A Gatchaman Western
By Dan Rush
Jinpei flopped onto his bed and kicked off his shoes. He was too tired after this last fight with Galactor to even get undressed.
"Why even bother. I'll probably have to get back up in an hour or so anyway." He said as he rolled about to get more relaxed.
His latest addition to the rapidly building collection of model cars, insects, and the like sat next to the bed on the nightstand, a vintage Colt 45 revolver which Joe gave him last week as a present. He took it off it's stand and fiddled with it a bit.
The steel was aged, the wooden handle a little rotted, but the weapon was a functional as could be expected of a 200 year old firearm who's history Jinpei only knew from the old movies he'd watch every now and then.
Tombstone, Young Guns, Long Riders, and yes " Clint Eastwood " had to watch Josie Wales every now and then. Jinpei fliped the revolver out before him and cocked the trigger back as if he were dealing with Jessie James or firing on Billy the Kid, or dealing the Earp style of justice at the O.K. Corral.
He rolled it about in his fingers than restored it to it's proper place. He just looked at it forever it seemed " ..untill the warm embrace of sleep finaly took control.
Shimmering glass, that's the way you discribe the watery mirage of the hot New Mexico desert. The four hoursemen seemed to apear as demons in a firey hell from a distance, but this simple company of men and boy were no demons by far. Just simple travelers who had cut the circut from Southern California, through Nevada, and into old New Mexico where there lay some sort of promise for better prospects.
Their horses were large, sturdy beast, riden hard but showing no complaint as their masters treated them the ample respect due their service. They rode together side by side, cept when the young boy decided to bolt his mount ahead of the rest to show off and prance the horse on it's hind legs.
Ken Eagle eyes was the obvious leader of this group for he rode a bit ahead of the rest on a white and brown morgan with his hat slightly bowed to the front. Eagle eyes was part Apachie by design, his mother joined with some Cavalry Commander Ken never knew but sought all his young life. He wore an aged white riding coat over his well worn duds and the six shot revolvers packed in an old U.S. Army gun belt. He was cool, calm, and otherwise content with life.
Next came Joe Condo, almost six years Ken's senior. He rode a jet black Stallion called Cobra. His old grey riding coat told of his past. He once road with General Hood during the civil war, The deep scar on his face a testament to his bravery at Franklen, Tennessee where he personaly killed ten Union men with his own hands before a saber cut a furrow in his face. He was a hard man, prone to drinken and seekin trouble even when odds wern't to his favor. He'd been a loner till the half indian saved his life. Now they rode as blood brothers, sworn to die if need be to save the other.
Ryu Red, interesting character. A gambler by trade, bounty hunter on the side, who's big size and equaly big two barreled shotgun brought respect on demand. But Ryu Red was a soft hearted jent by all means. He wore a nice penny suit under his Blue long coat which hid the shot gun and two magnums quite well. He had taken the boy into his care after finding him horribly whipped by a railroad taskmaster. Red killed the man and put a two hundred buck price apon his hide for the trouble, but no man would ever touch the boy again so long as he lived.
The boy, for working with a Chinaman rail crew, wasn't Chinaman but from the Japans. He had only one name which Red tagged with a nick to describe him, Jumpin Jinpei. He was a ferrel kid by all measure, who spoke very good English despite his origins. Red schooled the boy when they wern't riding about the range and found him exceptionaly quick witted. He carried no weapons, save something he called bola which the boy threw with a vengence. Of course, the term ferrel wasn't awarded lightly. The boy had a curious knack for causing a fuss in every stop, to which Red would remind him with a firm but forgiving hand.
He was off again, the boy, ahead and behind the company where he danced the redish Spanish Boxer like a trooper on a parade next to Red's morgan. Red gave the boy a light touch on the chin to which he returned with a wide smile.
Ken looked back and laughed. " Jump, you'd better not tire her out. I don't think old Tracker will tollerate anymore foolery in this hot sun."
"But she likes fun Ken! Don't ya Tracker?" The boy said as he gave the horse a gentle kiss on the top of her head. A nice soft whinie came in reply.
"Fun?" Red said with a smirk. "Boy if your definition of fun is anythin like our last stop, I'd be real worried." Red said as he gently spiked Pheonix with his boots to wake him up.
In his low toned voice, Red recalled their "fun" at Desert Dutch Nevada. " Young Jump, drinks four bottles of Saspirilla, dangerous concoction of course given your sweet powered nature. Kisses four girls, last one bein Preacher Leslie's little girl. Get's run down the street by sed Preacher with a long whippen cane. Drops same Preacher with a bola. Ends up sleepin with the Cyote because it's too dangerous back in town.
"Joe, get's drunk on Texas Redeye. Saves young maden bein accosted by " .her husband who's only tryin to help her into a wagon. Beats the man up, sleeps with Jump next to the cyote because it's too dangerous in town."
"Me, I walk into a bank and get jumped by some crazy Souix indian with a bowie knife who likes robbing banks. Turns out he has a gang of friends who like to rob banks. I thrashes them, them thrashed the Marshal by mistake. Sleep with Joe, Jump, and the cyote because it's too dangerous to sleep in town.
"Ken " " now Ken, He gets lucky. Leaves town with three women who think he's God's gift to sainthood. Manages to stay sober, out of trouble, and in good favor. Didn't violate the sanctity of those ladies chastity. Sleeps in town, in a bed, after a good shower and meal. Laughs at us, while we's singing with the cyote who did provide us a side of rotted beef for our trouble and that " " " ..was fun?"
Joe rubbed his face across his scraggly five day beard, trying to get the salty,burning sweat and the clinging knats to stop bothering him. He turned to Ken and returned the cloth towel he had offered him.
"Tell me brother. What's so special about this Vella Gulf? You didn't by chance get a message from our benefactor again?" Joe asked with his gruff voice.
"Yes I did. A Western Union telegram curior met me yesterday at Mesa Verde when we passed through. Aparently, Anderson wants us to look into a high dealer there named Katse."
Red stopped Pheonix in his tracks. "Berg Katse? That European roller? He's bad buisness Ken, a real strait shooter as crooked as a river bend. They say he owns all the oil and cattle futures this side of old Mexico and Texas."
Ken turned. "That's true, but it's all legal tender so it seems on the surface. Anderson doesn't think so though, he's seeing a darker design below the surface. Someone else is pulling Katse's strings in these parts."
