Dave P. Fisher                        
Author & Western Humorist

Double Diamond Books                      
  
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      Buck the Tiger - Virgil Creede Book 1
                  

  

 
 

Jim gestured with his head toward the door, “Let’s go back to my house and discuss that business.”

Virgil stood up with Jim and followed him out the door.

Entering the house, Virgil removed his hat and looked around. “Mrs. Brooks at home?”

Jim shook his head, “She’s in town at some woman’s ta-do or other.”

Jim ushered Virgil into the parlor. He lifted a bottle of bourbon, “Drink?”

Virgil sat down, “Sure.”

Jim poured a dose in two glasses, handed one to Virgil then sat in a chair placing his glass down on the small lamp table that separated them.

“You said you had some business to discuss with me?”

Jim nodded, “Yes, I do. I need to hire your services again.”

“More rustlers?”

Jim shook his head. “Actually, it’s a two-fold problem. First, it’s a money escort. I borrowed some money from a bank in Helena to get me through last winter. Second, I’ve got a man wanting my property. He’d like nothing better than to have me lose it to the bank so he can grab it up. I’ve got the cash money to repay the loan in full. The problem is, I’ve got to get it up to Helena alive.”

Virgil listened and then commented, “You’re concerned that this man who wants your place will try to keep you from getting the money to Helena, thus causing you to default on the loan and lose the place. Do I understand correctly?”

“You’ve got the picture. I don’t want to ride it cross country with all the highwaymen around. I would either get robbed along the way or this man will have me killed somewhere between here and there. Some mighty lonely country out there.”

“You figure he’s that bad?”

“He’s a bad one.”

“Alright. What’s your plan?”

“I figure to go by stage. I’m thinking I’m less likely to catch a bullet in the back if there’s witnesses around me.”

“If they’re that determined I don’t think they care about witnesses. They’d take the stage as a robbery and get you that way.”

Jim nodded, “I thought of that too. It seems the safest course though, as opposed to riding it cross country.”

“You want me to ride escort with you, is that it?”

“Yes. Travel alongside me to Helena and help me protect that money until it gets in the bank. I’ll pay all expenses and give you a hundred dollars. I can’t stress enough how important this is to me, Virgil. I’ve been wondering who I can get to go with me that’s good with a gun and honest enough to trust. They don’t always come as a package you know. Then, you came riding in.”

“When do you want to leave?”

“We can catch the stage in Gallatin City tomorrow morning.”

Virgil grinned, “It’s a good thing I brought my guns along.”

Jim laughed, “As if you’d ever be without them.”

“I take them off when I take a bath.”

Jim laughed again. “You’ll go with me then?”

“You’ve got yourself an escort.”

Jim slapped his hand down on the chair arm. “I feel better about this thing already. I sure appreciate this, Virgil. It’s a matter of survival for me and I’m sure this new enemy of mine will have men out to kill me. With the two of us together on this, I feel the money’s already in the bank.”

“Why don’t you tell me about this new enemy of yours?”

“Not a lot to tell. Man name of Bert Ingram. He’s new in Gallatin City, from back East from what I gather. He opened up a couple of gambling halls, which was kind of foolish as Gallatin City isn’t Virginia City. He also is lending money and transacting other money businesses that rumor has it are shady.”

“Is he pulling any rough stuff like beating or killing people who owe him money?”

“Not that I’ve heard of. He seems to be keeping it all legal, at least on the surface, for appearances sake. He hasn’t done anything that would draw attention to himself from the law or vigilance committees anyway. However, he has been quick to grab up property if he sees a weakness.”

“Has he run anyone off their places, burned houses or anything like that?”

“Once again, not that I’m aware of. He watches for his opportunities and seizes on them to get something away from the person holding what he wants.”

“Like causing loans to go unpaid so the bank will foreclose and sell it to him cheap.”

“So, it all appears legal, yes, that seems to be his way. I haven’t seen anything blatant, but he’s a rat, you can smell it. I don’t trust him and I believe he will send someone to rob or kill me. That way, it looks like another highway robbery and in no way connected to him.”

Virgil considered what Jim had told him. “That means he has to have friends in the right places that tip him off to who owes what. He must have someone at that Helena bank, how else would he even know about your loan?”

“I thought about that. I don’t do business with Ingram, so how could he know I owe the bank in Helena? That’s supposed to be private business between me and the bank, so how would he know?”

