well, now, Pete, if you pull that trigger, I won’t be able to whistle, will I? And he won’t come for your whistle, I guarantee. So why don’t you fellows put up those guns and we’ll try to be civil about this.”
     Pete grinned, evilly. “Oh, I don’t intend to kill you, mister. I’ll just shoot one of your knees, and then the other…and then something else…until you finally get that horse here…”
     Well, shucks, he was smarter than he looked. So I was going to have to do the world a favor and initiate Plan B.
     I was still lying on my back, under the covers. For…some reason…I slept with my gun right next to me. Right next to my right hand. Which meant that, as of this moment, my hand was wrapped around the butt of the gun. I nodded at Pete and said, “Well, I guess you give me no choice…” I fired the gun three times in less than a second, and there were three dead men in front of me less than a second later.
     I frowned. My first thought was, now I’ve got three holes in my blanket…but then, I wondered why that was my first thought. I had just dispatched three human beings, and I really didn’t feel terribly bad about it. And the three shots had been right where I wanted them to go—into three hearts. It had been too easy, way too easy.
     I sat up and idly ejected the spent cartridges and reloaded my gun. I was thinking, and thinking hard. Who am I? Am I some kind of killer? I don’t have very much remorse over what I just did. Am I a cold-blooded outlaw? I didn’t think so, because I felt like I had a conscience. My head started hurting again, and I closed my eyes. Thinking was still an activity my brain revolted against. But then, perhaps it always had.
     I glanced up quickly when I heard something just outside my camp, which was surrounded by bushes and trees. “Hello. Don’t shoot, we’re coming in,” a male voice said.
     “All right, but come in slow and make sure your hands are where I can see them.”
     “We’re friendly,” the voice said, and then three men appeared, men who were obviously no threat. I…knew that, too.
     But it didn’t take a genius to figure it out. They were older men, and two of them were office types. The third man looked like a cowboy, but his honest, open face spoke of no danger. They were looking at me strangely. “You got all three of them by yourself?”
     I still had my gun in my hand, but had dropped it by my side. “Let’s start from the beginning,” I replied. “Who are you, and do you know these dearly departed sons of fat, ugly whores?”
     The man who had done the speaking had a belly that was too big, white hair with a long, flowing white mustache, and a pink face that told me he didn’t get outside any more than he could help it. The man next to him was taller, stout, but gray-haired, square-jawed, and competent looking. For an office man. The other man, mid-30s perhaps, was dressed in traditional cowboy garb—dark brown vest, blue shirt, Levi’s, boots, black flat-crowned hat with a gun at his hip. Again, no real apparent threats.
     Chubby White Hair nodded and spoke. “My name is Bill Frazier”—I liked Chubby White Hair better—“and this is Frank Hester”—Square Jaw—“and Toby Ryan”—Cowboy Garb. “We were chasing these ‘sons of fat, ugly whores,’ as you call them, because they recently robbed the bank down in Grant City. You know where that is?”
     I had no clue and said so.
     “Well, it’s about 50 miles south of here. They hit the bank a couple of days ago, killed the marshal and his deputy, and headed this way. Frank, Toby, and I came after them. It looks like you got to them first.”
     “Well, they actually got to me.” I told them the story, and I had three sets of eyes narrow at me. But before they could ask any more questions, I had one. “Excuse me, but you don’t strike me as the typical western posse. These men”—motioning to the recently deceased—“were pretty dangerous. What did you intend to do when you caught them?”
     Frazier glanced at Toby Ryan. “Toby is pretty good with a gun. Frank and I can shoot.” He shrugged. “We were the only three we could get at the moment. We had to move quickly to catch them.” Then, he asked again, “You got all three of them by yourself?”
     “Do you see anybody else around here?”
     “No. Do you mind if I ask your name?”
     I was hoping you could tell me…I didn’t know what to say, but before I could speak, Toby Ryan said, “I know who he is. I recognize his description. Don’t you, Frank?”
     My hopes soared. Hester examined me closely. “No, I don’t think I do, Toby, but I’ve probably heard of him. There aren’t many men who could have done what he did.”
