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Red Valley – Chapter XII

Here we have Billy share his backstory. I really love Billy and I hope he comes across as a well-rounded character with his own arc. His and West’s arc mirror each other (I hope) and it’s something I’ve always been proud of in this script. Again, hope it translates to prose. Cheers.

 

XII

Billy stood knee deep in the freezing stream water. West had finally spoken to him, or more rather, had finally given him an order, and he jumped at the chance to do right. Standing and shivering in the ice water he only slightly regretted his eagerness. The sooner he caught a fish the sooner he’d be out of the water and in front of the fire. And soon after that they’d have a little something in their bellies. He thought he saw one wiggle its way through between his legs, but the fish was a slippery bastard and Billy slipped and fell backwards and the water felt like daggers penetrating his sides. He heard West and Charlie laugh and despite the pain he couldn’t help but smile.

Eventually Billy caught three fish and West decided that that was good enough. They sat around the fire and ate like cats, eating the fish whole and spitting out the bones. The fish were gone within minutes. Charlie was the only one to eat slowly and he savored every bite and closed his eyes and pretended Elizabeth had prepared it for him.

“Where’d you learn to fish like that?” West asked.

Billy couldn’t believe that West Steel – the West Steel – was asking him a question and not insulting him or threatening him or ordering him around.

“Taught myself.” He’d learned that West liked quick, short answers.

“No shit?” asked Charlie.

“Been on my own since I was maybe six or seven.”

“Your folks pass?” asked Charlie, and Billy nodded his head. “How’d they go?”

West shot Charlie a scolding look and Billy took a deep breath before answering.

“Y’know, the war really didn’t change too much in the South. Yeah, my folks was freed, but… my momma wound up having to go back to work in the fields for her previous master. Ain’t that some shit?”

Charlie bowed his head.

“I mean, you can imagine his attitude towards the former slaves. I mean, not only did he lose sons fighting to keep them in shackles, but now that he’s lost, they’re back, and he’s gotta start paying them. Not much, but still… more so than before.”

West listened intently, his opinion of young Bill changing and evolving with the story.

“I never knew my father, but my momma… she took good care of me. And even though she was paid close to nothing, once a month she’d go into town and buy me a dime novel. Usually starring the great West Steel.”

West and Billy’s eyes met and Billy let out a little chuckle. West bowed his head and didn’t know how to feel.

“One day I come in from the fields and she had a sack all packed up. And she tells me I gotta go. I told her I didn’t want to but she insisted, said I’d be better off if I found my way to the north.” Billy got a little choked up but carried on. “So I left… y’know, when you got no other choice, you learn to hunt and fish real good, real quick. More than anything else, though, it was those dime novels that got me through. Pretending to be you.”

West gave Billy a grim look.

“Figured, you’d faced it all and walked away laughin’. That’s how I wanted to be. Tough.”

West couldn’t help but grin.

“After a few years of workin’ on different ranches here and there, I decided to go back for my ma. But she was gone.” His eyes filled with water but only a little. “Her bones was weak and she was just a frail little thing… and she moved slower… that didn’t please our former master none too much. One day she was workin’ and she fell. They just started whippin’ her. Whippin’ her ’till you couldn’t tell what was skin and what was blood. Done whipped her to death.”

Billy took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh.

“Didn’t matter that she was free. She was a negro woman, so no questions were asked. No courts were held. Not even a headstone for her.”

“What about revenge?” asked West.

Billy let out a sad chuckle.

“That son’bitch had a heart attack the next week.”

Billy bowed his head and shook it, as if trying to dispel the images he’d allowed to reenter his mind.

“Shit, I’m ramblin’. Let’s talk about you guys. Chuck, you’s a terrible shot.”

That broke the tension and the boys all had a good laugh.

“Well, I ain’t no West Steel, that’s for sure. I ain’t some punk kid with a gun no more, ’cause if I was, I’d still be that, y’see?” said Charlie.

Billy nodded his head.

“A man should know how to take a shot. How you expect to protect your family?” said West.

Charlie just looked out beyond the fire and didn’t respond.

“When you and Liz gonna start makin’ little ones, anyway?”

“I dunno, when… y’know… When we’re ready.”

“Ready? Christ, you’ve only been married six years.”

“It’s… complicated.”

West bowed his head in understanding and he was ashamed that he’d taken it as far as he did.

“Well… that’s a shame, Chuck, you woulda made a good dad. Better than me at least.”

“You’re… you’re an all right dad.”

“You ever known another dad to have his kid stoled from him?”

“You ever know of another dad to travel borders to get that kid back?”

West looked down,having never thought of it that way.

“You’re a good dad.”

West looked at Charlie in disbelief.

“You just got a shit way of showin’ it,” Charlie grinned.

West grinned, too, and nodded his head.

Billy smiled. It was the first time in all their weeks traveling that it felt how he’d always envisioned it would feel to be a part of West Steel’s gang. Then West stood up, dusted off his pants, told them they better start moving, and walked away.

Billy smiled again.

Red Valley – Chapter XI

In the script, this was the “montage” where time passed quickly. I omitted a couple scenes and extended a couple others. On my next draft I’ll probably open up these paragraphs to let them be their own chapters. But for now, this is just a short chapter where we check in on all our characters at this point. Cheers.