“That brings me to my next question. How do you know Ingram’s after you or wants to stop you from paying the loan off?”

Jim grinned coldly, “He told me. He approached me in town and said that he understood I was under a ‘financial burden,’ as he put it. He offered to buy me out. I told him nothing doing. He then said that it would be terrible if I couldn’t get out from under it and something happened before I got it all cleared.”

“What did you say to that?”

“He caught me flatfooted, I didn’t know what to say. Before I could think of a response, he walked away. I haven’t seen him since.”

“That does sound pretty cut and dried. He sounds like a professional criminal, very smooth and knows exactly how to manipulate a situation to his favor. In my experience, a man like that would have you killed to serve his purpose, which in this case is the stealing of your valuable property.”

“And that’s what has me concerned and why I need your help.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you and the money to Helena. If I were you, I’d be wanting to know who in Helena, or more specifically at the bank, is talking about your private business.”

“I intend to find that out as soon as the note is in my hand.”

 

The following morning Virgil and Jim rode into Gallatin City and boarded their horses at the livery. They walked down the street to the stage station. Jim carried a carpetbag that made him look like simply another traveler. Inside the bag were some personal items, extra clothes, and a pouch containing the money.

Virgil insisted that Jim carry the bag to leave him free to use both hands in the event of a holdup. Virgil wore the 44.40 and had the .45 shoulder-holstered under his hip-length coat. He wanted to convey the image that he and Jim were merely traveling companions and not that he was a bodyguard. They kept their conversation light and he carried a small traveling bag he had gotten from Brooks. It held a change of clothes and the contents of his bedroll. He would give it to the driver to load in the boot of the stage to be free of it.

Jim bought the tickets for the stage and they sat down on a bench to wait. He kept the carpetbag on his lap with his hands tightly clamped over it. He watched the movements of everyone who passed within his sight.

Virgil glanced at him, “Relax Jim, you act like a man waiting for his sparkin’ age daughter to come home from the dance.”

“I can’t help it. I can handle a straight-on fight, but I hate this waiting around to see who’s going to crawl out of the woodwork.” He then looked over at Virgil, “How do you stay so calm?”

“Patience bred in adversity.”

Jim stared at him, impressed at Virgil’s answer. “You’re not the average gunfighter, Virgil. You speak well and obviously have a good education.”

“I was educated in expensive private schools. Education, or the lack of it, has nothing to do with how well a man handles a gun. The Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War all proved that highly educated men, standing alongside those who could neither read nor write, could equally shoot the enemy to pieces.”

Jim nodded his understanding and asked no further questions. It wasn’t the western way to pry into a man’s history. If Virgil wanted to tell him his story he would. If not, it was none of his business.

They waited another hour before the stage pulled in. The driver climbed down from his seat and looked in the coach window telling the two passengers already on the stage to get something to eat as he was going to be a bit switching out the team. The shotgun rider climbed down and walked off. The driver looked at Virgil and Jim, “You gents on the coach?”

They both confirmed that they were. The driver pointed at the back of the stage, “Bring your bags I’ll put ‘em in the boot.”

Virgil handed his bag to the driver who unbuckled the boot and dropped the bag in. Jim told the driver he would hold onto his bag. The driver shrugged, “Makes no never mind to me, hang on to it if you want.” He then walked away to join the hostler in changing the team.

The coach door opened and a woman gathered her skirts and bent low to exit the narrow doorway. Virgil quickly offered her a hand to assist her. She tilted her head up to look at him and took his hand. She stepped down and stood in the dirt street. She stretched as modestly as she could then she smiled at Virgil, “Thank you sir, you are a gentleman.”

Virgil tipped his hat, “My pleasure ma’am. Those coaches can certainly cramp a person up.”

“Yes they can. I can hardly wait until I reach Helena and be free of it.” She looked around, “Where might I find a place to eat?”

Virgil pointed toward a café a short way down from the station, “Pretty good food right there.”

The woman laughed, “How blind I am, it is right in front of me. Thank you.” She walked toward the café.

Behind her the second passenger, a man, climbed out. He looked around and then gave Virgil a cursory glance up and down. Virgil in turn studied the man. He was dressed in a black suit that now had a solid layer of dust covering its entirety. He was wearing an expensive felt hat and looked completely like an easterner. What separated him from the eastern immigrants he had seen was the icy cold glint in his eyes. It might be missed by someone not accustomed to quickly sizing up other men, but to Virgil it was clear, the man was dangerous. The man followed the woman into the café without a word to anyone. 