     “Yeah,” Ryan said. “He’s Abe Ackroyd. Arizona Ranger, though I’m not sure what he’s doing up here.”
     Abe Ackroyd? Well, if that was my name, I was going to find my father and mother and shoot both of them. That’s a terrible name. It also didn’t ring a single bell in my head, so I sincerely doubted—and hoped—that I went by some other designation. But, since I couldn’t answer the question about who I really was, I’d play along.
     “Yeah, well, I took some time off. I have a brother who owns a ranch north of here and I wanted to see him. In fact, if I liked it enough, I was going to stay.” I made a face. “A fellow could get hurt being a lawman.”
     They all laughed. Frazier said, “Well, we sure are happy to meet you, Ranger Ackroyd.” I hope they don’t ask to see my badge…”And these fellows”—the dead men—“sure walked into a hornet’s nest unbeknownst. We are beholden to you.”
     “I was glad to help, though, frankly, my first concern was my own hide. Who are these armadillos?”
     “Pete, Tank, and Freddy Carstairs. Two-bit criminals up here. Ever heard of them?”
     A lightening bolt through my head. Yeah, I’ve heard of them, but I don’t know where, when, why, who, what, how much, or how many. My head started spinning, and it took me a moment to respond. I answered, “No, I don’t know them.” At least, I hoped I didn’t. Hadn’t. “They told me that they had lost one of their horses and wanted mine. Theirs are probably around somewhere.”
     Frazier nodded. “We’ll find them. Can’t be far. And we’ll load them up and take them back to Grant City.” He hesitated. “There’s a reward out for these men. $1500. It’s yours. Come to Grant City and we’ll see that you get it.”
     I shook my head. “I can’t do it. You know that Rangers can’t take reward money.”
     “But you said you were taking some time off.”
     I smiled at him. “Once a Ranger, always a Ranger, I guess.” You’re an idiot, man. Go down there and get that money. “Besides, my brother…Jefferson…” I smiled at my own joke. Abe. Jefferson. Get it? You don’t? Dummy… ”is expecting me any day.”
     “Well, the money’s yours if you want it.”
     I waved him off. “Maybe I’ll send you a wire when I get to Jeff’s place. I don’t deny I could use the money, and technically, you’re right, I’m not on duty. I don’t want to backtrack to Grant City, though.”
     “Just let us know where to send it…”
     We yada’d a little longer while Ryan looked for the Carstairs’ horses. Once he found them, the three bodies were loaded up onto the two remaining mounts, the three Grant City men bid their adieus, and headed back home.
     I stood there with a frown on my face, watching them ride off. Abe Ackroyd? Arizona Ranger? I shook my head. I didn’t think so. For two reasons. Number one, as I said, I thought I would recognize my name when I heard it. And two, I had had no flashbacks of the desert; everything was mountains or prairie. That wasn’t conclusive, but I thought it was pretty suggestive. I sighed, annoyed. This amnesia was frustrating, to say the least.

     I kept riding and about noon came to a town named Ronan. It looked like 1,000 other western ranching towns. One main dusty street, though this one had a curve in it. False-fronted wooden buildings, some residences neatly lined up on a couple of adjacent streets. What I wanted to find was a barber shop so I could have a nice, warm bath, and then a general store to pick up some supplies. I thought about visiting the local doctor and asking him about this amnesia, but I decided against that. Give it a few days and see how it goes; no sense in paying a sawbones if it wasn’t necessary.
     Everything went well for awhile. I even found a diner to eat at. I felt good after my bath; well, my head was still hurting and my eyes blurred occasionally, but it was better than it had been. Hopefully, it would all be gone before long and my memory would return.
     I kept having visions of people and places; one face especially continued to come into my mind. A man, early middle-aged, nice-looking gent, but western, competent, intelligent. I had no idea who he was, of course, but I had a suspicion he was either a family member or close friend. I had an image of an older man and woman, too; I was sure it was my folks. But nothing I could pin down. Every time I thought too hard my head ached so I had to will myself to relax.