 

XI

Time passed both quick and slow and West felt like the journey would never end. He didn’t talk much to Charlie and he barely spoke a word to Billy, but he allowed him to keep company with them. West was always the first one up, even before the sun, and neither Charlie nor Billy dared call it a night until West said they’d ridden their day’s worth. West had hoped to reach Red Valley before the winter, but he knew, with the air getting colder and crisper by the day, that that would be an impossibility. Still he rode and still they rode behind him.

 

Marshal Long enjoyed intimidation. He enjoyed throwing his weight around. And he enjoyed being feared. If it hadn’t been for a fortuitous encounter many years passed, he may very well have ended up a criminal. None of the other marshals or deputies or sheriffs dared step foot in Richmond. But here he was, a lawmen in a lawless town. And he’d never felt more at home. He didn’t need to ruffle Walter the bartender to get information. He didn’t need to shoot anyone or cut anyone or make idle threats, even. And this disappointed him. Even before he’d completely unfolded the wanted poster Walter pointed in the direction that West and Charlie and Billy had ridden off in, and Long grumpily thanked him and went on his way.

 

Despite the recent bloodshed the Crowley family ranch was a beautiful place with a beautiful view. Little Bobby and his mother had worked hard to give Mary and Chief proper burials, and their freshly-laid plots basked in the shade of the large oak tree West had planted there years ago. Bobby and his mother came to the ranch every day and returned it to its previous beauty. If Mr. Crowley were ever to return, Bobby’s mother told him, it would be much easier for him to deal with the harsh reality that awaited him if the ranch were back to the way it was. And so Bobby worked three times as hard to make it so. Not necessarily for Mr. Crowley, although he did wish him a smooth transition back, but for Ellie, who he missed more than his young mind had ever thought possible.

 

Elizabeth had always been a religious woman. She attended weekly services and her and Charlie would host Pastor Reeves for dinner. She prayed early in the morning and at every meal and always before bed. When she met Charlie, he was but a wandering soul. He believed but did not belong, and his guilt prevented him from practicing. Elizabeth had gotten him to confession and helped him convert and she was content with her Christian husband and their Christian life. Where, then, had her faith gotten her, she wondered. She prayed still, for Charlie’s return and that their life could go back to normal and maybe for a child, even though she knew that was a lost dream at this point. She prayed to believe and wondered if she ever did, or if all of her prayer and holiness had been an act in an attempt to fool God into thinking her a good person. She prayed and she cried and she cursed her husband and she cursed that bastard who’d stolen him away from her.

 

The Sanchero gang had arrived at their safehouse just before the first snow fell and they were grateful for it. They knew the weather would slow down West and they could rest comfortably for a time. They passed the time with whiskey and cards and Chico’s terrible guitar playing. And Cullen was more than happy to share his opium. They built fires and cooked the last of the chickens and they came so very close to being happy.

Ellie had been locked up in the chicken cage atop the wagon since they’d stolen it. She was grateful when the gang began eating the chickens and now she missed the company. She was left outside in the snow to freeze in that cage and she wasn’t sure if she’d die first from the cold or the hunger. Roberto checked on her every other day. He’d come out sucking the skin off of a chicken bone, and when he saw that she was still alive, he’d toss the bone inside the cage. It turned her stomach to do so but she had no other choice, she had to eat. Roberto would watch her scramble for the bone and he’d laugh at how pathetic she was and then he’d go back inside to the fire.

One evening, Ellie was woken up not by the howling sick laughter of Roberto or one of the others, but by a gentle tapping on the cage. She stirred awake and rubbed her eyes and when she saw that it was Megedagik she shuffled backwards. The horror in the little girl’s eyes hurt Megedagik but he understood that he cut a terrifying figure and even if he didn’t, an Indian to a little white girl must be a very scary sight indeed. Megedagik placed his fingers to his lips, Shhhh, and produced a plate of four chicken legs with the meat still intact. Ellie looked up at him with grateful tears in her eyes and she thought for a second that she saw the big man smile. Or something resembling a smile. He bowed his head and walked away and Ellie devoured the chicken.

Red Valley – Chapter X

This is probably my favorite scene in the whole screenplay, and I hope it translates well to prose.

 

X

The sky was red and gray and too still for anyone’s liking. There was a feeling of uneasiness in the air and the Sanchero gang was getting restless. It had been too long since they’d maimed anyone and Roberto needed a release of violence. But he couldn’t harm Ellie. He wanted to save her for the end. Someone else would have to do.

The gang rode slowly across the plains in single file order with Roberto leading the pack, followed closely by Juan, then Chico, then Cullen, then Megedagik, then Francis. Ellie, her face covered in dirt and her dress torn in several places, marched behnd Francis’ horse. Her hands were tied by a thick rope that led back to Francis’ horse, and they’d been riding without pause since daybreak.

Ellie was exhausted and hadn’t slept in days. She was afraid of what would happen to her if she closed her eyes. Her little body was already cut and bruised and scraped in several places and she wanted nothing more than the comfort of her mother. A comfort that she knew, but tried hard not think about, she would never have again. As for her father, she didn’t know what to beleive. She clung to her memory of him as she always knew him – a rancher, a father, a good man. She decided that these men simply picked the wrong family, that this whole ordeal was just one long horrible mistake. Somehow that made it easier.