A half hour later they were all climbing into the coach. Virgil assisted the woman in entering the coach. She took her same seat on the driver’s side of the rear seat facing forward. The man climbed in next and sat down beside her. They neither looked at each other nor exchanged a word. Virgil decided that the two were familiar with each other, but not friendly. Virgil and Jim sat next to each other on the forward seat, facing backward. Jim put the bag on the floor behind his feet and then jammed his heels hard against it.

Virgil sat opposite the woman. He studied her without staring. He judged her to be twenty-one or two. She was a city girl, as her hands were not calloused or rough and the lack of a wedding ring on her finger said she was unmarried. Her face was pretty and her brown eyes were soft and matched her hair. Like the man sitting beside her, she wore a layer of dust from head to foot.

Virgil glanced at the man who was clearly studying him. Virgil read his expression as being wary, but not particularly hostile toward him. Their eyes locked for a brief moment and then the man turned his head and looked out the window. He and the woman didn’t appear to be engaged in any manner, leaving him to wonder if the man wasn’t a bodyguard for her. It seemed to fit.

The stage started out with a jerk that rocked the passengers back and forth in their seats. The wheels rolling over the summer dry road immediately began to kick dust up into the coach’s interior. The woman took the heat and discomfort in patient stride as she removed a dust-soiled hanky from her bag and wiped at her sweat and dirt streaked face. She smiled at Virgil, “It is a very hot day.”

“Yes, ma’am. Have you traveled far?”

She sighed exhaustedly, “Yes, too far. I have been on this coach . . .” She stopped and glanced unpleasantly at the man beside her. “We have been on this coach since Cheyenne.”

Virgil smiled, “That is a long time to be on a coach. Are you from Cheyenne?”

“Chicago. Traveled to Cheyenne by train. I am to join my father in Helena.”

The man sitting next to her frowned. Leaning toward her he whispered, “You don’t have to tell him your business.”

She glared back at him and snapped, “I am allowed to speak to people if I wish, Mr. Cook.”

The man’s frown deepened as he turned away and looked back out the window. The woman stopped talking and looked out the window on her side. Virgil and Jim exchanged glances. There was something unpleasant going on between the two and it would bear watching.

Several minutes passed as the two continued to stare out their windows. The woman then looked back at Virgil, “Since we are going to be on this coach for some time we should at least know the name of the other. I am Dora Pickett.” She extended her hand to him.

Virgil gently shook her hand, “I’m Virgil Creede.”

At the mention of his name Cook’s head snapped around and he stared at Virgil for a second before turning back away to resume staring out the window.

Dora then looked at Jim who tipped his hat, “Jim Brooks, ma’am.”

“What is it you do, Mr. Brooks.”

“I’m a rancher, ma’am.”

She smiled at him and then turned her attention back to Virgil. “What is your occupation Mr. Creede?”

“A little bit of everything, Miss Pickett.”

“A jack of all trades then?”

“You could say that.”

Cook offered no introduction but looked back at Virgil, “Your trade must require you to go about heavily armed.”

Virgil and the man held their eyes locked for several seconds before Virgil answered, “It’s a dangerous country.”

“So, I’ve heard.” Cook then looked back out the window.

Jim addressed Dora, “Is your father Jerome Pickett, ma’am?”

“Why yes, that is my father. How do you come to know him?”

“He’s a banker in Helena, we have done business.”

She gave Jim a cold smile. “Yes, my father does considerable business.” She turned her attention back out the window.

Virgil and Jim exchanged glances at the manner of which Dora Pickett had made the comment. It caused Virgil to think again in regards to someone at the bank informing Bert Ingram about Jim’s loan.

The first leg of the trip swung south to Virginia City where the team was again changed and the passengers allowed out to eat a meal. Jim gripped his bag tightly in his left hand while Virgil walked beside him. Dora was closely followed by Cook wherever she went. After the break they reentered the coach and headed north for Helena.

The weariness of being jostled around in a wooden box on stiff springs was taking its toll on all of them. Little conversation was exchanged, there was only the determination to survive the discomfort of the trip. Jim remained nervous as they headed up into the mountains. So far, there had been no attempts at robbery and he hoped for the luck to remain.

