Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Now playing: Night Riders
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Episode Three concluded with:
The thugs rode off in the direction of his cabin. Jared silently cursed himself for his stupidity. When he had spotted the outlaws, his first move should have been to protect Stella and Becky. The homesteader struggled to his feet. He staggered toward the cabin. Maybe he could still warn them.
Jared struggled to maintain consciousness. He could hear loud yelps coming from the direction of his home. Smoke could suddenly be seen rising over the barn. “Stella…Becky…” Jared’s voice was a raspy whisper.
The homesteader managed a few more steps. He could now hear gunshots roaring over the sounds of the fire. Screams came from both Becky and Stella. They were being brutally slaughtered.
Jared Ashley collapsed. His wife and child had been murdered. He had failed horribly: failed to protect his own family. “I’m not fit to be called a man.” He whispered to the ground. Those were his last words.
A group of well-dressed men sauntered into the Clear Springs Community Church. The faces on all eight men were grim. They had just returned from the cemetery and the funeral service for the Ashley family.
Seven men sat in the first pew of the church; only one remained standing. Glenn Kagan was the head of the local Homesteaders Association. Kagan was a tall man with stooped shoulders. Sunburns had left red blotches on his otherwise pale skin. Kagan stood at the front of the church and immediately got to the point.
“Gentlemen, yesterday an entire family was murdered in broad daylight and their home burned by a gang of vicious killers. In the past, Elijah Tantrall has been content to knock over fences and burn down barns. Now, he has shown what kind of man he really is: a man who will kill women and children!”
There were several murmurs of agreement. Kagan continued, “I’m demandin’ that--”
The door to the church banged open and three men entered. The man leading the procession was of medium height, fiftyish with hair that was still thick and still more pepper than salt. He was slim, with ropey muscles, and his body seemed to be always lurching forward as if he was looking for an opening where he could attack.
“What are you doin’ here, Tantrall?” Kagan shouted.
Tantrall laughed contemptuously. “I built this here church and it couldn’t run without my money. Reckon I can walk in whenever I get the notion. Reckon I can tell men who spread lies about me to shuck off.”
Kagan pointed a finger at his adversary. “I ain’t lyin’!” He nodded to a young man of twenty in the first pew. “My boy Rory and I saw you--”
Tantrall’s voice became a bellow. “You saw me knock down one of your fences, six months ago. You were fencin’ off part of my best grazin’ land.” The cattle rancher pointed a thumb backward at one of the two men standing behind him. “Sheriff Thompson here told me I was breakin’ the law. I paid you for a new fence. Stop brayin’ like a donkey.”
A silence dropped over the church. Sheriff Max Thompson took advantage of it. “Men, if any of you have somethin’ that comes within shoutin’ distance of proof ‘bout who killed the Ashley family, or who’s been pullin’ down fences and burnin’ barns, show it to me!”
The homesteaders looked sheepish. Several of them took a sudden interest in their hands. The lawman continued, “If you got nothin’ to say, then stop talkin’. I intend to get to the bottom of this and get there quick. Meantime, stop jawin’ ‘bout Mr. Tantrall and Lem.”
Lem Donnigan was Tantrall’s foreman. He had entered the church with his boss and the sheriff. He stood over six feet. The foreman was in his mid-twenties with large muscles, calloused hands and a nose which had long ago been broken in a fight. Donnigan didn’t talk much, at least not when Elijah Tantrall was around.
Tantrall stared silently at the homesteaders. When he spoke, his voice was steady and without emotion. The rancher wasn’t making a threat, he was stating a fact. “The next man who spreads lies about me will answer to me.”
Elijah Tantrall turned and left. His ramrod and the sheriff followed behind him. A few minutes later, the homesteaders left the church. They had nothing more to say.
Tomorrow: Episode Five of Night Riders