WAY OF AN OUTLAW by Bob Bolin

I was never afraid of Jeff Rupe and I lived next door to him for nigh onto three years. Matter of fact, I felt sorry for him. You hate to see a man go bad; a man you like. But everybody else was afraid of Jeff and they gave him plenty of walking space about everywhere he went. He had formerly run with a group of outlaws and had even spent some jail time for robbing a stagecoach before coming to the town of San Leon. Everyone was suspicious of him because of his past.

He got into an argument with four men in San Leon and killed all four in a gun duel. They had accused him of rustling cattle. He never admitted he was guilty and they never had any evidence that it was true. He wasn't charged with a crime. The men he had killed had been in self defense, and they could have been rustlers themselves.

The way I remember him, he was a tall fellow in his 'twenties, kind of dark and handsome. His calculating brown eyes could almost figure out who and what you were in one quick glance. You knew this by the way his droopy mustache would twitch or help him manage a smile.

When he moved into the shack a quarter of a mile up the village trail from my house, he seemed just about like everybody else. He didn't start wearing his two six gun 'til just before he got into that shooting scrape in town The way I recall it, San Leon was a small place on the other side of the caprock where the high plains country drops off into jagged hills, big red mesas and even one small mountain. I wasn't there the night the shooting duel occurred, but one of my neighbors was. The way he saw it, the streets were full of gunfire and the spilling of blood. ..

As for me, I was built like a bow legged duck, with plenty of big muscles to spare in my huge arms. I was also the town's only blacksmith. My shop was on the edge of San Leon and my house was out back of the shop where my wife spent a lot of her time. My name is Paul Biglow.

It was the next morning when Jeff came walking downhill to my shop. He seemed to be in a good mood despite his gun duel of the day before. I met him outside the shop's sliding doors.

Marshal Tim Gant also came to the shop He had steel blue eyes and a face that was half hidden by a large bushy beard, He was all business and didn't waste any time showing it.

"I'm warning you, Jeff Rupe. I know you had a fair fight with those cattlemen. And I don't have any evidence that you were rustling cattle. I'm not going to arrest you now, but I'm still gathering the facts, and if you pull any more such shenanigans I may have to take you in."

Jeff sort of smiled. "Thanks for the warning," he said.

As the marshal turned and left, Jeff surprised me by asking, "Want to go hunting, Paul? It's quail season now."

"Sure," I said. It's a slow day here at the shop."

Jeff and I really didn't know each other well until we went hunting together. It was almost the turn of the century. Although he carried a shotgun just as I did, he also wore a large belt holding his two six guns.

To go hunting with a man who could have been an outlaw might have given some people the shakes, but I didn"t feel uneasy. After all, he was friendly enough to me, and I kind of liked him.

"Good spot along Dead Creek," he said. 'Want to try it?"

"Why not?" I replied.

"I hurried away but came back with shells and a shotgun a few moments later. If Jeff was worried about the shooting scrape, he didn't show it. The town marshal had been gone when it happened and hadn't had time to react until this morning.

It was a cool, cloudy day when we started. We walked across prairie grass, and past sagebrush, cactus, and weeds. A cool wind hit us in the face. We were cold despite the jackets we wore. Dead Creek was frozen over and the cottonwood trees along the banks looked dead when we got there. We started beating through the brush. The country was full of quail and we soon stirred up a covey. We both raised our shotguns and started firing. I was certainly surprised at the results. For a potential outlaw, Jeff Rupe seemed to be an awfully poor shot. He missed everything, but I brought down two quail.

"I never could handle a shotgun," he complained. Jeff didn't hit anything the rest of the morning, but I managed to shoot two more and put them in a bag I carried over my right shoulder.

"You can have part of mine," I volunteered. "Nobody will know the difference."

He didn't answer. He kept looking at something on the sagebrush. I watched nervously, wondering if the marshal might be hiding nearby. Then he picked up a pebble and tossed it into the brush. The stirring wings of a flock of quail broke through the air. Right then I knew I'd seen lightning strike. He dropped the shotgun. The two six guns in his holsters seemed to fly into the palms of his hands. He fired four times, twice from each gun, and four quail fell to the earth.

"Jumping catfish!" I cried out. "You've been hunting with the wrong weapon!" I realized I had been all wrong about his shooting ability.

Jeff looked at me with a twinkle in his brown eyes. "I would have been better off if I had been carrying a shotgun instead of these six guns when I killed those men." he admitted.

"Guns can get a fellow into a peck of trouble," I commented.

We didn't talk about it anymore, but went back to my house at the edge of town. I kissed my wife, Peg and showed her the quail. She smiled happily and gave her blonde hair a toss"

That's nice," she admitted. "I'll fix supper for you hungry men. "Why don't you invite Jane Douglas over? She would approve, and I enjoy her company."

"She would like it," Jeff replied. "She thinks I should be more sociable to people. And she don't approve of the outlaw stigma that still make people afraid and suspicious of me."

Jane was a young lady with brown eyes and dark hair. She had a dress shop in the village, and was a pretty girl by any standards. Unlike many of the people of San Leon, she didn't avoid Jeff because he had the label of being an outlaw. In fact they had gone to some of the night time dances, and ate in the town's only cafe together.