Roberto looked off into the distance and saw a glint of metal. He smiled that vicious smile and turned to Juan.

“You see that?”

Juan squinted.

“Looks to me like a wagon.”

“A bank wagon.”

“Could be, I suppose.”

Roberto gazed out into the distance a long moment.

“Feel like gettin’ your hands dirty?”

Juan grinned.

“Could be fun. ‘Bout time we showed this little girl a good time.”

Francis yanked on the rope and Ellie stumbled forward. He grabbed her and pulled her up onto the back of his horse.

“You’re gonna wanna keep your eyes open for this, sweetheart,” croaked Francis. He smiled, showing off his rotting yellow teeth, and then he let out a laugh that quickly turned into a cough. Then he spit and Ellie turned away.

The gang rode off towards the glinting spec, and as they approached they did in fact come upon a wagon. The wagon in question was sporting a fresh coat of blue paint and was being driven by two elderly men.

Leroy Parker was a mustached old man in his sixities and he wore a dapper vest and a worn bowler hat. His companion, Harold Alonzo, was in his mid-fifties and had a long, graying beard. He wore a dusty coat, an even dustier hat, and he chewed on his pipe in a nervous manner. The gang stopped in front of the wagon, causing them to come to a screeching halt. Leroy spoke first.

“Do we have a problem here, gentlemen?”

“Yes, I’m afraid we do. Clint County Bank is trying to throw off robbers now by paintin’ their wagons a different color and havin’ them driven by feeble old men? Is that the case?”

The gang drew their weapons and Leroy and Harold looked at each other with alarm.

“No,” said Harold. “The bank was gettin’ new wagons, we bought this one from ’em used and did our own paint job.”

“Juan?” asked Roberto.

“I don’t buy it,” said Juan.

Harold put his hand on Leroy’s and Leroy gripped it tight.

“We’re on our way to Ford to sell livestock,” said Leroy. “We raise chickens.”

“Of course you do,” sneared Roberto.

“You don’t believe us?” said Harold. “Look, you can take our money.” He produced a few bills from his pockets and threw the money at the gang. Roberto looked at the money in disgust.

“We’re gonna take your money. But that’s not the only reason we’re stopping you.”

Francis slowly rode up to the wagon. Ellie was now sitting in front of him.

“We promised this little girl a show,” said Francis. “You wouldn’t want us to disappoint her now, would ya?”

“Child…” whispered Harold upon laying eyes on Ellie. Chico responded by shooting him in the head. Ellie was filled with shock and terror and guilt, a guilt a child her age should not have known. Leroy still held Harold’s hand and sobbed openly, crying his name and cradling his corpse.

“You bastards..!”

“Get up off that wagon, old man,” demanded Roberto.

“We don’t work for the bank!”

“You’ve told me and that’s okay. Now get down off that wagon and come stand here.”

Leroy glared at Roberto, refusing to budge. So Cullen shot a round in the air.

“The man said get off the wagon! Now move!”

Leroy gave Harold’s hand a tight squeeze and stepped down off the wagon. He stood in front of the gang, his hands held high in the air. Francis dismounted his horse and then scooped Ellie up off as well. He stood her on the ground and placed a pistol in her tiny little hands. The gun felt heavy and the metal felt cold and Ellie felt powerful.

“Now before you go and try anything funny,” Francis warned and he nodded to Cullen.

Cullen placed the barrel of his gun up against Ellie’s temple. Roberto squatted down next to Ellie and put his hand on her shoulder. She recoiled but he tightened his grip.

“Ellie darlin’, I want you to shoot this man.”

“Now wait just a second,” hollered Leroy, but Juan quickly drew a bead on him.

“You shut the fuck up.”

Leroy minded Juan and took a step back in reproach. Megedagik looked at Roberto and Roberto cleared his throat.

“Now Ellie, I want you to shoot this man. Is that understood?” Ellie just glared up at him. “If you don’t shoot this man, we are going to kill you. Right here. Right now.”

“…I… I can’t,” Ellie sobbed.

Cullen cocked his gun. Megedagik watched solemnly as the action unfolded. Roberto squeezed Ellie’s shoulder tight.

“Yes you can, darlin’. Just aim that gun, take a deep breath, and fire. I know your daddy taught you how to shoot.”

Ellie looked at Roberto with sadness. She knew now he was a man of his word and she didn’t know if she’d rather kill or be killed. It all felt the same at this point. She began to cry as she raised the gun and aimed it at Leroy’s chest.

“That’s a good girl,” encouraged Roberto.

Ellie cried as she held the gun, her little hands shaking. Roberto watched her and smiled. He couldn’t think of a more perfect afternoon. Leroy made eye contact with Ellie and she burst out in tears.

“Please…” she cried. This made Roberto angry, but before he could scold her Leroy spoke up.

“It’s okay,” he said. Ellie looked up at him and took in his warm, leathery features. “It’s alright, sweetheart.”

Leroy closed his eyes and held his breath and waited for it all to end. The tears streaming down Ellie’s cheeks made it hard for her to see but she was too shaken to wipe them away. Chico watched with a sick, sadistic grin and Roberto grew increasingly impatient.