Joe turned his mount Cobra around to face the others. " I hear he got most of his takings by legality, most of the men he did buisness with died of natural causes."
Ken replied. "True, and there's also Vella Gulf. Katse rules it with an iron hand. Owns the law, the judge, and the taxes, makes the townsfolk pay high tributes. I think he's trying to run them out, for the railroad or some other plan, based on his handler's design. That's why we're going there."
It wasn't long before the company crested a high, tumble grass ridge and looked apon the Western town of Vella Gulf, New Mexico.
It wasn't much different from other so called "Boom towns" that dotted the Western plains except the buildings were a mix of Mexican adobe dwellings on the outskirts and Western "quick shacks" at the center. The Quick shacks had the very high, two story front walls that were bigger than the roofs. The buiding's themselves showed their familiar slant towards the back.
It looked busy by all purposes. People doing their comings and goings about the shops and saloons, cept the faces were different " .hardly no one smiled.
Ken led the company down the rise and onto the main dirt road heading into town. As usual, the aroma of wet ground, musty hay, and smoked meats met their nostrals about a hundred yards out.
"Boy, Smell that meat! Hope we can eat a good meal tonight for once." Jinpei said as he took the smell in with a good whiff. As he opened his eyes from the experiance he beheld something else coming down the road. It wasn't a good smell but a disturbing omen.
Six riders in black long coats came out from various corners around the main street and rode as one group, side by side, towards the company.
"Ken?" Jinpei called as he pointed with a knod. "I think that's the welcome wagon coming towards us, an they don't look friendly."
Ken watched as the six riders spred across the dirt road at the opening to town. The big one in the center of the group was obviously the leader. A Winchester repeater sat across the burly man's lap and he didn't look at all friendly.
" Listen men " Ken said to the company ..No trouble. Don't go for your pieces, keep it all cool " Ken was especialy gazing at Joe when he said that for Joe had a propensity for picking fights and a close order gunfight wasn't needed just yet.
They all stopped about three feet from the lead horse and ,as Ken expected, the other riders began to close in a semi-circle. The leader was wearing a marshal's badge, but Ken didn't see any marshal in the facial features which displayed an almost unhidden coldness.
" Where you boys from?" " Said the man with a scratchy voice.
Ken replyed " California orriginaly. We were trying our hands at some prospecting near Carmell when some gent said we could get some good work here in Vella Gulf. So we finished our buisness and came here. Was he wrong? "
The man leaned forwards in his saddle. " That depends. You all don't look like set men. Vella Gulf's not cheep. For instance, you have to pay to enter this town " Twenty bucks a head "
Joe smirked. " Twenty bucks? Just to pass through? Kinda steep isnt it? "
Ken's eyes didn't show the shock. ..Joe! Dam it you crazy fool! " Ken thought as he could see the Marshall's gun hand tighten.
" You got a problem with that mister? " The man said with a sudden snarl. " I hope you don't. "
One of the Marshall's younger riders, as if by cue, gave Jinpei a quick shove. " What you lookin at China boy! "
Jinpei did the smart thing. He danced Tracker closer to Ryu and kept his thoughts to himself. He wasn't about to set off a spat just to satisfy these idiots.
But the young upstart rider seemed to miss the point. He moved closer as well and pushed Jinpei again. " I asked you a question China! "
Red was getting hot, but dam it this wasn't the time. " Keep cool Jump, keep cool.. He thought.
" Dammed idiot chink! " The mere youth said as he slapped Jinpei across the face! Joe reacted quickly but not quick enough to draw his guns before every black rider had their irons out and pointed. He looked the Marshall's Winchester right down the barrel!
" Do it boy, do it. And your China boy will be the first to get vented! "
" Wait! " Ken screamed with his hands flying up! There's no need for this! We'll pay, we'll pay dam it! We don't want any trouble! "
The Marshall lowered his rifle and motioned his riders to pull back. The one that slapped Jinpei still razzled him, trying to get him to do something stupid and gave up after he got no satisfaction.
" See " , The marshall said as he adjusted his hat, " Your the only smart one in this whole bunch, but because your friend there decided to act stupid, now it's fifty bucks a head. "
Ken reached into his saddle bag and handed the Marshall two hundred dollars. He then watched as one by one the gang turned and galloped back into town, leaving the Marshall alone with the company.
" Now your welcome. I hope I don't run into any problems with you boys while your here. You'll find my jail isn't very nice, especialy for trigger happy rats like you " The man said as he pointed to Joe. He then turned and left the company standing still.
Red turned about in his horse and took Jinpei in his large curled arm. " Now that's my Jump, good boy. Played them like sorry saps you did! "
The boy rubbed his red cheek and smiled. " Still hurts though. I'm gonna pay him back for that China stuff. "
" All in good time Jump " Red said as he rubbed the boy's head. " Never tip your hand till the foldin's done. "
Ken was beside himself with anger at Joe and Joe knew it. He would talk about it later once both of them had calmed to reason. They had gone through worse than this together and had similar fights, this would be no different.
The company entered the town under very interested eyes. nestled behind closed shades above the magistrate's office in the square, the white haired, tall figure placed a set of spy glasses on a Victorian end table and stroked at his smooth chin. These people needed close watching.
The company rode along the main dirt street of town, taking in the various sights and sounds of playing pianos,screaming children, and the occasional gunshot from someone shooting bottles off a corral fence. In other words, a normal Western town by any sense of the word.
Red pointed out a building farther down the street, the local hotel by the looks of things called The Triple Nickel. " Hey Ken?" Red called out, "Why don't I take Jump here and get us some rooms?"
Ken knoded and sent them both in a fast gallop down the street while he turned to Joe. " I'm still angry at you Joe. Jinpei showed more sense than you did and frankly that's pritty sad. You could have gotten him killed."
Joe seemed to growl a bit in response. "So you just decided to fork over two hundred dollars to those crooks? Where ws the sense in that?" He snapped.
"It's called playing smart Joe. Ryu will get our money back tonight when he plays poker, he's good at that. Our job comes before such things as the next bank roll and to do that, we have to work together and trust one another and that means playing cool when I say you play cool and taking slaps when they need to be taken. Is that clear?"
