The Devil's Justice

       Chad Cull / History & Fiction / Western
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“There’s someone out there,” Pete Brogan said to his companion as he squinted his eyes into the darkness, trying to make out the dark shapes moving toward them. Brogan and Cal Dwire had been standing guard at the Diamond 8 ranch house gate; each one positioned on each side and carrying loaded Winchesters in the crooks of their arms. “Better go tell Miss Merritt,” he said to Dwire. The younger man nodded and hurried off toward the ranch house.
“Who’s out there!” Brogan shouted. “We don’t like anybody prowling around theDiamond 8. You’d better git before you get plugged.”
“Hold your fire.” A voice from the darkness came back. “I’m here to see StacyMerritt. I’ve got business with her.”
The dark shapes turned into a man on foot leading a horse behind him.
“She didn’t tell me she was expectin’ visitors,” Brogan answered, jacking a round into the chamber of his Winchester; the sound loud enough in the night air to declare a menacing warning.
“It’s important that I see her. And my horse needs tending to,” Jace Carlin retorted without slowing his stride forward. He didn’t bother to address the fact that he wasn’t expected, but he did hold his hands high with reins in his right as he led his horse forward.
“Stop right where you are stranger!” The guard warned him. “Take another step and I’ll drill you sure.”
Carlin halted. Beyond the guard, he could see a rectangle of light flash from the ranch house door as it opened and almost closed. Three shadows hurried along the path toward the gate. Pete Brogan glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw Stacy Merritt, Cal Dwire, and Zeke Austin approach.
“Who’s out there, Pete?” Jace heard Stacy Merritt’s voice.
“Some jasper says you was expectin’ him,” Brogran growled in a tone of disbelief.
“It’s me. Jace Carlin. It’s important that I talk to you.” Jace shouted before the issue of expectation continued.
“What do you want?” She answered.
“It’s important. And my horse needs tending to.”
“Let him come on in, Stace,” he heard Zeke Austin say advisingly. “Can’t hurt to talk. Besides I never turn away a horse in need of tending.”
“Alright. Come on in, but keep your hands high. My men will have you covered.”
Jace moved forward slowly and halted at the gate. He could see Stacy Merritt’s face in the shadowed starlight. Pete Brogan stepped around behind him, still holding his rifle ready. He looked the horse over carefully and ran his fingers along the animal’s hide. The hair was matted and stiff from dried foam. He felt the gouges in the animal’s sides and the horse flinched at the touch. “This animal’s been treated badly,” Brogan said. He stepped around in front of Carlin. His voice took on an edge. “You do this?” He accused.
“I’m afraid I did,” Jace confessed ashamedly.
“You oughtta be horsewhipped,” Brogan said bitterly.
“You’re right,” Jace agreed. “I should.”
“Cal,” Zeke Austin said. “Take the man’s horse to the stable and see to his needs, will ya.
“Since you’re here for awhile,” Stacy said. “You might as well come inside.” Dwire took the reins from Carlin’s hand and led the horse away.

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