Coming into a desolate stretch of country, the passengers could hear the driver begin to curse and pull the team to a stop. He shouted down to the passengers, “Stay calm folks. Looks like we’re about to be robbed.”

Dora peered out the window to the road in front of them. “There are four men on horses blocking the road. They have masks over their faces.”

Jim cursed under his breath and pulled his gun from the holster as the stage came to a complete stop.

“What are they doing now?” Virgil asked Dora.

“Two are getting off their horses and coming toward the coach. They have guns out.”

A rough voice sounded outside the coach, “You men stay put and you might stay alive. We want your passengers out.” The two men on the ground split up, one to each side of the coach.

The robbers jerked the coach doors open at the same time. As they did Virgil stuck the 44.40 in the man’s face and pulled the trigger. The bullet took him square between the eyes. At the same moment Jim shot the second robber. Dora jumped in her seat startled by the sudden burst of gunfire. Cook instinctively pressed his back against the seat and shoved Dora back with his straightened arm to keep her from leaving her seat.

Virgil and Jim each jumped out their side of the coach. The two men still horseback were momentarily taken aback by the turn of events. Virgil took the few seconds of their confusion to blow one of them out of the saddle, shifting the Colt’s bore to the left he killed the last robber.

The driver and shotgun man stared with their mouths hanging open. Virgil and Jim walked around the coach and looked over the men on the ground. Cook came out of the coach with a drawn gun.

The man Brooks had shot was still alive. Virgil looked down at him, “Who were you after?”

The man grimaced in pain, “Some rancher, we were supposed to kill him and take his money.” Virgil and Jim exchanged glances.

“Who hired you?”

“Don’t know. Jake got the orders, he didn’t tell us who.”

“Which one’s Jake?”

“The one you shot.” The man grimaced again and then let out a long breath and died.

Dora called from inside the coach, “Is it safe to come out?”

“I don’t think you want to see this Miss Picket.”

Dora Climbed out of the coach and looked at the men on the ground. “What did they want?”

Virgil was surprised that an eastern city girl was not shocked by the sudden burst of violence common to the West. Such wasn’t part in her world, but then again he didn’t know anything about her world. If her reaction or lack of it, coupled with Cook’s demeanor was any indication, she didn’t come from a delicate environment. “To rob us, maybe kill us,” he replied.

The driver looked down at Virgil. “Mister, I ain’t ever seen shooting like that in my whole life. You are hell-on-wheels with that big six-gun and I’m durned happy you were along.” He lifted his hat to Dora Pickett, “Excuse my language, ma’am.”

Virgil looked at Cook who was perfectly calm and still holding his gun down against his leg. Cook stared back at him more intently then he had before, then he said simply, “Like you said, it’s dangerous country.”

Virgil met Cook’s eyes, “You never know who your enemies are out here.”

For the first time Cook cracked a slight grin, “Nor anywhere.”

“You men give me a hand dragging these desperados out of the road?” the driver asked. “We’ll tell the sheriff when we get to Helena, he can pick ‘em up if he wants.”

The men worked together moving the bodies to the side of the road. Virgil turned to Jim, “Happen to have a notebook and pencil on you?”

“I have,” Dora replied. She opened her handbag and removed a small notebook and a pencil handing them to Virgil.

“Thank you, Miss Pickett.” Virgil wrote on a page, Stage Robbers. Leave for the sheriff. Placing the note on the chest of a dead robber he anchored it down with a rock.

Handing the notebook and pencil back to Dora Virgil gestured toward the coach, “We’d best get along, Miss Pickett.”

Reaching the open coach door, Virgil offered his hand to Dora. She smiled at him, “Thank you, Mr. Creede.” She took his hand and climbed back into the coach.

The driver was in his seat gathering the reins when he heard Dora speak the name. He looked down at Jim, “Creede? Virgil Creede?”

“One in the same.”

The driver chuckled to himself, “Well, that explains a whole lot.”

Cook looked up at the driver, “So, who is Virgil Creede?’

“He’s a lot of things, but mostly a gunfighter, and possibly the most dangerous man in Montana.”

Dora overheard the driver’s remark. She looked at Virgil who was focusing his attention out the window. She studied his face thinking to herself that he did not have the eyes or look of a killer. Not like the killers she had known, at least.

 

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