Joe knoded a bit, for agreement sake. He still wanted to pay the fat Marshall back for his big mouth. Sooner or later, he would have the right oportunity open to do just that. In the meantime, he just wanted to find a good place for a good beer.
Ken suddenly turned his own attentions to another matter, a young woman suddenly caught his eye. She was fair, beautifull, and adorned in the most elegant white silk dress he'd ever seen!
Quickly he dismounted his horse and ran to stop her before she stepped off the wooden sidewalk into the muck infested dirt before her.
"Wait!" He shouted to her as she haulted. Joe just stood by Cobra shaking his head at Ken's romantics.
"You shouldn't soil your trailings with this filthy street." Ken said to her as he removed his white coat and laid it in the mud.
"May I?" He asked as he gently offered his hand and looked into her deep black eyes. She was Oriental, possibly Japanese by the features that resembled Jump's small face. Her hair was a radiant, silky black flax that flowed past her shoulders, accenting her beauty.
She took Ken's hand as he helped her across his coat and onto the other walkway. She bowed to him in gratitude. "Thankyou.."
"Ken." He replied, "Ken Eagle eyes. And you are?"
"Jun Ishida. You are very kind Mr. Eagle Eyes. May I return the favor by washing your coat for you?"
Ken resisted at first but Jun won the contest with her charming inocence. Taking the coat in hand she asked where Ken was staying.
"At the Tripple Nickel Hotel Miss Jun. If I'm not there, you can ask for Joe Condo or Ryu Red. They will be more than happy to pay you for the service."
Jun waved her hand in front of her face. "That will not be needed. Your gallantry is payment enough Ken Eagle Eyes. I hope we meet again." With that, Jun turned and left Ken standing next to his mount who gently dug a snout into a pocket for a treat.
"You know what?" Ken said as he gave the horse a bit of a carrot stick. " I think I'm in love."
"Mmmm " ." Jinpei hummed as he slid into the hot washtub and closed his eyes. "It's good to have a hot bath after so long Ryu."
Red was sitting reclined in a corner cleaning one of his magnums and spinning the cylinder which rotated with a rapid clicking sound that made the big man smile.
"Don't you get too comfortable and fall asleep Jump. I want to take a bath too before I go and play poker tonight."
Jinpei looked up as he poured a bucket of water down his back. "Take me with you this time? You always promise to teach me how to throw cards but you never show me."
Red placed his revolver on the table next to him and proceeded to take the shotgun apart. " I promised to teach you to play cards, not to gamble with them. That's not the way you get ahead in life boy." Ryu said as he blew the carbon deposits from the shotgun's breach.
"Well, you do it Ryu?" Jinpei said as he turned around in the tub and placed his arms under his chin.
"I do it out of need, not out of fun. Poker's a dangerous game for you anyway. I don't want you near a table when someone tries to cheat. It get's bloody."
Jinpei frowned. "Well can't I just go with you and watch? I promise not to get in the way."
Ryu smiled. "O.K., I guess you deserve a break from cyphering tonight. But at the first sign of trouble, I want you to run out the door."
Jinpei smiled and returned to finishing his bath when he saw Ryu freeze from cleaning his guns. Years of bounty hunting had atuned the big man's ears and there was no mistaking the slow, faint taps that echoed in his head " ..someone was sneeking around from behind the door.
Red shooshed Jinpei with his hand and the boy moved out of the line of fire with his pants in hand. Slowly, a set of bola came out of a pocket as Red drew his spare pistol from a shoulder holster and slowly cocked the hammer.
A faint knock on the door brought some relief from Red's ready posture. The person was a woman. "Enter." said Ryu as he opened the door.
The lady first met Ryu with a respectfull smile but suddenly turned her head away from him. He turned around to see Jinpei still holding his clackers, covered in soap, and naked as a J Bird on a Sunday!
"Boy! Get dressed! Talk about bad manors and all!" Red belched as the boy scrambled behind a set of blinds.
"Sorry for that mam, he's a little bit of trouble every so often. Have to watch him like a hawk you know."
Jun laughed as she handed Ken's cleaned and tailored coat to Ryu. "Mister Eagle Eyes said you would accept this, he is very kind and it was most apreciated." The fair Japanese woman said with a bow.
Jinpei came out from behind the blind in a more suitable apearance, though he was as red as a lobster from embarrassment. When his eyes met Jun, he froze "
Jun opened her eyes wider in surprize. "Ah.. Konban wa. Nihongeen deska?"
Jinpei smiled in response. " Hi, Watashi wa Jinpei desu."
"Watashi wa Jun." The woman said with a bow. "Anata wa Kowai Desu Jinpei san."
"Ehh? " " Whatever Jun said to him, Jinpei almost fell back apon his own feet in reaction. Red was puzzled by the quick exchange due to his lack of knowing the language.
"Dozo Yoroshiku." Jun returned with another little bow as she bid Jinpei goodbye in Japanese, and Ryu in English.
Ryu closed the door and turned to Jinpei with a wild smirk on his face. "What did she say to you?" He asked as the boy combed his wild hair.
"Some things that don't concern you? Jinpei said with a smile. "Besides, she was only being polite " "
"Oh.." Red said with a sarcastic tone. This was going to be a fun night.
The big Marshall watched his boss pace about the floor like a mad mountain lion, his long white hair running freely down the back of his Blue long coat. Katse was not one to be angered, especialy when he had the nasty habit of gunning down those who riled him up.
"Sir, I beg you to listen to reason. These now comers we stopped this afternoon are too weird for my liking. If they came to Vella Gulf to find out what we're up too.."
Katse raised his hand to silence the man behind him and turned to face him. Katse had a way of persuasion that was effectivly simple. His face was as smooth and perfect and cold as lucifer, or so the Marshall thought every time he looked into those lupine eyes of Katse's
"No. The strangers will not be harmed, just watched. We shall not rile their suspicions further " .is that clear?" Katse said as his eyes drooped to offer an extra sense of emphisis to his orders.
"Leave me." Katse commanded as he pointed to the door and sent the Marshall walking. Turning back towards the bookshelf near the window of his room, Katse pulled a volume of Tinisen's works and began a slow browsing.
A knock on the door interupted his quiet readings and Katse told Jun to come in. She was carrying a bottle of fine champaign, which she set apon the inn table near the bed.
"Sit down my dear, I have a job for you involving the man called Eagle Eyes."
