“So what now, Mr. Pike?” Willard Mathews asked.
“Well, first we have a little chat with ‘None’ here.”
“Said his name was none of my business. Never heard such a name before, but if that’s what he’s called, that’s what I’ll call him.”
The two young men snickered.
“Brodie!” Felder yelled from just inside the canyon. “You all right? The boys all right?”
“We’re all fine. Go back to the house, see about gettin’ these boys some relief.”
“Will do, Brodie.”
Pike tied the end of the rope holding “None” to a substantial, windblown cedar, then shoved “None” toward the edge of the cliff and kicked his feet out from under him. The man landed with a grunt. Pike shoved him even closer to the edge. “Now, ‘None,’ how’d you find out about this place?”
“Come now, you must know.”
“Nope. Mr. Hungerford just told me and the others where to go.”
“That I can believe. How many men are with Hungerford?”
“Well, with Buck and Junior crossing the divide,” he said, pausing to do some figuring, “fifteen.”
“He got more new recruits?” Pike asked, surprised.
“A bunch arrived yesterday. Had trouble catchin’ a stage from Denver, they said.”
“Damn. Well, all right, any other people in the house?”
“Don’t know why I should tell you anything more. Hell, I’m gonna be dead soon anyway.”
“That’s for certain. But you might want to consider repentin’ your wicked past. Don’t know as if it’ll help much from keepin’ you going to hell, but it might.”
“If I went anywhere but hell, I wouldn’t know anybody,” the man said with a pain-filled laugh.
“Never thought of it that way, but I figure it’s true. Still, once I sent Hungerford and the others to join you, I’m thinkin’ you might not want some innocent women or children arrivin’ with ‘em, though they won’t be going there. Still, it’d be shameful for them to have been killed.”
“None” was quiet for a bit, then nodded. “You’re right about that. I might’ve done a wagon load of bad things in my time, but I’ve never killed women and kids. Don’t want to be responsible for others doin’ so either.” He paused as a brief shudder of pain coursed through him. “There’s Mrs. Hungerford and their two young’uns, maybe eleven and six. Two maids, a cook, a handyman and a servant, all of ‘em nigras. Hungerford usually has two men with him as bodyguards all the time.”
“Anything else you want to tell me?”
“None” shook his head. “Reckon not. Well, wait. My name is Jim Cleary. If you find someone who wants to put a marker over me, you can tell ’em that.”
“I will do so. Any thoughts on your imminent demise?”
“Well, given my druthers, I’d be mighty obliged to postpone it for a spell, maybe twenty, thirty years.” He grinned a little, then sighed. “Reckon that’s not gonna come to be. I don’t think I’d favor lyin’ here bleedin’ to death. So unless you’re gonna shoot me in the head, I think it’d be best if you tossed me over the cliff. I always figured I was gonna be the honored guest at a necktie party.”
Pike nodded. He took the rope from around Cleary’s neck and fashioned a proper noose, before settling it back into position. “Farewell, Mr. Cleary.” He shoved the man over the cliff.
Vin and Willard Mathews looked a little pasty when Pike turned away from the cliff. “You boys all right?” he asked.
Both young men nodded, though the paleness remained. “Yeah,” Vin said. “Just that we’ve never seen anything like that. Seems a little cold-blooded.”
“Not that he didn’t deserve it,” Willard added.
“You’re every bit as hard as Hungerford’s men, ain’t you, Mr. Pike?” Vin said.
“I can be.” He got a faraway look in his eyes thinking about the trouble he had caused more times than he cared to remember, before adding, “It’s my hope that I am in tryin’ to help folks, not run roughshod over ‘em.”
“Well you’ve done right since you threw in with us, Mr. Pike,” Willard said.
“It ain’t over yet, Will,” Pike said with a crooked smile.
“Don’t matter. You’ve already done more than most folks would do for people like us.”
Pike gave one sharp nod of the head. “Well, there’s a heap more to be done. Will you boys be all right here for a while longer?” When both nodded, he said, “Good. When I get back, I’ll have a couple others come out here to relieve you.”
“Just as long as it ain’t Baldy and that damned Fred,” Vin said.
“I’ll make sure it ain’t, though Baldy was the one who went for help, remember. Don’t think too harshly. Wasn’t for him, I would’ve never come to help you two out. I don’t reckon you’ll have any more trouble, at least for a spell. I figure that eventually Hungerford’ll send out some others when he hadn’t heard back from these three, but I doubt that’ll be very soon.”
The Mathews brothers nodded, then Vin chucked his chin toward the taut rope tied to the tree. “What about …?”
Pike knew he shouldn’t say this, but he could not help himself. “Don’t want him hangin’ around all day?” He laughed.
Both young men looked at him, aghast. Then Vin let loose with something suspiciously like a giggle. Then Willard snorted. Then both burst into laughter.
Pike pulled his knife and with a quick slash, cut the rope. Moments later, Cleary’s body landed with a dull thud. “You boys have enough food, ammunition?”
“Yep. As long as we get some relief soon.”
Buckskin County War
“So what now, Mr. Pike?” Willard Mathews asked.