The rider approached at a frantic gallop.
“They’re coming! They’re coming!” he screeched.
Horace turned to his deputy.
“How does that kid manage to stay on his mount?”
It was a wonder.
The teen was too tall, too thin, too awkward for anything approaching grace and the way his arms and legs flailed in every direction as he rode, appeared more like a week’s worth of laundry snapping in a high wind than a rider on a horse.
“They’re coming!” he croaked again.
Horace waited patiently for the rider to drag a trail of dust up Two Drunk Creek’s only street before asking the obvious, “Who’s coming?”
“It’s them Clayton Boys.”
“How do you know?”
“I seen ’em.”
How many? Where? The interrogation took longer than it should have because the kid fumbled through his thoughts and tripped over his words with the same finesse as he did everything else.
The upshot was deep trouble.
The Clayton Boys were a loose confederation of thugs, thieves and ne’er-do-wells who had wintered out on the Breaks and by now were half-starved, stir-crazy and meaner than a stepped on rattler.
The only reason they hadn’t killed each other was the prospect of killing someone else come spring and stealing whatever they could get their hands on.
Horace swung into action.
“Tom, I want you to spread the word that all gold and anything worth taking be brought to the jail. We’ll lock them in a cell.”
Tom nodded his approval.
“And get the jugs of whiskey from the saloon too.”
Tom thought that a good idea also.
It didn’t take long because Two Drunk Creek was a very small town, just over a hundred gold miners and hangers-on.
“Now what do we do?” Tom wanted to know.
“Don’t know about you,” Horace said, “but I’m going fishing for a few days and I would advise everyone else to do the same.”
That raised a question or two, but Tom knew Horace didn’t like to be questioned, still Horace explained himself anyway.
“No one is going to die for company gold, least of all me. I am paid to protect the town and since we locked up the gold, valuables and whiskey and all the residents are in the hills, the town will be safe.”
“Something ain’t right,” Tom observed.
“And what would that be?”
“If I were after gold I’d just dynamite my way into the jail cell.”
“I know you would, but you ain’t a Clayton Boy.”
And with that, they went fishing.
Early the next morning, Tom found Horace rolling up his blankets.
“Where are you going?”
“Thought I’d ride to town.”
“You want company?”
“Why the change of mind?”
They rode in silence, picking their way though the pines and across the blue-green water that tumbled down Two Drunk Creek until the town revealed itself.
“Would you really have dynamited your way into jail?” Horace asked.
“It would seem like the sensible thing to do.”
“And bust up all those jugs of whiskey?”
Tom’s horse stopped in his tracks. Even he knew what a tragedy that would be.
“Think about it. All those fragile whiskey jugs too big to get through the bars and all those long winter nights without nearly a drop. Just what do you think would happen?”
The easy part was swapping the comatose Clayton Boys for all the gold, valuables and empty whiskey jugs in the jail cell.
The hard part was explaining to the town’s miners why they would have to wait until the ground firmed up before the next shipment of whiskey arrived.
** Note: If you wonder why Horace and Tom found their way to Montana, the answer can be found here: A Good Time to Head for Montana