The Iron Hammer Saloon 9PM
Joe was where he'd usualy be on a warm night like tonight. Nestled quietly by himself in a dark corner of a saloon with a bottle of Turkey Eye watching the goings on of the various patrions who sat at the bar, or stood around the piano player, or played poker at several round tables in the center of the room.
Red had shown up a half an hour ago and was, as usual, wining a hord. For a poker player, Ryu was impeccably honest even if his face was devious as a snake. Jinpei was close by him of course, which made his other playing partners nervous.
One of the players, who was dressed quite well in a deep gray suit, remarked about the boy. "Does he have to stand so close to you?"
Red smiled, "He wants me teach him how to play. He's pritty good right now, and he's a fast learner."
The cowboy sitting across from Ryu brushed his thick stash as he spoke, "Is that so? Well, let me take a break and let the young master here show us how to play."
"Yeah Red! Let me play! Please?" Jinpei asked with a puppy dog look on his face.
"It's against my better judgement, but if you gentlemen agree to hold your purses so our young friend don't clean them out, I guess it's allright."
Jinpei scrambled into the far seat and sat with his hands folded on the table. "Deal em Ryu!"
Red shuffled the cards. "Games five card draw, high joker's a wild card, two draws a piece." Red finished the deal and placed the deck at the center of the table.
"Good Jump." Ryu thought as he watched Jinpei's face after his first pull from the deck, the boy's face remained stone cold as a rock. He had learned well.
The Grey clad gentleman folded after his last pick, he reached into his coat and pulled out a large cigar, content to watch the young player's moves.
The cowboy on the other side of Jinpei was the first to drop his book, "Two pair, high cards."
Red came next. "Well he got me on that one. Jinpei?"
Jinpei smiled and threw his book down, "Full blood flush..10,J,Q,K,A of hearts!"
They were impressed. Especialy with Jinpei's poker face. "You have tought this boy well Mr. Red. Should play more often."
"I DON'T THINK SO!" Came an all too familiar voice from the end of the saloon. It was that little punk who pushed Jinpei around earlier. " The chink was lucky, that's all! I can best him any day!"
"Oh God dam it!" Red thought as the punk closed in. "I should have left him back in the room."
The Iron Hammer Saloon
"So how about China Boy?" The upstart blond weasel of a youth asked Jinpei with a snarl. "Wana play me or are ya yellow?"
Ryu raised his hand and pointed to Jimpei. "Jump " .I want you to show this gent a lesson in poker manors." Red rose from the table and offered the dark dressed teen a seat.
Jinpei offered him the cards first, sitting back to stare at him as he cut and delt the first hand. "Games five card draw. you do understand English Chink?"
Jinpei only knoded as the youth delt. They squared off on the first drop with Jinpei confidently throwing two high pairs against the punk's one.
The next hand, seven card draw. Jinpei took it agin with strait flush.
The hand after that, another five card draw, Jinpei took that too which made the punk bang the table with rage.
The last one " ..twenty one " " Jinpei took him with 21. The table went flying cards and all! " You little filthy Chink Bastard!"
The kid went for his irons but the weapons flew from his hands as two clackers knocked them free.
Red pulled his shotgun on the other two black coats and shook his head. "Let's keep this thing fair boys " Don't even try it."
The punk was pissed off, cussing up a storm, but Jinpei remained cool. "Don't be an idiot! I don't want to hurt you."
He wasn't listening. A large knife came from behind his back and plunged at Jinpei's chest. The small boy deflected the blade and caught the punk's arm in his right hand! With one swift jolt, the knife arm broke with a sick snap!
Jinpei rolled the punk around and sent him crashing into the bar. "I SAID STOP IT!" Jinpei warned as the teen fumbled for another weapon and rolled from the bar with a loaded revolver in his good hand.
"SCREW YOU!" He screamed as his body suddenly jerked from the impacts of several gunshots fired from the other end of the saloon.
Jinpei watched the punk collapse to the floor. He looked across the room at the one who fired the shots. She was a tall, red haired woman who looked beautifull by looks but very mean by design. Joe replaced his own guns in his holsters as she walked by him spinning her six shooters into her belt.
Ryu stripped the other Black Jackets and kicked them out the door. Tell the Marshall the fricken truth bastards or I swear I'll kill you as well!"
Jinpei met the woman and gave her a slight bow in greeting. "Thank you " uh " ."
"Call me Sandra, Sandra Gel Bancroft." She said as she went on walking out the swinging doors leaving all stunned and Joe especialy interested.
Joe tore across the saloon floor trying hard to catch the mystery woman who had saved Jump from being drilled and possibly the rest of them from an all out shooting war. He didn't make it to the hitching post before she took off thundering down the street leaving dust in her horses wake.
Soon there were other sounds coming towards the Iron Hammer, sounds of more horses and some very angry riders.
"There's one of them Marshall! Snake eyed son of a bitch did Brent up real good!" One rider screamed as the big Marshall dismounted and pulled his winchester from the side saddle holster ring.
"I knew you'd be a hord of trouble." He snarled as he carefully watched Joe.
Red came walking out of the saloon, carefull to push Jinpei back inside in case things went wrong.
"I don't know what these boys told you Marshall but they lie like a bunch of snakes! Your boy attacked my little partner when he was kickin his hide in cards! Your boy started the fuss and got shot by some woman when he tried to drill Jinpei there!" Red pointed back towards Jump in anger.
"So..you amit you let the boy play cards? Maybe I need to lock the boy up seein as how he broke Brent's arm before he got shot!"
The marshall ordered his men off their horses to get Jinpei, a very bad move. Red clobbered the first guy with the shotgun and placed the other in a choke hold.
"Now you've realy gone and done it big man. If you want me to spare the boy, I'll place you under arrest insted! Or kill you which ever comes first!"
Red lowered his weapon and threw his guns down on the dirt. Jinpei jumped in alarm but Red stopped him and grabbed him by the arms. "No! " .Go and tell Ken what's happened. Go with Joe right now you hear me?"
"Red! " ."Jinpei stood screaming as the other black coats tied Red up and dragged him off behind a horse.
"You tell your so called leader that we got the big guy. If you all leave Vella Gulf before the magistrate sets a court date, we'll return him " " otherwise " ." The Marshall cut himself short as he wheeled his horse around and followed the others down the street.