“Pull the trigger, Ellie.”

Ellie gulped hard and closed one eye and looked down the barrel. Juan took his eye off Leroy and turned and watched Ellie with anticipation. Megedagik looked at Roberto with a contempt that had been growing for a while. He didn’t like seeing a big gun shake violently in a little girl’s hands. Roberto liked it at first but had grown tired of waiting and he was visibly angry now.

“Shoot him!”

The shot rung out and silenced the land and the stillness of the afternoon returned. Leroy’s body fell back on the ground and Ellie looked at the gun in her hands with confusion. She didn’t think she’d pulled the trigger and she wondered if this was how it felt everytime you shot a man dead.

“Fuck! What in the hell’d you do that for?”

She heard Roberto chastising someone and she looked behind her to see Megedagik lower his pistol with smoke rising from the barrel. Megedagik looked down at Roberto, unafraid of this man who was at least a foot shorter than he was. He shrugged.

“Savage. Took over.”

Roberto stomped off back to his horse.

“Fucking injun!”

With tears still streaming down her face, Ellie looked up at Megedagik and for the first time since her capture she felt safe. He met her gaze and then turned away.

Juan and Cullen ripped the tarp top off the wagon. There was a large metal cage filled with six chickens sitting in the back.

“Well what do ya know,” said Juan, “those old timers were tellin’ the truth. What do you think?”

“I think we got dinner,” said Cullen.

Francis looked at the cage and then down at Ellie and smiled.

“Good news, young lady, looks like you don’t have to do any more walkin’.” And then he laughed a vicious laugh and Ellie knew the good news was anything but.

Red Valley – Chapter IX

Excited to announce that LP has made the semi-finals (top 20) of this year’s Cinequest Screenwriting Competition. Next we’ll find out if I made the top 10. Here’s to hoping!

Starting to feel burnt out on this project but I am already about half way done. This will be the shortest book ever. Shorter than a novella I’m guessing.

IX

Richmond was a tough town with tough people. It was a hive for outlaws and bounty hunters and at one time West and Charlie might have fit right in, but now they were outsiders and they knew it. It was really the last place they should be stopping, but they’d rode all through the night and they needed a rest and a drink.

They hitched their horses outside The Spirit Room. It was a nice mid-sized dive and had fewer holes in its walls than Molloy’s and West thought that was just class. As they dawdled up the porch they noticed the proprietor, a tall, lanky fella, hanging a wanted poster on the front of the building. West stopped and looked at the poster. He didn’t need to be able to read to know what it said:

“WANTED – WEST STEEL: BACK FROM THE DEAD – ALIVE – $1000 DEAD – $750”

West turned his head towards the proprietor until the lank felt his gaze and turned around. When he noticed West and recognized who he was his eyes went big and he let out a guilty little chuckle and he removed the wanted poster with haste. West strode into The Spirit Room without taking his eyes off the tall sheepish man, a scare tactic that never got old. Charlie followed him inside and the proprietor scurried in after them and assumed his position behind the bar.

The Spirit Room was crowded and noisy with gamblers and drunks and it was the last place either West or Charlie wanted to be. The proprietor introduced himself as Walter and asked how he could help them.

“Whiskey. Double.”

“Water. Thanks.”

Walter grinned apologetically.

“You don’t want the water here.”

“Sarsaparilla then.”

Walter smiled and bowed his head and went to work on their drinks. Charlie asked about an outhouse and Walter directed him outside. West slunked down into a seat at an empty table in the corner and sighed heavily. For a moment he started to think about Mary but he pushed her from his mind. Now was the time to plan. He could grieve later and, when the time came, he could use the rage when he needed it. West felt someone behind him and then he heard him speak.

“Well, well, well… Ol’ West Steel. The steel of the west.”

A delicate and dapper-looking young man took the seat across from West. He had patchy blonde scruff and he was dressed all in black with a bowler hat. “If he didn’t steal the west first.” Ansel grinned but West just stared at him.  “It’s a pleasure, it really is. And a shame.”

“And why is that?”

“Because you just became a living, breathing, wanted man again. And, while you are my hero, I wanna collect. Name’s Ansel Stone. Stone of the west.”

Ansel grinned and he was quite pleased, thinking himself clever. He removed his hat with one hand and produced a revolver in the other. He rested the gun on the table, aiming it at West, and covered it with his hat.

“You see this?”

West looked down at the gun and then up at Ansel. He was annoyed but passive.

“Well, you’re worth a thousand dollars alive. But you know what? Seven-fifty for ya dead ain’t bad either. I guess you could say I’m still makin’ up my mind as to what to do.”

A gun cocks and Ansel looks up to see Charlie standing behind him with a shotgun to his head.

“I suggest you put that gun away, son.”

Ansel gives West a defeated grin.

“Well, this is… rather unexpected. And utterly disappointing. I took you for someone who rode alone.”

“I said drop it.”

Ansel drops his gun down on the table, never taking his eyes off West.

“You’re welcome,” Charlie said, his tone sarcastic.

“Thanks,” West replied, meeting Charlie’s tone, as he reached up from under the table, holding a pistol of his own. Ansel was shocked.

“How long you had that pistol pointed at me?”

“Since you quoted that stupid shit about my name.”

