Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Bushwhacker's Bullet" by Anonymous

Bushwhacker's Bullet

No one could prove that Bull Finley had killed Slim Harrington from ambush. Bull had laughed in the faces of his accusers, including Sheriff Ben Riggs. How could they pin the murder on him when they didn't have Harrington's body?

Jim Warren, the victim's closest neighbor, had left no stone unturned in his effort to find Harrington's body and any other evidence that might point to Bull Finley's guilt. But six months from the day Harrington had disappeared, Jim Warren had made no headway.

The tension became more than Jim could bear, so late one afternoon he left his ranch and rode to town. As he hitched his horse to the rail outside the sheriff's office, he turned to see Bull Finley striding toward him. The killer's thumbs were hooked on the wide belt from which two six-shooters hung in Mexican holsters.

A sneer twisted Bull Finley's beefy face. "Still wastin' yore time pokin' around the mesa an' askin' questions about Harrington?" he asked the rancher.

"That's my business," Warren growled. "It shouldn't concern you if yo're innocent."

Bull Finley took a menacing step closer, hate glowering in his dark eyes. "Do as yuh dern please, mister, but if yuh ever dare say agin that I shot Harrington in the back, watch out!"

A crowd was gathering around them, and Jim Warren spoke loud enough for all to hear. "Slim Harrington knew more than was good for you about yore band of rustlers. He told me so himself the day before he disappeared while riding back from town. When you wuz ridin' herd down on the Brazos you shot a man in the back. You killed another man the same way in a trail camp argument. You got away with both killings because there wasn't a man who dared to testify in court against you. It won't be that way here!"

Bull Finley shook a huge fist at his accuser. "Shut yore mouth, Warren, or I'll do it fer yuh!"

Two men in the crowd grabbed Bull Finley's arms, holding him as Jim Warren pushed through the others to make his way to the sheriff's office.

Sheriff Ben Riggs, a lean, rawbones man of fifty, stood in the doorway grinning. "You'll end up the same as Harrington if you keep on needling that hombre, Warren. I'd rather hang him for killing Harrington alone than for killing you, too."

"It's been six months since Slim dropped outta sight," Warren said, "and what have you done about it?"

Sheriff Ben Riggs stepped back in his office and went to a railroad calendar hanging on the far wall. "Six months to the day!" he exclaimed. "It's now the sixteenth of June. I think the evidence I'm looking fer will turn up shortly."

The sheriff explained his secret as he rode with Jim Warren along the trail across the mesa that Slim Harrington had taken on the day of December Slim had bought a packet of petunia seeds to plant in the small greenhouse he had built against the south wall of his big barn. The clerk in the hardware store had told the sheriff about it, and added that Slim had slipped the packet in one of the top pockets of his vest.

Jim Warren and the sheriff rode in the sage on opposite sides of the trail. Half way to Harrington's ranch the sheriff spotted a splash of red and blue some thirty yards to his left. At his signal, Jim Warren crossed the trail and followed him.

They found Slim Harrington's body beneath a few inches of soil a few feet from the spot where the petunias were blooming. The body was facedown, and when the sheriff had scooped away enough earth from the head both men could see a black hole in the back of Harrington's skull.

"Ride back and fetch the coroner," Sheriff Riggs told Warren. "If he finds a lead and silver alloy Mexican bullet in this skull, we've got our man. Nobody but Bull Finley shoots Mex bullets in a six-gun around these parts."

Warren brought back Doc Lambert whose probing turned up a Mexican bullet. After the trio rode back to town, Warren went with the sheriff to the Oriental Cafe. Bull Finley must have suspected they were coming for him, for his hands dropped to his guns.

Before he could draw, Warren put a slug through his right wrist and the sheriff's shot struck the badman's left shoulder. Bull Finley dropped both his guns.

Writhing in pain, Bull snarled: "How did you find the body? Grass wuz growing over the spot last time I passed there."

"If you rode out there now," the sheriff snapped, "you'd find something else growin' close to the spot. Something that fell from Slim's vest when you dragged his body off the trail. Warren, go back fer Doc Lambert. I don't want Bull to bleed to death. He's got to live to stand trial and get the noose!"

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