Jinpei was still fighting mad, thrashing about in Joe's hands like an angry dog. "Let me go! " dam it Joe! " ..Let go!"
Joe shook Jinpei as he yelled in his face. "Stop it! Stop this crap or I'll whip your hide!" The boy was so upset at it all. Joe sqeezed his small hands. "Don't worry kid " we'll get him back. It's allright, we'll get him back."
Joe gave the youth a reasuring hug and took him back to the Triple Nickle. They soon found that Ken had also vanished. " Where did he go. Great timing Eagle." Joe said as he put Jinpei in his bed and waited for the fearless leader to show up.
For the moment, the trouble in town was far beyond Ken's knowledge. He had spent the night in pursuit of the old ways of his Indian warrior half. Skulking through the tall grass with but his dark denum pants and mud paint to keep him concealed. He had seen something the others didn't when they all rode into town yesterday morning.
The barn looked inocent, so did the wagons that had been pulling up to it in the past hour. He was close enough to hear the workers mumble about "farming gear" and "building materials" but the barn still put a bad taste in Ken's mouth. Slowly. carefully, he retreated back into town and up the almost invisible knotted cord that led to his hotel room.
Joe awoke after drifting off an hour or so back and pulled Ken through the window. "Good God Eagle Eyes!" Joe wispered so as not to wake up Jump who was curled like a ball on the bed. " Where have you been, busting hogs in the slophouse? We got some serious trouble Brother, very serious trouble."
Ken would hear nothing of trouble till he was properly clean and dressed to hear of it. When Joe told him about Red and the strange red head who passed through to kill one of the Marshall's men, Ken gave him a look of a pollcat ready to rip the guts out of a rabbit.
"Yep..I guess we've got a few problems don't we?" Ken said as he reclined next to the bed and stroked Jinpei's head. " We still have time enough to bust Red out of jail Joe, but I'm more concerned with what I saw tonight."
"Oh let me guess?" Joe smirked wildly, " Opium? The railroads on it's way with some track? Katse's bringing in a stash of illegal French Coniaque?"
Ken crossed his arms. "You tell me..When is a barn, not a barn?"
"Dam it Eagle Eyes, you want to joke at time like this!" Joe cursed and placed his hands on the butts of his pistols.
"Joe, it's simple, too obvious for a simple person to notice. That barn we passed out of town when we cam in? I watched ten large wagons stop there tonight with loads of huge crates these guys call "Farming tools". Joe " there are no farms around here, and the barn " way to small to be stocking building materials and farming tools."
Joe looked back at Ken with a bit of surprize. "A barn isn't a barn..when it's a fake hiding an underground mine of some type! I knew you were a devil Eagle Eyes!"
Ken smiled and watched as Jinpei stirred himself awake. " Ken? " ..they got " "
"I know Jump. Don't worry about old Red, He can watch himself just fine. Do me a favor and slip over a bit, I need to get some sleep too."
Ken kicked off his boots and lay atop the bed without a single worry on his face.
"Joe became adament. "Ken! What about this Bancroft woman?" He asked.
"You handle her Joe. I've got some dealing of my own to do with a certain lady as well and Jump here's gonna come in nice and handy. You better get some rest Joe " our real fun starts tommorow."
Jinpei was more worried about Red now than he was the night before. As he and Ken passed by the jail house, Jinpei stopped to try and look in but Ken pulled him along by his vest.
"Ken!" The boy protested. "I want to see Red! I want to see if he's allright!" The boy seemed to shudder as Ken pulled him into a side ally.
"Now look here Jump. I know how much ol Red means to you. But he understands our mission here and he'll want us to finish it. I told you he's in good hands, we won't let them hurt him I promise you."
But why do I have to come with you to see this girl? Your the one who tells me things like that are private." Jinpei pouted.
"Number one reason is because she's Japanese, like you. Number two is that she works for Katse. And number three, I need your skills " .." Ken said with a wink.
"Oh " " Jinpei returned with a smirk. "I see..you don't trust her do you?"
What did you say to me one time? Ol Japanese proverb "Better to air on the side of caution?"
Ken rubbed the boy's long hair and pushed him ahead of him. At the same time, He thought about Joe.
"Two guards and a heavy lock for farming tools?" Joe said as he folded his field glass and watched the distant barn with interest. He guessed what Katse could be doing with these "farming tools" as he took notes of the guards movements, especialy the sudden apearance of two others who took over the duties.
"On the hour? Classic, running on military rules, what stupid jerks." he mumbled as he began to push himself back from the ridge.
Suddenly, he felt the shape of solid steel in the nape of his neck and the clicking of a revolver hammer.
"Going someplace." The sudden and very familliar voice from behind spoke with a slight tinge of laughter.
"Sandra Bancroft, I presume?" Joe said as he rolled over in the grass. It was her, the trademark red hair made that obvious.
"If you wish to live? Get up and walk where I tell you to walk " " ..Now!"
"Mmmm " " oishii!" Jinpei said as he smiled at the empty plate before him. "It's been years since I had real home cooking Jun-sa-n!" He said to the beautifull host who made him and Ken a plate of udon, yakitori, and chawan.
Jun bowed to the compliment and produced a bottle of wine from a bucket of water. "Ken? Would you like some wine?"
Ken pointed to Jinpei. "Pour the boy a glass too would you? I let him have some every so often to calm him down."
Jun turned her back to both her guest and poured equal amounts in some tall glasses. "I hope this won't be too much?" She said as she placed the glasses before them.
Ken lifted his glass and saluted her. "To the founder." Ken switched glasses with Jinpei which put a sudden, disturbing look on Jun's face.
"It's a custom in America Jun to switch drinks between friends." Ken said as he toasted Jinpei and lifted his glass to his lips.
Suddenly, in a blur of motion, Jun slapped the glass from Jinpei's hand just as it touched his lips! The boy sprang forwards and snagged her by the arms, Jun dropped to the floor as the boy apllied painfull presure to her joints.
"Baka Nihongeen! Jinpeisan Tokaru Ninja!" Jun froze in shock at the words " a Tokaru Ninja. Jinpei allowed Ken to take Jun from him as he looked like he wanted to kill her.
"Surprized huh. You fell for the oldest trick in the book. Jinpei told me about some of the wild tricks you could play on me. The boy's no fool for good looks and charms."
