Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: BRAND (01/12/17)
TITLE: A Ranger Rides In
By Dennis Gallemore
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Stopping in front of Sallie’s Cafe, he swung down from the saddle, and tied his horse to the hitching post. Studying the other horses tethered there, he noticed, on the other side of two mustangs, a pair of grullas standing patiently, switching flies with their tails. Both grullas were marked with the X Bar O brand. Steve grinned. “Well, now, what do ya know about that?” Turning on his heel, he stepped inside the cafe.
All four of the cafe's customers glanced up. A tall broad-shouldered man rubbed his grizzled salt-and-pepper beard. “McFadden! Why I haven’t seen you since the bank was robbed three years ago! Light and set!” Waving his fork at a chair across the table, he grinned. “I’m looking forward to a Ranger story or two.”
“Hello, Frank. Good to see ya again.” Removing his hat, he sat down. “Sallie's food still good?”
“Best grub in Texas,” offered a sandy-haired cowboy at the end of the table. “Ain't that right, Sallie?”
A buxom woman pushed through the kitchen door, heavily-laden tray in one hand. “Sure is!” Setting the tray down, she handed out plates of beef, beans, and cornbread. Setting a plate in front of Steve, she added, “Long time no see, Ranger. There’s apple pie for dessert, too.”
Steve grinned. “Ma’am, I’ve been living on my cooking for so long, I forgot what a real supper even looks like.” Inhaling the food’s aromas, he added, “Or smells like. A little taste of Heaven!”
She smiled. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Ranger.” Stepping over to a table in the corner, she served the two remaining diners, smiling uncertainly. “There you go gents. Haven’t seen you two around here before.” Not receiving a reply, she shrugged, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Glancing over, Steve eyed the two men. A wicked scar traced the left face of one, while the other had a ragged gap in his front teeth.
Noticing Steve’s gaze, Frank turned to study the men. “You trailing someone in these parts, Ranger?”
Eyes still on the corner table, Steve nodded. “Sure enough. Seems a couple of sidewinders dry gulched a rancher down in Live Oak country. Shot him in the back, robbed him, and left him for dead.”
The two men shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Lifting his eyes toward Steve, one set his fork down as beads of sweat pearled on his forehead. Pushing back from the table, the other half-turned in his chair.
Looking from Steve to the corner table, the sandy-haired cowboy stood and stepped over to the cafe's door, followed by Frank. Both waited quietly, hands on their holstered guns, watching warily.
Calmly, Steve took a drink of water. “That water’s sweet; I’ve been drinking brackish trail water for too long.” Setting the glass down, he waved a hand. “They weren’t very smart, those two hombres. They didn't make sure the rancher was dead. He lived long enough to scrawl a note on an old letter.”
Frank's voice hardened. “Just what did that note say, Ranger?”
Steve smiled. “Two men robbed and left me for dead. One had a scar down the left side of his ugly face, the other was missing two front teeth. Both rode grullas with the X bar O brand. Whoever finds this here note; send them to hell.”
Rising from his chair, Steve gestured outside. “Two such horse out there."
Without warning, both men reached for their guns as they leaped from their chairs. Guns just clearing their holsters, they froze. The Ranger stood, a slight smile on his face; his Colt Peacemaker levelled at their midsections.
“You boys have been riding with el Diablo's brand upon you. I could've sent you both to hell to visit him right now if I'd a mind to, but I'm going to let the hangman do it later. Drop your guns on the floor, kick them over here, and sit back down. I'm going to finish my supper. Sallie, how about a slice of apple pie?”
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