Blood Drive

Letter from Dog Leg

My dearest sister,

You always said great things were in store for me. I think you’d be pleased to hear that I’m now a marshall, the supreme law man in the small town of Dog Leg. But the story of how I took that responsibility is a strange one.

We came down from the foothills of the Colorado-New Mexico border, and enjoyed a long stretch of relatively easy travel. The timing couldn’t have been better for my wound, as light work and rest allowed me a surprisingly quick recovery, though the bullet, I think, is still somewhere lurking in my guts. Nevertheless, the pain of the wound had all but disappeared by the time we reached the Farley homestead. I’d been ‘riding drag’, following behind the herd to keep any strays and laggards from falling too far behind, but we stopped at the border of Farley land and Sutter went to talk with the landowner to get permission to drive the cattle through.

Farley and his brother met our boss at the gates of the farmstead, armed and none too friendly. A few of the hands I’d ridden with since Purity rode up to see what was going on, and I followed.

In my last letter, I mentioned Clarissa. She’s a Native woman, and fairly knowledgable about the ways of the tribes. But either the Disputed Territories has brought out some streak of resentment in her, or I never realized how impatient and fiery this woman is. When it became clear that Farley didn’t want to let us drive the cattle over his land, Clarissa flatly offered him money to change his mind, then aggressively bargained him down to a $35 offer. I blanched — I haven’t had that much folding-money in my pocket in some time — but Clarissa pulled out a wad of scrip as if she hadn’t any use in the world for it and handed it to Farley, and we were soon on our way. Farley also mentioned a few of the local evils, including a gang leader and would-be authority in the territory named Gault. More on him later.

A few days past the Farley place, we encountered some weird plant-life — a few of the cattle became tangled up in a strange unrooted weed and began acting very agitated. We eventually discovered that, if these weeds were able to feed on the blood of a living creature, they’d change into an odd tumbleweed-looking plant, but one with thorns and a voracious maw that could gnaw a man’s leg off. One tried a run at me while I was freeing one of the herd from the rootless weed, but my now-trusty Colt helped me finish it off without incident. I think us fortunate to have lost just one head of cattle to the odd creatures, which Rin (the weird-science lady whose name I couldn’t recall in my previous letter) dubbed ‘tumble-bleeds’.

It wasn’t long until, in the morning prior to the start of the day’s drive, Sutter came to Clarissa, McShane, Rin, “Spider”, and myself, and complimented us on our ability to get things done. He asked us to handle a new problem — he’d sent a couple of hands ahead to a town called Dog Leg to look for provisions and supplies, and the hands hadn’t yet returned. Sutter was concerned that something had happened to the men, so he asked us to investigate, letting us know that we could rendezvous at a nearby town called Exposition once our task was complete. We rode off, arriving in Dog Leg at nightfall.

We quickly found the hands’ horses in the livery stable, and after stabling our own mounts we convinced the stable hand to tell us what had happened — he said the hands had been arrested by the town marshall, but was reluctant to say more. The others began to make cruel sport of the poor fellow, and I’m ashamed to say now that I joined in at first, until he revealed that the marshall and his deputies were the hirelings of Gault, the gang leader we’d heard about earlier. The blackguard extorts the townsfolk, terrorizing them, and his men had been brutally effective in doing so. I’d considered asking a few more folk in town about this marshall, but Clarissa was insistent — we should handle the task immediately by going to the source, the marshall himself.

What the stable hand had called the marshall’s office was little more than a great warehouse, with the two men we’d been sent to find bound in chains. Rin and Spider had remained outside, hoping to find a way to free the prisoners by stealth, while Clarissa, McShane, and I went inside. McShane, damn his fool eyes, immediately launched into another of his wild tales, claiming to be the hands’ attorney and demanding to speak with them. The marshall, who didn’t seem taken in by this tale in the least, let McShane speak with the boys, whose story — unsurprisingly — didn’t match with that of the corrupt marshall. The lawman claimed that he’d arrested the boys after they’d ‘busted up’ some of the town, while the hands claimed that the deputies simply jumped them once they’d arrived in town. Personally I was more inclined to believe the hands anyway.

Then Clarissa’s temper flared and she drew and fired on the marshall! I’ll admit myself a bit concerned, though we knew that no federal power backed the marshall’s authority and he was but a thug in the hire of a bigger thug, he still represented the law. Nevertheless, the man brought out his shotgun and began blasting away at McShane. I drew my pistol and told one of the deputies to stay out of the fight, but he ignored me and drew his own weapon. I felled him with a single shot. I then aimed my weapon at the other deputy and repeated my demand for peace, but that man tried to take a shot at Clarissa, so I put him down as well. Though I took no pleasure in these mens’ deaths, I will admit to suffering a bit of pride at my newfound skill at gunplay. But guns are deadly tools, and this time it was McShane who took the worst of it. He survived, with the help of Rin’s weird concoctions, and he, of course, claimed the marshall’s shotgun as prize for his indifferent effort in freeing our boys. At least in this fight he made a reasonable distraction, keeping the bullets from finding my flesh.

When we left the marshall’s office, a crowd of townsfolk had gathered in the square, concerned at the sound of gunfire. When we told them that we’d defeated the corrupt minions of Gault, they became agitated, worried about what the brute would exact from them in punishment or tribute for the loss of his men. I’m not sure why or how, but something inside of me snapped at that moment, and I stood before the townspeople and gave a rambling speech about justice — I barely remember the words now, but I was quite persuasive, I think, since a few townsfolk actually applauded when I was done, despite their fear. I do not think they will fight Gault’s men, but I also don’t think they deserve to be oppressed for that choice.

By the time my speech was over, Clarissa had taken the marshall’s badge and pinned it to my work shirt. At that moment, I knew that we couldn’t leave Dog Leg to the mercy of Gault’s thugs and killers. We’ll be spending the night, to give the boys a chance to recover a bit from the beatings they took, but I think I may remain here come morning, if only to try to show the townsfolk what one man willing to stand for the right can accomplish. They think I’m crazy, I’m sure, and I can’t say myself that they’re wrong. I only hope nothing ill befalls the cattle drive before our return, assuming of course there is a return from what Gault will no doubt send against us.

Pray for me, sister.

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