Ken drew his revolver and aimed it at Jun's head. "Nor am I. Katse put you up to this,Your his death angel, the one he sends to kill his oposition because he's to cowardly to do it himself!"
Jun began to plead, beg, and had it not been for the creul littage marks on her arms, Ken might have drilled her.
Meanwhile, Joe was having woman trouble of his own. He'd been walking for more than an hour he supposed with Sandra Bancroft pointing two irons in his back. Finally, she ordered him to stop.
"What now Bancroft. You gonna shoot me in the back like a coward?"
"Turn around and look at me Condo." She snarled. She was beautifull, if not deadly so. And what he thought was red hair, was nothing more than a shag afixed to her stetsen. She was blond, almost golden blond by the way her hair flowed past her shoulders.
"I'm only going to say this once Condo and yes I know you. Your parents,wife,and infant son were all gunned down by Katse's trash in South Georga when Sherman marched through on his way to Savannah in 64. Keep your freinds away from that barn and I'll give you that bastard's head on a platter."
Joe smirked. "Why? So you can take over whatever he's trying to do? What's under that barn Bancroft. What's Katse trying to do?"
"None of your friggen buisness! Take my advice Confederate, take your friends and leave Vella Gulf or you'll find yourself in a ditch with the rest of the Katse filth!"
Bancroft whistled out loud and several of her men rode out from behind the rocks where she had brought Condo. One of them kept him covered while another threw his coat and empty irons before him.
"Remember my warning Joe, If you want to survive to see your justice done!" Bancroft said as she rode off with her men in tow. Condo watched them go as he began to walk back to Vella Gulf.
Ken looked at Jun's back with utter disgust. He pulled her dress back up and turned towards the window with a look of vengence.
"Jinpei " .Get out." He said as he turned towards the boy. "Go get the local doctor and bring him here.Tell him I just fell to the floor and I'm not breathing."
The boy turned to walk out but before he left, he stopped before Jun and brushed his hand on her arm. "Gomen nasai Jun-san, Dozo yoroshiku?" He asked as she replyed with a soft touch to his chin. She watched him run out the door.
"Son of Bitch Katse. Beating on a woman like that " with a freekin whip! Why did you stay with him? Nothing's worth letting him do that!"
Jun looked down at the floor. "What would expect me to do Eagle Eyes, I've been treated the same throughout my life, in my country, it's a woman's lot in life to be subserviant to her lord and master."
Ken walked back and got on his knees. He pelt the litage marks on Jun's wrist. "But not like this! This is butchery " ." He said as he raised her head. "Come with me. Join our company and I promise you'll never have to worry for comfort, friendship, or love."
She looked at him in shock. "I " ..I " ." Ken didn't hesitate. He simply gave her a long kiss and held her as she cried over him. Outside he could hear Jinpei screaming as he pulled the doctor along the street. The kid was putting out a damm good act.
Katse could see it too. From his window he gave a satisfied smile as the tearfull boy pulled the doctor into the Triple Nickel. "Good work my dear " efficient as always." He said as he walked over to his collection of rare books and widthdrew Shakesphere's Ceaser from it's place. "Et tu Brutis!" He read with near maniacal pleasure.
"Please! He's not moving!" Jinpei cried madly as he pushed the doctor into the room and right into the loaded barrels of two Colt 45 revolvers.
"Hello doc." Said Ken with a smile. "Now, certify me as dead and get the mortician. If you talk, I'll give you a one way intro to brain surgery with limited recovery prospects."
Ken then turned to Jun. "I need you to do one thing for me, it will be dangerous but I think you know how to handle yourself against Katse. I need part of his manifest for what he's putting in that barn outside of town " .Can you do it?"
"Dangerous, but not difficult." She said in reply.
"Jinpei, start spreading the word around. Let's get Red out of jail. He's been stewing long enough." That brought a joyfull smile from the boy as he once again took off out the door. Once again he stopped by Jun and this time, he gave her a playfull kiss on the cheek!
"Onechan!" He said as he ran off. Jun blushed with a wide grin. " Isn't he cute?"
Ken just shook his head in near laughter.
"When?" Ryu asked as he hugged the very sad but relieved boy in his arms.
"Last night " snif " .he just never woke up!" Jinpei chirped sorrowfully as Red looked with eyes of hate at the Marshall.
"Let's go Jump." They walked out of the jail cell and down the street to the front of the Triple Knickle where Ken's casket was being brought out. Joe was there, his fist visiblly and violently shaking.
"They'll pay for this " ..I'm gonna turn the streets of this fricken town red with their friken blood!" Ryu took hold of Joe and restrined him with the unmoving size of his body.
"No Joe! This won't serve anything! It won't help us! We gotta leave here " ..Now!" Ryu said as he took Joe's hands off the butts of his guns.
They all mounted up and began to leave with Jinpei still crying up a storm all the way out of town and far down the dirt road " " till he started to snicker loudly and playfully which took Joe by surprize.
He looked back at Ryu who also seemed to get the hint " He smacked the pinewood box with his right hand as he drove the cart.
"You crazy friken indian!" Red said as he got two taps in reply from the box. "What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?"
"Just keep driving Red " .about ten miles to Mira del Corio Mesa pass should do it.
KATSE'S OFFICE Magistrate's Courthouse.
It was Jun's usual duties to clean and organize Berg Katse's office every day and she did so now while passively glancing at the draws, shelves, and books for any sign of the manifest Ken wanted.
She could hear Katse coming outside the door so she resumed the usual dusting of the furnature as he walked in.
He reguarded her with his cold eyes like a snake reguarded a rat before he killed it. "You did well last night my dear, excellent indeed. I think a fine dress is in order for you." He said as he came close and placed his hand on her cheek, "Of course that's after the usual pleasures are observed."
Jun jerked away form him with look of cat like rage. He frowned at the display and went back to what he orriginaly came to do. Jun continued to clean as she watched Katse remove a stack of papers from a binded satchel and open the wall safe behind the picture that sat above his desk.
"Idiot." She thought. "How careless you are even if your cleaver " " She memorized the combination as he spin the dials for Katse was very near sighted which required an overly large combo lock with equaly large numbers.