     I considered spending the night at the local hotel, but I didn’t like the looks of the place and I wasn’t in the mood to be around people. I was afraid somebody might ask me a question I couldn’t answer, like “what’s your name?” I wasn’t about to tell anybody my name was Abe Ackroyd. If I found out that it was, I was going to change it.
     So, my last stop was at the general store to pick up a few provisions. That didn’t take long, and when I came outside, I saw a man standing by Horse, giving him a good once-over. The fellow was short, wiry, with a long face and buck teeth. He looked like he thought he was tough and had a surly expression on his face.
     “Is this your horse?” he asked when he saw me approach.
     “Sure is,” I told him.
     “Nice horse. I’ll give you $10 for him.”
     I thought he was kidding, of course. “No, I’ve got to have at least $11.”
     He looked thoughtful. “Ok, I guess I can go that high.” And he started to pull out his wallet.
     I stared at him, puzzled. “I was joking. I assumed you were, too.”
     “I never kid, mister.” He removed $11 from his billfold and stuck it out to me. “Here you go.”
     I just shook my head in disbelief. “Buddy, you must be playin’ with a deck of 51 cards. I’m not about to sell you my horse for $11. This horse is worth at least $400, and I wouldn’t sell him for even that much.” Horse was a very good animal and I knew it. $11 wasn’t enough to buy a three-legged nag. This squirt had a screw loose somewhere.
     But he was getting hot. “Listen, I made you a good offer and even agreed to your price. Now, you take this money and scram, and be thankful that you got this much.”
     I glanced around to see if anybody was watching. There were a few people who had stopped to listen. I said to one of them, “Is this guy for real?”
     He slowly nodded his head. “Don’t you know who you are dealing with, mister?”
     “No, I have no idea who this runt is.”
     The man winced and looked grave. “That’s Tiny Flynn. If I was you, I’d take the $11 and start walking.”
     I closed my eyes as another lightening bolt seared through my head. Tiny Flynn…Tiny Flynn…the name rang a bell somewhere, but again, I couldn’t dig it out. “Well, I don’t care if he’s Napoleon Bonaparte, he isn’t getting my horse.” I looked back at Flynn. “Go crawl back into your hole, Flynn, and come back out when you grow a few more inches.”
     I heard a gasp behind me from someone in the crowd, and Tiny Flynn’s eyes blazed. “Fella, I’ll forget you said that, but it’s going to cost you your horse.” He jammed the $11 into his shirt pocket. “Now get lost while me and this horse get acquainted.” He grabbed Horse’s saddle horn in preparation for mounting him. Horse, whinnied and started to move away; he was my horse, he knew it, and he wasn’t about to let anybody get on him without my assent. And I wasn’t going to give it.
     I grabbed Tiny by the waist and tossed him about 10 feet out into the street. More gasps and I heard some footfalls as if people were running away. I didn’t care. Angrily, I said to Flynn, “Listen, you two-bit, pea-brained thief. You can’t have my horse. What kind of idiot are you to think I’d sell a horse like this for $11? You’re out of whatever little mind you’ve got.”
     He stood up slowly, obviously doing a slow burn. He was wearing a gun, tied down, and low. I told you he looked like he thought he was tough. He spoke low and menacingly. “Mister, nobody does that to Tiny Flynn. Nobody. You just paid your ticket to Boot Hill. I made you a fair offer and you insulted me. You’re wearing a gun. Get ready to use it.” He slowly backed up into the middle of the street.
     I sighed and shook my head. The man whom I had spoken with earlier said to me, “Mister, you should have given him your horse. Ain’t nobody ever outdrawn Tiny Flynn. Nobody’ll even try any more. Say your prayers ‘cause you ain’t gonna be breathin’ much longer.” I gave him a disgusted look. He was about as eloquent as a Yankee soldier. I frowned, thoughtful. What have I got against Yankee soldiers?…I didn’t know at the moment, and would have to sort it out later. If there was a “later” in my life…
     I wasn’t particularly scared, but I didn’t especially like what I had just heard. I knew I was pretty good with a gun—a certain snake in the road would probably agree with that assessment—but shooting straight and drawing fast are two different things. But there was nothing for it now. I’d find out how good I was, and if I wasn’t good enough, I’d die never even knowing who I was. What a way to go. Well, the devil probably knew my name and could tell me.