“I’d kill to have people say things like that about me.”

“Yeah… Come back to me after you done the killin’. Now go on, get outta here, kid.”

Ansel walked out of the bar like a scolded dog and Charlie took his seat. They sat there a long moment, neither man touching his drink.

“Don’t bullshit me, Hank. You love all that West Steel mythology shit.”

“…I did…”

“It got Ol’ Joe killed.”

West looked at him a long moment before responding without conviction.

“Joe did what he did for the group. He was a ‘one for all’ kinda guy.”

“Bullshit. You coulda easily been the one to go out there and them lawmen woulda stopped chasin’ us. Just like that. They was really only after you and you know it. You knew it then, too.”

West stared down into his drink.

“Y’know… I think about Joe every day, whether you believe it or not,” West said. “But right now… I’ve gotta be focused, because my guilt needs to be concentrated on Mary. And avenging her. And saving my little girl.”

“Don’t act like no good guy, Hank. You’re not.”

“Good guys and bad guys is bullshit. We all got good, and we all got bad, Chuck.”

“Well I have yet to see your good side. ‘West.’”

“…West Steel,” a shaky voice said. West and Charlie looked up, guns drawn, to see young Billy Douglas. Billy’s head was bowed and he looked worried, ready to accept punishment.

West stood so that he was eye-level with Billy. He looked at him with rage-filled intensity. West grabbed Billy by the throat and put his pistol to Billy’s head.

“Hank, what is this about?”

West tightened his grip around Billy’s throat.

“This boy told those animals where they could find me.”

“They made me do it. I had no choice.”

“Made you? They put a gun to your head?”

“Not exactly.”

Billy raised his right hand in the air and West and Charlie could see that he was missing his index finger.

So you lost a finger. Doesn’t change the fact that you went in there shoutin’ my name.”

You’re my hero. I was drunk and you’re my hero and I wasn’t thinking.”

“Hank. Don’t kill him,” Charlie pleaded.

“He’s responsible, Chuck. Stay out of it?”

“He’s as responsible as you are.”

West turned and tried to stare Charlie down but it was the first time Charlie matched his glare. West looked Billy over and, even though he’d never admit it, he knew Charlie was right. He gave Billy’s throat one last strong squeeze and then released him. Billy gasped for life as West lowered his pistol and sat back down. West refused to look at him.

“Now go on, boy, get out of here. I don’t want to see you ever again.”

“With all due respect, sir, I want to help you find the Sancheros.”

“You’re just a nigger with no trigger finger. You ain’t no help to me.”

“I’ve got a stake in this, too.”

West turned to Billy and Billy knew the discussion was over.

“I told you to get. I suggest you do unless you want me to rethink puttin’ a bullet in your head.”

Billy nodded his head that he understood and slowly backed away from the table and out of the bar, never taking his eyes off West. West and Charlie sat for a moment without speaking. Charlie had never gotten through to West before and he was feeling rather pleased. As if in a fit, West knocked his shot glass over onto its side and stood up.

“Let’s go.”

As West and Charlie exited The Spirit Room a rifle round rung out. They took cover against the walls of opposing buildings. Down the street Ansel Stone marched forward with a grin and a rifle.

Woo-ee, boys! Didn’t know you was gonna make it so easy for me!”

Charlie peeked out from his cover and took a shot but it didn’t even come close. All it did was make Ansel laugh and Charlie red. Another shot and another miss and another laugh from Ansel caused Charlie to curse his weapon.

“Great shot, Steel,” Ansel yelled, thinking West had been the one shooting, “guess you was just better at bein’ a name!”

West had an opening and he was about to take his shot but someone else fired first, putting a bullet into Ansel’s right shoulder. He screamed and West stood up and put a bullet in his heart. Ansel dropped to his knees as West came into view.

“I hate that name.”

Ansel face-planted into the dirt street and Charlie emerged from cover.

“Where did that other shot come from?”

“I don’t know.”

Billy stepped into view from behind Ansel and approached West and Charlie.

“I thought they took your trigger finger,” inquired West.

“On my right hand,” answered Billy.

West looked Billy over once more. The kid had sand.

“Let me help you.” But West just shook his head no. “I’m sorry for what they did to your family and I’m sorry I played a hand in it. Let me ride with you. Let me make it right.”

West turned away from Billy and started off back towards his horse.

“We got a lotta ground to cover before nightfall… let’s not waste anymore time.”

Charlie gave the kid a nod and a smile and Billy followed them to the horses.

Red Valley – Chapter VIII

Villains…

VIII

The canyons made for good hiding. The Sanchero brothers had discovered as much when they were boys and their father would take them camping. They’d hunt and they’d swim and they’d play as boys did. It was here where their father taught them how to shoot and use a knife. They would build fires and stay warm through the night and they were content living off the land. It was only natural then and barely a conscious decision to spend the night here.

The fire was good and the Sanchero gang sat around enjoying it. Chico played guitar and sang terribly off key. No one seemed to notice though. Especially Cullen, who was sitting back, his eyes glazed over from whatever opium cocktail he’d ingested. Juan was beating Francis so bad in cards that Francis threw his deck down and pulled a pistol from his trousers.

“Show me where you’re hiding those cards, goddammit!”