MIRA DEL CORIO MESA PASS 4PM
Ken rose from the box and stretched himself out atop the ruck of the wagon. The others were in various stages of preperation. Ken watched Joe sharpen the myrid of small throwing knives he always carried. These sharp 3" feather duel blade feather knives were deadly and Joe could fire four at a time with deadly efficency.
The wierdest looking of all of them had to be Jump. He had a black cotton suit specialy made in California. A ninja Gee he called it. It was tight his body with the red symbol of the Tokoru embroidered on the left brest. Jinpei wanted to handle taking care of Jun and seeing her safely out of Vella Gulf, a personal favor Ken awarded him when they talked in private.
Red was sharpening two throwing hatchets he would carry behind his back. "Extra safetys" he called them in case the shotgun or the magnums failed to nail their targets " .they seldom if ever did.
The burly hunter looked back at Ken's own little wepon of choice. The Indian called it the "Otecha" which was apachie for BirdBlade. The Otecha resembled a small bird with it's beautifully crafted and carved oak surface but that ended with the razor sharp wings. The Otecha was a wepon to be feared indeed, an expert thrower could cut down two or three men at a time and have it return to him without cutting his own hand. Like a falconer with his deadly feathered kin on a glove.
"The plan is very simple. Jun is getting the manafest from Katse which will be our proof positive of what he's doing, she's also agreed to come with us as a witness.
Joe, Ryu, you will come with me, we'll hit the barn and see what's down there. Joe, your job will be to watch for that Bancroft snake. Make sure she doesn't pop in on us.
Jump, you'll cover Jun. Take care of yourself ok?"
Red rubbed the boy's hair. "Remember what I tought you about the cards. It's a good lesson, trust me."
Allright " .Let's pay Katse a little back from the dead visit.
9PM VELLA GULF
Jinpei could run, sprint so fast that no one would see him enter the town. The slow crawl along the sloping ground on the egde of town however maximized his chances and he did thank the good moon for being friendly as there was no moon on this night. He peered through the darkness and could just make out the Court House where Katse took residence.
THE STORAGE BARN
The guards never heard the Otecha untill it slammed into their heads and knocked them both out cold. Red watched the weapon glide smoothly into Eagle Eye's capable hands.
"You never miss with that thing do you?" He said with a bit of humor as Ken pocketed the instrument and ran towards the doors.
"Give me one of your small hatchets Red." Ken gestured as Ryu turned one of the sharp blades over and watched Ken bust the lock with one smooth stroke.
"Ok, you two just sit tight and hold the fort here while I go look inside. Yell if you need me."
Jun acted as if she had been working files for the past hour or two, carefully waiting for a moment of calm to do what Ken asked of her. When she felt ready, she walked behind the heavy oaken desk and removed the painting on the wall, exposing the safe. " Let's see " .37 left " ..16 right " ..22 left " .." "click" Jun sighed in relief as she got the door open and reached inside.
Suddenly, Katse bursted through the office door and caught her in the stomach just as she tried to move back from the safe!
"Wench!" Katse yelled with gritting teeth. "Did you think I was stupid! Do you think I'd realy trust you after seeing the half Indian?"
Katse grabbed her off the floor and called for one of his men.
"Dutch!" He screamed as the tall black coat walked in with two of his men in tow.
"Call the freeking Marshall, tell him and his boys to saddle up!" Katse turned to Jun and smiled. "You know what happens to those who betray me woman! They die " .very slowly and very painfully. Here Dutch, He's a nice whore for you and the boys. Have your fun and then hang her from a tree so her Indian friend can see what happens when they mess with me!"
Katse punched Jun again as he stormed out of his office with his men cocking their weapons.
Ken examined the barn carefully. "Nothing out of place here, stacks of wood, feed, and tools" Ken said as he walked along. He knew there had to be a floor entry somewhere if his thoughts about an underground anti-room were true.
Outside the barn, Joe and Ryu continued to watch the hills and the road for any sign of company.
"Looks like we might get out of this without shooting Joe." Red said as Joe cocked his hammers back. "We could only get so lucky." Joe snickered back.
There were three of them! Lusting bastards who fought like hell to get Jun down on the bed! One of them began to rip away at the front of her dress when something wrapped around his neck and shattered his temples with a sick crack!
"Jinpei!" Jun cried as the boy jumped atop the second black coat and snapped his neck with a roll of his hands.
Now on came the third, his big bowie knife drawn and diving at Jinpei's head. The boy caught the man's arm and snapped it like a board across a knee, then threw him into a table at the corner of the room. He rose back up and drew a revolver with his good arm and just as quickly died as Jinpei threw a steel bladed poker card into the man's skull!
The body stood motionless for a moment before it fell dead to the floor.
"Onechan, Ogenki desu ka?" The boy asked as he took the bindings off her hand.
Jun didn't understand why the boy called her Onechan but she could guess it, he was searching for something maybe she could give in return, "Hai genki desu Jinpei-ototo"
Jinpei gave her a wide smile as she took him by the shoulders. " Go to Katse's office " the safe is behind the desk 37-16-22, I doubt he removed his manifest " ..go!"
Jinpei gave her a slight bow and ran out the door towards the office.
At that moment, Katse was leading his men in thundering charge down the main street of Vella Gulf towards the barn " " ..
And from the other end of the pike came another group of riders. Led by a rifle toting Sandra Bancroft bent on taking the same barn " " ..
And Ryu, Joe, and Ken were right in the middle of an explosion in the making!
THE BARN 9:39 PM " "
The crash was massive,sudden, and horrific. Two groups of horsemen closed each other at over 30 miles an hour in a bullet screaming smoke flying melee!
Katse turned to see one of his men shot to pieces, thrown from his mount, and dragged by the rein through the dust and dirt! Another man and horse cut to ribbons went down in an end over end tumble as Katse's own horse took smack after smack in the brest and neck!
He jumped from the horse with two Smith & Wesson revolvers spitting accurate death as two Bancroft riders were blown from their horses in passing.
"We gotta keep these bastards from getting in here!" Red cried as he and Joe let loose apon the Bancroft gang as they dove for cover. Joe could see the blond woman in the dark and threw on of his feather knives into her horses neck. Down she went, the dying animal throwing her into the dirt as it crashed to the ground!
Katse lay protected by a downed horse as his headman Dutch dove next to him. " We have ta send a rider to Sosei sir! We need re-enforcements!"
Katse scowled "Screw Sosei! Take two men and hack into the back of the barn! Keep them from getting in!"
