Chapter Four—More Bad

     Sert Oldham was feeling good, not just because he was free. He had finished the bottle of whiskey he had found at Earl and Barb’s Trading Post, so that lifted his spirits, too—no pun intended. Carver City had been north of the Grand Buttes Prison, but at the trading post crossroad, he had gone west. He passed a couple of ranch houses along the way; at one of them a dog came running out, barking. Oldham said, “Aw, shut up,” pulled his gun and shot the dog. A little farther on, in order to sight in his rifle, he stopped and shot four cows that were about 200 yards away in a pasture. When the owner of the cattle took a shot at him, the outlaw fired back and hit the man; he didn’t know if he killed the fellow or not, but he didn’t care. “This is a good rifle, can’t wait to use it on Wayne and Foster.”
    Because that’s where he was headed. He had to travel about 100 miles to a place called Ronan. He didn’t know, for sure, that Judge Wayne and Marshal Foster were still there. But Sert intended to find out. And if they weren’t there, but were still alive, he was going to find them.

     For the most part, he avoided towns along the way. He wasn’t quite sure why, he was a free man so the law couldn’t arrest him. Well, they could have arrested him for the three murders at Earl and Barb’s Trading Post, but he doubted that would ever be discovered; the fire should have covered everything up. But, he wasn’t ready to socialize yet, so except for a couple of nights when he stopped at a saloon to drink, he stayed away from humans. Money was part of the reason. I’ll need to get some more money sometime; gotta figger out how to do that. Not sure I want to try a bank again. Maybe a stage? Hmm…I’ll toss that around some…First things first. Kill the judge and the marshal, then maybe hightail it out of the territory and disappear somewhere else. Never been to Californy…lots of money there…