“Your playing does not require me to hide any cards. Now be a good boy and put that hand-cannon away.” Typically this would play out as some sort of drama, only these two didn’t have an audience, so they went back to playing.

All in all everyone warm and giddy. Ellie was not. She had been tied up with a thick rope and left on the ground away from the heat of the fire. She’d seen what they did to her mother and as she watched them laugh she couldn’t help but sob. The harder they laughed the harder she cried. She noticed Megedagik sitting by himself. He’d caught a coyote earlier and had roasted it over the fire and now he was sucking the skin from its bones. He felt Ellie’s gaze and so he glared at her, sending a chill down the child’s spine. He decided to give her a little show and ate like a savage. He let the juices drip down his neck and the meat fall out of his mouth and then he spit out some bone. Finally she looked away.

Robert just sat and watched the fire and chewed tobacco. He didn’t like talking and the guys knew it. But when he was really high, Cullen would forget.

“Roberto.”

Roberto turned and looked at him. This had better be important, he thought.

“If you don’t mind me askin’, why do we gotta drag this kid along?”

Roberto looked at him with childlike viciousness.

“I want him to hear her screams.”

“How do you know he’ll come?”

Roberto turned back towards the fire.

“Time and family and love has made him weak. But I don’t want to fight a broken man. As long as we have the girl – alive – he’ll be driven by rage. And when we’ve finally killed him, then we kill the girl. I’ll even let you do it.”

Cullen was taken aback. Even with how numb the drugs had made him he felt terror. Then Ellie’s voice cut through the camp.

“You’re not gonna hurt my daddy!”

Roberto calmly stood up, walked over to Ellie, and knelt down beside her until they were eye level.

“Oh, but I am, little girl. I’m gonna hurt your daddy just like I hurt your mommy.”

Ellie trembled as her eyes began to water but still she spoke.

“But my mommy and daddy never hurt anybody.”

Roberto was brought to his feet with laughter. The rest of the gang joined him.

“You hear that fellas? ‘My daddy never hurt anybody.’ Your daddy? Your daddy… little girl, do you even know who your daddy is?”

“Michael Crowley.”

“Ain’t that just a sweet, little lie. You have no idea who your daddy really is.”

“I just told you. His name is Michael Crowley. He’s a rancher.”

Roberto slowly shook his head.

“No… I mean, maybe now he’s a rancher. But he’s no Michael Crowley. Your daddy is a liar. Your daddy is a thief. And your daddy is a murderer. That’s who your daddy is.”

Roberto got real close to Ellie now and their faces almost touched.

“Your daddy… killed my daddy. That’s why we killed your mommy. That’s why we’re gonna kill him. And that’s why we’re gonna kill you”

Ellie’s eyes filled with rage and in that moment she looked more like her father than she ever did her mother and she spat in Roberto’s face. The gang laughed and this did not please Roberto. He stood up and kicked the little girl in the stomach. As she cried out in pain he spit his tobacco on her and walked back to the fire.

Red Valley – Chapter VII

Here we get Charlie’s true introduction. I think he’s a nice contrast to West. More than any other story I’ve written I feel like the characters in Red Valley all serve a purpose and truly have an arc for themselves. I hope it translates well.

 

VII

West approached Charlie’s house like a man on his way to a death sentence. The air was dry and the sky was gray and West felt it all very appropriate. He opened the fence and walked up to the porch but he didn’t knock. Instead he hesitated. He tried again but still couldn’t do it. He thought of Mary and Ellie and he cursed out loud. He shook his head and knocked on the door.

Elizabeth opened the door. It had been years since he’d seen her but she still looked the same, small and mousy with her hair pulled back, and that look of constant regret in her eye. She was shrouded in black and a cross hung around her neck and West now remembered how off-putting she was to him. But the same was true for the reverse and Elizabeth did not greet West. Instead she put her head down and wandered inside. She left the door open but the screen door closed. For a moment West wondered if he should follow but he decided it best to wait.

A moment or so later Charlie appeared in the doorway. He looked at West through the screen door and said nothing. West took a breath and waited for him to speak. He was trying his best to be polite and Charlie could sense that something was amiss.

“The hell do you want?”

“Can I come in?”

Charlie looked West over a long moment. He could see that West had been riding a while and eventually nodded his head, albeit begrudgingly. He gave the screen door a little kick and kept it open with the heel of his boot.

“Come on then.”

Numerous crucifixes of various sizes and styles lined the walls of the house and West remembered that Charlie always did have a religious streak and that he never cared much for that. West followed Charlie into the kitchen and Charlie took a seat at the table. West stood there for a moment and wondered. Finally he asked for a drink. Charlie told West that he didn’t drink anymore.

“You don’t keep nothin’ for a weary traveler?” Annoyed, Charlie asked him what he wanted and he told him a double. Charlie walked over to a little end table, knelt down and pulled a small decanter from inside. He poured one glass and handed it to West. “You’re gonna need one, too, Charlie.”
“I don’t drink anymore, Hank.” West nodded defeatedly and took a sip from the glass. Charlie placed the decanter on top of the end table and took a seat. He looked up at West and nodded to a chair but West still stood there. He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come. He made one last attempt to persuade Charlie to have a drink. “Cut the shit, Hank, and tell me why you’re here.” West took a deep, sharp breath.