     I narrowed my eyes and looked back at Tiny Flynn. He was standing in the middle of the street. I could see people going inside buildings to escape the possibility of being hit by a stray bullet. I glanced back at the man who had spoken to me. “Don’t you people have a sheriff or a marshal in this town?”
     “As scared of Tiny as the rest of us.”
     I grunted and shook my head again. “What a town.” Well, there was nothing for it, so I walked out to the middle of the street, and stood about 40 feet from Flynn.
     He smiled at me. A wicked, smug smile. “Take a look around you, saddle tramp. It will be the last time you’ll ever see the sky, the clouds, a town. Feel the wind…I’ll let you enjoy it for a few more seconds. Think a nice thought ‘cause it will be your last one.”
     I wasn’t especially listening to him. I was watching his hand. And when he moved, I did.
     Tiny got his gun out of his holster, but he never put it into play. I hit him dead-center, right in the heart. His eyes got huge and he lifted up onto his toes. Then with a soft groan, his eyelids fluttered and he fell face first to the ground. I hope his last thought had been a nice one.
     I watched him a couple of seconds just to make sure he didn’t move, then walked over to him. With a foot, I rolled him over onto his back. Yep, he was dead. I holstered my gun, and glanced around town. People were starting to come out of the buildings, and every one of them had an amazed expression on his or her face. I was kind of shocked myself, but I wasn’t going to show it.
     I turned on my heel, and walked over to Horse. I had laid my new purchases on the ground, so I picked them up and stuffed them into a saddlebag. I heard a soft voice behind me. “Who are you?”
     I wanted to know the answer to that question, too. “Somebody who isn’t going to sell his horse for $11,” I replied without looking back, though I was pretty sure that wasn’t my name. I started to mount Horse, but stopped because I saw a pretty lady staring at me. I noticed she wasn’t wearing a ring, so I went over and kissed her full on the lips, daring anybody to try and stop me. I got a blush and a smile in return, then climbed on Horse’s back, and said, “You folks have a nice day.” I tugged on the reins and Horse took off down the street at a slow trot. Both sidewalks were lined with people glaring at me. I felt like a one man parade.
     The last thing I heard before I was completely out of town was, “Thanks, stranger…” I just stuck a hand up and waved.
     Well, I’m good with a gun and I’m fast with it. What does that make me?
     I guess it makes me a man who’s good with a gun and fast with it…and can’t remember his name…I smiled…and who likes kissing pretty ladies…I wonder if I would have done that if I had been in my right mind….I smiled bigger…well, if not, I hope I stay like this forever….

     I spent a couple more nights on the trail, still unable to jumble all the pieces together, though I kept seeing faces, places, and remembering names. Burriss… Castleton… Leadville…Johnny Mexico…Dan Foster…that last name caused me to frown because I felt like I knew him very well. But still, the harder I thought, the more my head hurt. I just had to let it come naturally, as difficult and as frustrating as it was.
     The next day, I continued to ride in a northwesterly direction and was getting into some rougher terrain. The surrounding hills and dales were covered with a lot of foliage and the wind was from the north and thus a little chilly. The fact that the day was overcast didn’t help. I put on my coat and an hour or so before noon thought I’d stop, make some coffee, and munch on some jerky. Horse stopped before I did and nickered softly. I knew he had smelled something, but I didn’t know what it was.
     I pushed him on a few yards farther towards a wide bend in the rode, and heard another horse nicker. It sounded like it was coming from the woods to my right, so I dismounted and investigated. Sure enough, about 20 yards in, I spotted two horses. I walked over to them cautiously and just beyond I saw something that absolutely, positively stunned me. Astounded me so completely that I couldn’t move….