     Oldham arrived in Ronan three days later. The town was pretty much the way he remembered it, though it was a little larger and the flora had grown up some. He located the hotel and got a room. Then a meal at the local diner. Then Frankie’s Saloon.
     He saw several faces that he remembered, but no one recognized him. He was 15 years older, of course, and the rough prison years had aged him beyond his years. Plus he had a full beard that he hadn’t had before, and longer hair, so it would have surprised him if anyone had identified him.
     He needed some information, but he needed to get it surreptitiously. As he was leaning up against the bar of the saloon drinking a glass of beer, he struck up a conversation with the fellow next to him.
     “How’s the ranchin’ been around here the past few years? I’ve been down to Texas working, but man, that heat down there is a bear. Thought I’d come back up here and get cooled off.”
     The fellow chuckled. “Yeah. I’ve heard that Texas is hotter’n the basement o’ hell. But then, it can get awful cold up here in the winter.”
     “I know, but I’ve been up here before. I can handle the cold better’n the heat. Things goin’ pretty good?”
     “Not bad. Beef prices have been pretty stable. And they’ve discovered some silver in the mountains near here so that’s helped some, too.” He looked at Oldham. “You lookin’ for work?”
     Oldham took a sip of his beer and shook his head. “Not at the moment. I sold some cattle in Texas so I’m set up fer awhile. Might try t’ find some land around here. I’ve also done some law work before, too, but I don’t think I want to get back into that.” He grinned. “Some of them outlaws is awful ornery.”
     The other man laughed. “Yeah, they can be. I don’t think I’d want to be a lawman myself.”
     “That reminds me,” Oldham said, “I knew a marshal named Dan Foster when I was up here before. Good man.” Dead man, which is “good”…Oldham chuckled inwardly. “Also knew a judge. Martin Wayne. Either of ‘em still around?”
     “Foster’s not. He moved over to Silver Creek a few years back to be marshal, but a horse throwed him a couple of months ago and broke his neck. Never figgered him to go that way. He was tough and a good lawman. For him to die like that…” The man shook his head sadly. “Brother’s on his way up here to take his place, I think.”
     Oldham was disgusted. Shoot. I wanted to get Foster myself…maybe I’ll take out the brother…yeah, that’s what I’ll do…”Well, that’s too bad about Foster. What about the judge?”
     “He’s alive and well and still sendin’ outlaws to the hoosegow, them that he don’t string up. He’s rough, but he’s fair.”
     “Yeah,” Oldham said, desperately trying to hold in his temper. “I’d like to see ‘im again. He give me some good advice once. Reckon where I could find him?”
     “Got a place about three miles outta town,” the man told him. “Nice, white colonial house. You go west, you cain’t miss it. He travels a lot, o’ course, but you might catch him at home.”
     The killer smiled inwardly. Got ‘im. “Thanks. I’ll try and do that.”
     “Welcome.” The man looked at him. “How long has it been since you’ve been here? I don’t recall you.”
     Oldham smiled again and held out his hand. “Justin Barber. I’ve been gone over a decade.”
     The man took his hand and shook it. “B. J. Taylor. Nice to meet you. Don’t remember you, but that was quite awhile ago.”
     Oldham felt he might be treading on thin ice now, so he decided it was time to go. He had the information he needed. “Yeah, it was. Anyway, I gotta run. Nice meeting you. I’m sure we’ll meet up again some time.”
     “Yeah. I’m sure we will. Nice talkin’ to you. And good luck.”
     “’Preciate it.” Oldham finished his beer and left the saloon. Satisfied. ‘cept I wish Foster were still alive…well, the judge will have to do…until I can find Foster’s brother, that is…
     Sert Oldham was smart enough—and patient enough—not to just bust into the judge’s house and start shooting. He rode out to find the house; that wasn’t hard. It was set back from the road about a quarter mile, amongst a lovely copse of pine and oak trees. There was a barn and corral behind and to the right. There was also another, smaller, building that looked like it might be a bunkhouse, but Sert wasn’t sure. But all this suited him perfectly; plenty of places to spy from. And he took advantage of it. He spent much of the following day in the woods outside the Wayne home. Oldham’s blood was boiling as he looked over the mansion. He’s gotten rich by throwin’ decent people into prison. Decent people like me….
     The judge apparently lived alone, though he had someone to take care of his animals. Both evenings, Oldham saw the judge ride up around dusk in a covered carriage; his hostler led the horses and carriage into the barn while the judge entered the house. If there were any servants inside, Oldham didn’t see them. His blood raged the first time he saw Judge Wayne. He was 15 years older now, probably in his late 60s. His hair was white, but thinning, and he had a mustache and goatee. Sert didn’t really care about that; he was just glad the judge was still alive.
     He needed to find out if anyone—a servant—was in the house. So, after seeing the judge leave one morning, he waited an hour and then went up to the door and knocked. Sure enough, it was opened by a short, stout woman—obviously a maid.
     Oldham smiled his most charming smile. “Mrs. Philips?”
     “No, there is no Mrs. Philips here. This is Judge Martin Wayne’s home. May I help you?”
     Oldham feigned surprised. “Oh. I must have the wrong house. I’m looking for a Frank Philips. I was told in town that he lived out in this direction. I thought it was this house. I’m terribly sorry to disturb you. Do you by any chance know where the Philips’ live?”
     The lady thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think I know them. I’m sorry, I can’t help.”
     “Well, I’ll find them.” Oldham tipped his hat and smiled. “Again, I apologize for disturbing you. Have a nice day.” He left, thoughtful. Gonna have to keep an eye on that outbuildin’ and see if anybody goes there at night.
     Nobody did, except the stable man, which told Sert that the maid probably slept indoors. And there might be more servants.
     Oldham waited one more day and night; got to be careful. I’ve waited 15 years so I can wait another day or two…After that third day of scouting, he decided to act the next night. The only thing that concerned him were those inside servants, but he figured that, after three days, he knew all he was going to know. Time to act.
     The next night, Oldham was ready. Just like he had done with Earl and Barb’s Trading Post, he intended to burn the place down once he killed the judge. So he brought a couple of cans of kerosene with him. He waited in the woods until dark. He knew where the judge slept, or at least thought he did; he had seen the light in an upstairs room go on and then off. He assumed that was the judge’s room. If he was wrong…well, he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. If he burned the house down, chances are more people than the judge would be killed anyway. That didn’t bother Sert in the least.
     He waited until well after midnight. The light in the upstairs room had, once again, come on after dark and gone out a little while later. Oldham took both cans of kerosene and crept up to the back door; he was thankful, and a bit surprised, that he didn’t have a dog or two to deal with. The back door wasn’t locked—Oldham smiled. He sure is makin’ this easy…he slipped inside. He was in the kitchen. Moving quietly further into the house, he came into a large living room. He set one of the kerosene cans down; I’ll set one of the fires in here. The stairway led from the living room up to the second floor. Taking the second can of kerosene, Oldham slowly crept up the stairs. At the top, he stopped and listened. He heard nothing but a light snore. He was at the end of a long hallway. There were three doors on the right, and three on the left. All of the doors were open. Oldham moved softly; the floor was carpeted and that helped, too. He was sure he knew which room the judge was in—the third room on the right. As he passed each door, he peeked in; they were all bedrooms, but nobody was in any of them. There must be more bedrooms downstairs…That was entirely possible; the house was large.
     Oldham paused at the judge’s bedroom door. And smiled. Sure enough, Judge Martin Wayne was sleeping like a baby in a large canopied bed. Well, not for long
     The outlaw entered the room and quietly closed the door. He walked over to a table next to the bed and lit the lamp. The room brightened. The judge didn’t wake up. Oldham pulled a chair over to the side of the bed and sat down. Then he reached over and poked Wayne several times until the judge woke up.
     Wayne was groggy, but he sharpened quickly when he saw the strange man sitting next to his bed. Propping himself up on his elbows, the judge asked, “Who, sir, are you, and what is the meaning of this intrusion into my bedroom?”
     The outlaw smiled. “Take a close look, judge. Don’t you recognize me?”
     Wayne narrowed his eyes, looking at Sert, thinking back. The light dawned, and he said, with a croak in his voice, “Sert Oldham.”
     “Good, good,” Oldham replied. “I’m glad I made such an impression on you. I told you I’d come back. You ruined 15 years of my life, judge, now I’m gonna ruin the rest of yours. Which ain’t gonna be very long.”
     Judge Wayne quickly reached under his pillow, but Oldham was ready for that. He knocked the gun out of the judge’s hand. “Uh uh, judge, none o’ that. You had your day. And passed sentence on me. Now, I’m going to pass sentence on you.” He paused. And smiled again, an evil, wicked, insane smile. “Death.”
     Judge Wayne stirred up his courage. “Oldham, you’re a free man. You can do whatever you want. Don’t do this. Go. Make a life for yourself. You’ll get caught again if you continue this foolish life of crime and iniquity. Next time, it will might be a rope, not just a prison sentence. Don’t ruin it, man.”
     Oldham just shook his head. “Sorry, judge. Once an outlaw, always an outlaw. You cost me 15 years of my life. And you’ve got to pay. I’m only sorry that scum of a lawman, Dan Foster, ain’t still alive. I’d like to take him out, too.”
     The judge shook his head. “You’ll not get away with this, Oldham. You know that.”
     “Well, you’ll never find out, judge, that’s for sure.” He leaned over and hit Wayne hard, stunning him. While the judge was in a daze, Sert quickly tied his wrists and ankles to the bedposts, and stuffed a gag in his mouth. Wayne struggled, but he was bound tightly.
     “Time for you t’ head fer hell, judge,” Oldham said. “And I’ll give you an advance taste of what it’s goin’ to be like.” He threw his head back and laughed. Picking up the can of kerosene, he poured about half of it up and down the judge’s body. Wayne’s eyes got huge and he tried to cry out, but the gag prevented it. Sert then scattered the rest of the kerosene around the room, the last bit of it leaving a trail from the door to the bed. He smiled. Perfect.
     Martin Wayne had a horrified expression on his face, sheer panic in his eyes. Oldham stood at the door and smiled. “Revenge is sweet, judge….so sweet. I’ll see you in hell, though I don’t plan on bein’ there for a long time….” He struck a match and tossed it at his feet.
     The kerosene immediately burst into flames and the trail to the bed lit up quickly. The fire climbed the side of the bed, up to where the judge lay…and then the poor man burst into flames from the kerosene that Oldham had poured onto him. Sert watched the flaming body writhe in pain and agony. Then the flames became very hot as the rest of the room caught fire from the kerosene that the outlaw had spread around. Satisfied, Sert ran down the hall, and down the stairs. He picked up the other can of kerosene and began sloshing it around. Smoke was beginning to creep down to the first floor. Oldham heard a door open behind him; the lady he had met at the door two days previous stood there in her nightgown.
     “What…?” she asked. It was her last word. Oldham drew his gun and shot her. He regretted doing that almost immediately, for he feared someone—the hostler—might hear. Well, I’ll have to take care of that…Oldham went to the front door, opened it, struck a match, and tossed it inside. The kerosene once again burst into flames. The house would be totally ablaze before anything could be done to save it. The bodies would be burned beyond recognition.
     The stable man…Oldham ran to the bunkhouse and opened it. Sure enough, there was a man sleeping in there. Apparently, the gunshot hadn’t awoken him. Sert thought for a moment. Better not take any chances…He pulled his gun and shot the man in the head. Then, picking up the dead man, he carried him around back and into the kitchen. The flames weren’t there yet, but it wouldn’t be long. The smoke was getting thicker. Oldham held his breath, dumped the body on the kitchen floor, and ran outside. He didn’t stop running—and laughing—until he came to his horses about a half mile away.
     He looked back. The night sky was bright with the flames of the burning house.
     Yes…revenge is sweet….