“It’s about Mary.”

Charlie shot up knocking his chair to the floor. He didn’t take his eyes off West for a second and prepared himself for what he was sure to follow.

“Jesus, Chuck… She’s gone. I’m so sorry, she’s gone.”

Charlie’s mouth stammered as his eyes filled with tears. His expression quickly changed from overwhelming grief to overwhelming rage. In a matter of moments Charlie was on top of West, hitting him across the face. West took every hit like a penance. Charlie’s arm got tired and he walked over to the end table and poured himself a shot and slammed it back. He took a breath, poured another, and shot that one back as well. Then he coughed. West stood up.

“You were supposed to protect her.”

“I know.”

Charlie pulled a pistol from under the table and put the barrel to West’s head.

“I oughta kill you right now.”

“They’ve got Ellie.” Charlie lowered the gun.

“What?”

“Whoever it was… they’ve got Ellie. They left a message…Sanchero, whatever the hell that means. Danny-Boy says it’s some gang out in Red Valley. I’m goin’ out there, I just… I thought it’d be right of me… to let you know about Mary.”

Charlie stared at West for a long moment and then proceeded out of the room. West stood there, puzzled, his head bowed in grief. He took a sip of his drink and by the time he finished it Charlie returned wearing a coat and hat and carrying a rifle.

“What do you think you’re doin’?”

“I’m going with you.”

“Like hell you are.”

“She was my sister, Hank. I’m going.”

“Charlie, this isn’t the reason I came here.”

“I know it.”

“I’m goin’ after these guys. All out. A farewell ride. I don’t think you got the stomach for this. Not then, definitely not now.”

“With all due respect, “West Steel”, Mary was my sister, and Ellie is my goddaughter. There’s no talkin’ me out of this.”

“…Fine,” West said, begrudgingly.

“And I also want you to know that when this is done, and we get Ellie back, I’m going to kill you.”

“You’re a terrible shot.”

Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed and watched Charlie stuff clothes into a sack. She’d eavesdropped on his and West’s conversation and hadn’t spoken a word since. She’d always hated West. She found him to be the devil’s sort and deep down she always knew he’d be the one to rob her of her family. Charlie pulled their Bible from the nightstand and finally she spoke.

“I don’t want you going,” but Charlie did not respond. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes.” As Charlie pushed the Bible into his sack Elizabeth snatched it away and threw it across the room.

“Then look at me.” Charlie obeyed. She’d never seen his face so stern and she knew it was useless but still she pressed him. “I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

Of course you do. You’re not that man anymore. If you ever was. This is Hank’s life, not yours.” Charlie took a deep breath and looked at his wife with that same stern face.

“Mary’s gone. She’s dead. Not only did they kill her, they took Ellie. The only piece of her that’s left.” Elizabeth had tears in her eyes.

“And where does that leave me then? What about the choice to stay and be a husband? What then of your responsibilities?”

“I have a responsibility as that girl’s uncle and godfather.”

“If you go… You’re not coming back.” Charlie paused a moment and then continued to pack.

“You don’t know that.”

“You’re going out there with him.”

“Hank is a lot of things. He’s a survivor.”

“That’s Hank.” Charlie looked at her, indignant. “I’m too young to be a widow.” Charlie sighed and crossed the room. He took her in his arms and kissed her forehead and held her tight enough to break her.

“You ain’t gonna be no widow. Not for many, many years.” She looked at him now, scared to believe him, as if trusting in his return would prevent it. He broke her gaze and stood up and tied his sack closed and left the room. Elizabeth sank onto the bed and buried her face in her hands.

Charlie passed West in the hallway and West stopped him. “Chuck. You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to leave your wife.”

“You know where I stand.” Charlie pulled away and continued down the hall.

Charlie and West finished packing the horses as the sunset painted everything orange and yellow. Elizabeth watched through the screen door as West mounted his horse and Charlie looked back at her. She was scared that this would be the last time she’d see him alive, but his eyes – so strong and striking and sad – promised her otherwise. And she started to believe and it scared her all the more. Charlie mounted his horse and he and West started off.

West turned and gave Elizabeth a nod he hoped she’d understand. She understood, and she glared back at him.

Red Valley – Chapter VI

So right now I’m a solid chapter ahead a day. I hope I can keep up this pace but I already start feeling myself burning out. Let’s hope I can power through.

VI

It was early morning when West rode into Lockwood. It was a simple town with simple people and West hated seeing their stupid, simple smiles. He couldn’t even muster a tip of the hat and he knew he was making a bad impression but he didn’t care. He rode straight up to Molloy’s Tavern and hitched his horse outside. He dismounted and looked at the cemetery across the street from the bar. The headstones were like eyes watching him and it made him uneasy. He pushed the thought out of his mind and made his way inside.

West couldn’t help but notice how rundown the place had become. The ceiling dripped and there were holes in the wall from drunken brawls and West wondered if he’d made one of them back in his day. Back then, Molloy’s had been a happening locale. Maybe it still was, but on this morning it just looked sad and miserable. Jack, the town drunk, who was sitting at the bar didn’t help the vibe.