Dutch grabbed a rifleman from off the dirt and pulled him to the back of the barn. "Pry the boards loose! Hurry up!" He said as he handed the man a bowie knife and continue to fire at the Bancrofts.
Sandra Bancroft waved her men forwards. "Charge the freeken door! Kill those bastards!" Six men charged in response as Red pulled his throwing hatchets and cut loose with a two handed toss that cleaved the leaders in the chest and stalled the others cold! Joe followed him up with four feather blades against two more of the fools.
Both of them didn't notice the boards coming lose at the back of the barn nor the entrence of Dutch and his sideman who now caught sight of the open doors.
Joe turned just in time to see their guns come flying up. "Red!" He screamed as he pushed the big man free of fire and reached for his own irons " " .
All of them fired at the same time! Joe took two rounds in the chest and gut, Dutch was killed instantly with a shot to the head, His sideman took one in the shoulder and spun like a top.
"JOE!" Red screamed as he fired his magnums in rage, killing the sideman. He turned and gathered Joe in his arms as he searched for the trap door. "Ken! Oh God Ken!"
Katse, meanwhile, rose from his downed horse and scambled in retreat. The secret shaft entrence wasn't to far. He'd let his men kill the rest above while he hid in the anti-room below.
Bancroft moved now, towards the unguarded doors. Her men would deal with these Katse slime now.
THE UNDERGROUND CHAMBER
Red was holding Joe and sobbing as Ken ripped his shirt apart. "Hold on for me brother, we'll get you out of here." Ken said, but he could not deny the damage was mortal.
Joe looked around the piles of boxes and stacks of guns that filled the chamber. He coughed as he spoke, bright red blood dripping from his mouth. "My God " ..there's enough amo and Opium here to build a small army. We can't let these bastards have it Eagle Eyes."
Joe looked at the ceiling then looked at his companions, "Both of you " .get out of here. I'll blow this place up."
Red's eyes went wide! "NO! I won't let you do this Joe! We've been through to much, No!"
Joe grabbed Red's jacket. " Stop it! " " you got the boy to take care of " ..God knows you do a good job of that " " promise me you'll grow him right " ..Promise me!"
Red grabbed Joe in his arms and hugged him hard. He then turned to Eagle, who was near tears.
"Ken, brother of my blood, friend whom I love with all I treasue " " we'll see each other in the grounds of our ancestors " ..In Valhalla where only the good warriors go " ..Go with God my brother."
Ken held Joe's hand for a moment, then rose up to pull Red with him down the shaft. The ran past and bryond the hole in the roof where Berg Katse slipped quietly into the mine shaft and moved to the anti-room.
From the other end, Sandra Bancroft emerged with her Winchester rifle in hand. She cocked it with a vengence.
Both of them stood facing eachother, not knowing or seeing the third figure hidden amoung the boxes who pulled a glass flask from his long coat " ..
THE UNDERGROUND ROOM
Katse eyes the angry blond woman with a cold steel gaze of hate and respect. "Sandra my dear " It's been a long time."
"Shut it viperous bastard!" Sandra said in return. "You got about a minute to ask for mercy before you go to hell."
Katse lowered his irons. "My dear, all this anger. Look around us, look at all this, we can make a fortune you and I. Cut Sosei out of the deal. A generous offer you must admit."
"Offer? "cough" screw both of you!" Came Joe's wounded voice from the boxes. He stood up bleeding from his wounds, fighting to remain alive for just a few more minutes "
"Condo!" Sandra yelled to him. "Idiot, I told you to stay out of this!" Sandra yelled as she and Katse aimed thier guns in unison at the 'intruder.
"Wait!" Joe screamed as he pulled the flask from behind his back. " I have here a nice thing of Nitro. You shoot me and it explodes. I drop it, it explodes. I die, and it will explode. A no win situation for all of us!"
Katse seemed to take notice. "Mr. Condo " Let's be reasonable here. I can get you the best medical help right now. Why throw your life away like this?"
"Because you threw my family's life away you Son of a bitch! " " Give me back my family and I'll set this down, but you can't do that can you?"
Sandra moved forwards a bit. "Condo, please " don't do it. My God we loved each other " .I still love you!"
"Loved is the word Sandra, untill you loved only evil. I've seen enough killing to last an eternity and your not getting these guns so you can do more killing " " .
"It ends here " .I'll see you both in Hell!" Joe, Katse, and Bancroft disapeared in a flame induced thunderclap that shook the earth! Red turned in the tunnel just in time to see a roaring wall of flame and smoke roll through the tunnel behind him and Ken.
"RUN!" He grabbed Ken by the crotch and swung him atop his shoulders and ran for all God could muster in him, up and out through the end of the mine as the rapidly expanding ball of flaming gas blew the opening apart!
Jinpei and Jun stood in horror as the barn went up in a blazing ball of fire! "ANIKIES!" The boy screamed as the ball of flame morphed an disapeared leaving behind dead and dying men around the huge hole.
Jinpei arranged a small,simple group of things before the blasted earth where once the barn stood. A drinking glass, a few coins, and a feather knife. Jun held him from behind in aproval of this simple way to remember a loved one.
Red stood there also. He and Joe had been close friends for years and the loss berieved him so. Jinpei walked over to him with Jun and and joined her hands to the big man's,
then placed his own on top. It made Ryu laugh long and hard. "I think he's trying to tell us something." Red said as he took the boy in his arms. " Well " .I've always needed someone else to watch him when I'm not around " He's a real troublemaker at times.
Jun patted Jinpei's head then wondered over to Ken and touched him softly. "He was a brave man " .in my country we would not mourn a loss if it was not for something greater. He was great wasn't he?"
Ken agreed as he batted a tear from his eye. "He'll never know just how much he changed, how many lives he saved, but it's not over yet. As long as we keep going and keep fighting " Joe will never die."
They all mounted their horses and gave one last long look at the hole. "Well " .where to next Ken?" Jinpei asked.
"Dodge City " .there's another tyrant we need to deal with. Ken said with an angry scowl.
"Who?" Red said as the tears became replaced by resolve once again.
"A man named Bosser." Ken said as he reared his horse into a stand and led the group across the planes and into the rising sun in a cloud of dust and a thunder of hooves!
Destonation " " DODGE CITY!