     Oldham continued on his way. He stopped a couple of days later at a town called Moose Park. He went into the saloon to get a drink. He liked what he heard.
     A couple of old timers at the bar:
     “Hey, Fritz, did you hear about old Judge Wayne’s house a-gettin’ burned down t’other night?
     “Naw! Yore kiddin’.”
     “Nope. Burned the judge, his maid, and his stable man to a fried tater.”
     “Wow. That’s too bad. Ol’ Judge Wayne was a good’un. Give ‘em a fair trial and hang ‘em. Way it oughta be. Was it arson?”
     “They don’t think so. Kinda like Earl and Barb’s place not long ago. Been a dry summer, you know. Lots of fires around.”
     “Yeah. Gotta be kereful. You goin’ to Brant’s auction next week…?”
     Sert lost interest at that point. He smiled. Nobody suspects nuthin’. Sert, ol’ boy, you got it made. Now, find some money…lots of money…Another smile….

     Oldham wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do. He had thought about California, but he would need some money if he was going that far. He didn’t have much left of the $45 he had confiscated from the trading post. Hmmm…gonna have to work on that…can’t do a bank…As he was ruminating on that problem he drew near a town called Silver Creek, and saw something that made him stop and stare. Well, I do de-clare…isn’t that somethin’…Sert, old boy, this is your lucky day…