"I'll get her," Jeff answered, obviously pleased. "I won't be gone long." He came back with her after a short time.

After we ate, Jeff probably walked Jane home, and then went back to his cabin up the hill. 'What a man,' I thought after I watched him go. 'Outlaw or not!'

It was on a Friday morning when I hired a young fellow named Billy Sims as a stable hand. He had a moon shaped face that was high lighted most of the time by a pleasant smile. I needed a person to help with the work and he needed a job.

"Just keep the stables clean," I said, "and help me with my work. Things have picked up lately." The stables were next to my blacksmith shop and were a part of my business.

"I'll make you a hand," he answered. After that he did a good job, pleasing me with his efforts.

Then trouble started. A man led his horse inside while Billy was busy cleaning out stables and didn't see him. The man was short and had a stocky build I had just entered the stables at the time.

"I want service!" he yelled. "I need a fellow to feed and water my horse, and have him well rested as soon as I need him."

"Sure!" Billy answered. "As soon as I put this shovel away and do a couple of little things."

"I mean, right now!" the stranger replied. He ran across the interior to Billy's side and started beating him with his gun.

I heard the commotion and rushed over to them. I grabbed the man's arm and forced him to drop his gun. I also caught him in a strong grip around his chest.

"No need for that," I said. "Billy's new at this job." I let him loose, and also sent Billy home to rest up for a day or two.

Picking up his gun, he ran outside with his horse. The animal was roan colored with a big round spot of white on his rump.

It was Saturday morning when I saw two riders approaching. One of them was Jeff, but his companion was the same man I had fought with when he attacked Billy.

"This is Shorty Wilson, an old acquaintance of mine," Jeff explained. "His horse threw a shoe just as he reached my place and I led him here to get it fixed. Then I'll help him get a hotel room later."

"You bet!" I answered. I offered to shake the man's hand but he ignored me. I disliked him because of the way he had acted. He had shifty eyes that almost spelled trouble.

"Hurry it up!" he said. "Jeff and I have business we need to tend to."

"I'll take care of it," I answered, keeping my temper to myself.

I led the horse inside and went to work fixing another shoe on it's hoof. I finished the job quickly. Shorty didn't even offer to pay me, but Jeff frowned and handed me the money. From watching them I didn't think that this friendship would last much longer. They were still arguing over the payment as they mounted their horses and rode away although it was a low amount.

Things stayed quiet on Sunday, but it was on Monday afternoon when all hell broke loose. As usual I decided to make a deposit at the bank and keep some of it for operating my business. It was the end of the month and the bank had just received a shipment of cash to cover the payrolls of ranchers to cowhands, and other business men to workers. I liked to go when friends and acquaintances would be there to talk to and meet.

I was startled to see the roan horse with a spot on his rump that Shorty Wilson had brought into my blacksmith shop to fix a shoe. I went over to examine the horse. But there was no question about it being his horse tied up at the rail with the other horses. 'It would also be a good time for a person like him to think about robbing the bank,' I thought uneasily. 'It would be foolish for anyone to try it with the bank having several people inside, but he seemed to be a radical person.'

Then I heard a shot and my suspicions were confirmed. It came from inside the stone building. I rushed inside. Shorty was already there. He had just killed the bank guard, Bill Anson.

I started to draw my gun, but Shorty who already had his out, hissed, "This is a stick up! Everybody drop their weapons on the floor!"

He threw some saddle bags on the teller window and told the lady clerk, "fill them up. I want big bills! Hurry!"

The frightened clerk filled the bags with money.

"Climb out the window. I need you for a hostage to get out of here! You can also carry some of the bags," he ordered.

The clerk was crying as she used a chair to get out the window and lower herself to the floor. She screamed when he grabbed her by the hair and dragged her in front of him while he used his other hand to reach out and wave his six gun.

At this moment, Jeff came charging into the room. The marshal was right behind him, although they came in separately after hearing the gun fire.

"Drop your guns!" Shorty yelled at them. Marshal Gant let his drop.

Then I saw lightning strike again. Jeff pulled both of his weapons. He shot both guns at Shorty. The bank robber went down, bleeding from chest wounds. He turned loose of the woman teller.

"Why did you shoot me?" Shorty cried out. "You were supposed to be watching our horses so we could escape." He seemed to be telling a lie even though he was near dying. His face was twisted with a painful leer.

"Let's just say we might have been friends once, but we've taken separate trails," Jeff replied, shaking his head.

"I saw both of them together the other night at the hotel," an onlooker volunteered. "They could have planned the robbery then."

"It's not likely," another man commented. "He just saved us all from being robbed. I think he did a good thing."

Tim Gant retrieved his gun and stepped forward. "I don't know about that," he told the onlookers. "It's something that needs to be decided by a judge and jury. I am arresting you, Jeff Rupe, for the robbery and shooting. Hand over your guns."

I was surprised. Jeff handed over his guns without any trouble occurring. I was very happy the way things turned out for Jeff. He did stand trial and was cleared of all charges. He became a hero in San Leon. Nobody was afraid of him. He married Jane a month later. They had a big church wedding that nearly everybody in town attended, including Peg and I. He went to work on a nearby ranch, but a year later became the new marshal of San Leon when Tim Gant took another job in California. Jeff proved to be an excellent marshal.

The End