West was pleased to see that Danny-Boy had survived the old days and was still tending bar. Danny-Boy, on the other hand, turned pale when he saw West enter. He’d never fully believed the rumors of West’s death but he never fully questioned them, either. And now here he was, back from the dead.

“Well, well, well… Tell me. Do ghosts drink whiskey?”

“I ain’t here for a drink. I came for information.”

Danny-Boy smiled. It’d been a long time since they danced this dance.

“‘Ol’ West Steel, the steel of the west.If he didn’t steal the west first.’ You remember when people used to say that?” Jack picked his head up from his drink for the first time since West had entered and looked at him with morbid curiosity.

“I don’t go by West no more. Name’s Michael Crowley now.” Danny-Boy just nodded his head.

“Yes sir, Mr. Crowley.”

Jack raised his finger and hiccupped. “Mr. West — it’s a — pleasure. If I could — buy you a — drink — it’d be a real honor.” He extended his hand towards West but Danny-Boy swatted it away.

“Pipe down, Jackie. You can’t even pay your own tab.” Danny-Boy turned back to West, “So what do you need, Mr. Crowley?”

“You ever heard of anyone named Sanchero?”

“Sure. The Sanchero Gang. Had a few of their boys in here just the other night ‘causin’ all kinds of hell. Chopped off this nigger’s finger and cut up my damn bar,” he said, rubbing the bar lovingly with his fingers. “Wouldn’t you know it, one of ‘em put a gun to my head. I mean talk about rude. Back in your day, the bartender was off limits.”

“Bartender was never off limits.” Danny-Boy mustered a smile.

“Come to think of it… That’s right. You  – I mean, West Steel – was the top of conversation.” West’s eyes narrowed. “See this nigger came in braggin’ about how he’d stuck up the great West Steel. Only to have the gun turned on him. No one believed him so he kept talkin’. And then the Sanchero boys became aw-fully interested. Don’t tell me the Sancheros have come under the wrath of West Steel. Err, I mean, Michael Crowley.”

“Wrath would be putting it mildly.”

Danny-Boy’s face lit up and he smiled a wide toothy smile. “Well shit. West Steel, back in action! I mean if I’d known better–” West grabbed Danny-Boy by the collar and lifted him up over the bar.

“You’re gonna see the shit-side of my boot heel if you don’t call me Mr. Crowley.” West let him go and he straightened his tie and patted his shirt. His smile was gone now and he knew West meant business. “What else you know about these guys?”

“Just that they got a ranch like a fortress. Down in Red Valley.” West repeated the name and thought to himself for a moment.

“Charlie been in here lately?”

“No. He quit drinkin’ a while back. Damn fool. You gonna go see him?”

“‘Fraid I have to.”

Danny-Boy poured a shot of whiskey and nudged it towards West. “On the house.” West looked down at the shot a moment before slamming it back and heading out the door. “It was good seeing you again, Mr. Crowley!” West grunted a reply and disappeared.

Moments later a burly figure cut through the bar. Danny-Boy stood up straight and tried to keep his cool. “Big Marshal Long. Long time no see.”

“Well if you missed me so much, how ‘bout one on the house?”

“Sure. Sure.” Danny-Boy poured the marshal a whiskey and slid it over to him. The marshal shot it back, wiped his mouth with his arm and grinned.

“Word broke out a ways east that an old gunfighter has come back from the dead.”

“You believin’ ghost stories now, Marshal?”

“Well, for a thousand alive, can’t hurt to check every possible lead.”

“So why you here?” The marshal looked around the bar, taking it all in. The place wasn’t in great condition but it had character and he liked that.

“This used to be ol’ West Steel’s hangout, ain’t that right, Danny-Boy?”

“Used to be. He’s been gone for… Almost ten years now.”

“Eight. Never did have a look at the body. His ma and pa sure buried him awfully quick. I don’t reckon I ever believed the story of his death.” Marshal Long raised his pant leg and knocked on his wooden leg. “Summer of ’69, West Steel shot my calf straight off with a shotgun. I always regretted not bein’ able to be the one to kill him. I really do hope he is alive so I get my chance to shoot that fucker dead and piss on his corpse.”

Danny-Boy sheepishly nodded in the affirmative.

“Well that sure is a sad story there, Marshal, and I do hope you get your chance too, but if he is alive like you say, I don’t think he’d be dumb enough to come back here.”

Marshal Long shot Danny-Boy a wicked smile. He picked up his empty shot glass and shook it at Danny-Boy.

“How ‘bout another one. On the house, of course.” Danny-Boy let out a nervous chuckle.

“Between your shots and Jack’s I reckon I ain’t gon’ make no money today.”

“This man not payin’ his tab?” Marshal Long asked, pointing accusingly at Jack.

“He’s just a little behind but it’s nothin’ we–” Danny-Boy hadn’t even finished his sentence when Marshal Long gunned Jack down, nor had he the proper time to go into shock when Long grabbed him by the collar and held him over the bar.

“Now you listen, and you listen good, if you so much as hear a mention of the name “West Steel,” I wanna know about it, is that understood? Or you’ll end up like poor Jackie over there.” Danny-Boy nodded his head. “Good.”

Long walked over to Jack’s corpse and rummaged through his pockets. He found a dime and tossed it at Danny-Boy.

“Let’s call it even,” Marshal Long said with a laugh and walked out.