A Reed Haddok Western

      The sun was leaning far to the west when the three riders entered Prescott.
      Dust boiled up from the shuffle trot of their horses. It was a hot day. The three men had the look of trouble. Indeed they were.
      Dolf Hunter was so big you couldn’t miss him. He stood six feet seven inches and weighed a good two hundred eighty pounds. Everything about him was big. He rode a huge black horse, but his size made the horse look small. As big as he was, he was also nimble and amazingly quick with a six gun. His strong suit was his ability to shoot straight. It was said he could hit a jackrabbit in the eye with the rabbit running full speed.
      Lize Moffatt was tall and slender. His six feet two inches looked short standing beside Hunter. Moffatt had a wide mean streak and was as good as they come with a pistol.
      Wade Morton was a short man stacked like he had been swinging a sledge hammer all his life. In a fist fight, he could probably take the other two easily. He was a moody man with a careless streak in him that would stand him up against anybody. He was also good with his draw.
      Ironically the threesome had not planned on riding to Prescott. They had been sitting around a campfire a few days back when the subject of Haddok came up.      
      “We ain’t but about five days away from Prescott,” Hunter said. “What you say we just ride that way and see if anybody has killed Haddok yet.”
      “Are you saying we ought to kill him if nobody else has?” Morton asked.
      “We might as well,” Hunter replied.
      “They say he’s a mighty tough hombre,” Moffatt chimed in.
      “Well, the last time I heard any news, folks were saying you are a tough hombre Moffatt. Almost as tough as Wade here,” Hunter said with a laugh as he nodded toward Morton. “Course nobody thinks I’m tough, but I could hold you boy’s horses.”
      So it was more of a dare than anything else that had pointed them toward Prescott. Any one of them would be a handfull for somebody to stand up to. The three together had trouble hanging all over them.
      They tied their horses in front of the Eagle Saloon and walked in. They moved to the bar and ordered a bottle of whiskey. All three downed a glass, washing the trail dust out of their throats.
      After a spell, Hunter asked the bartender, “Anybody killed that Haddok feller yet?”
      “Nope,” he answered. “Why you asking?”
      “We been thinking that’s a lot of money needing to be spent,” Hunter said.
      “Well, it may be hard to collect. The word we heard around here is the man named Malone who was handling the offer in Santa Fe for Beecham got hisself killed,” the bartender responded.
      The three men looked at each other with disappointment in their eyes.
      “Did the Beecham feller get killed too?” Morton asked.
      “If he did, we ain’t heard nothing about it.”
      “Then I guess the offer still stands,” Hunter added.
      “I guess it does, if you can find Beecham and collect it,” the bartender said. “You might be interested to know Haddok ain’t all that easy to kill. There’s a bunch of dead folks to prove it.”
      “That don’t bother us none,” Hunter replied. He and his partners had not noticed the five men who stood at different times and walked casually out of the saloon.
      “How do you get to Haddok’s place from here?” Moffatt asked.
      “You ride north out of town and follow the wagon ruts. It’s about a half day ride,” the bartender said.
      They finished their bottle and walked to the door. They had talked it over and decided they might as well ride that way and camp for the night. They could go on to his ranch in the morning. When they walked out on the boardwalk they didn’t notice the men loitering lazily here and there. It was not until they untied their horses that they noticed the band of about twenty men surrounding them. Each had a rifle or pistol pointing in their direction. That is, all except one.
      A short squatty man had a double barreled shotgun leveled on them and the barrels looked as big as stove pipes. Hunter glanced back toward the saloon door, measuring whether or not he could dive back inside. Standing in the door was the bartender. He had a smile on his face and a scattergun in his hands. It was waist high and pointed right at the big man.
      Reed Haddok rode into Prescott about the time the men were gathering outside the Eagle saloon. He was down the street at his normal first stop when visiting Prescott. Bob Bussler had been his friend from the first day he set foot in Prescott and the livery was always first on his list. He enjoyed the friendship with Bussler. On this day he put his horse in a stall inside the livery and gave him a scoop of grain. He wondered where Bob might be. He walked out to head for Fort Misery and some supper. He had come to town to invite his friends to his wedding on Saturday and to pick up some special things he wanted to buy for Sam. He also wanted to buy himself some new clothes.
      It was not until he walked up to the gathering crowd that he realized something was up. He slipped the loop off his pistol and eased up the boardwalk opposite the saloon. Just at that time the townspeople confronted the three strangers. Nobody knew or noticed his presence. He decided to sit tight and see what was going on.
      “What’s going on here?” Hunter asked. The three men carefully walked behind their horses and stood in the middle of the circle of men.
      “Let me explain it to you,” Bob Bussler, the shotgun wielding man, said. “A few of us want to help you understand Prescott ain’t no watering hole for people coming to kill Reed Haddok. He probably wouldn’t appreciate our help. He likes to handle people like you hisself. But we’re helping anyhow. We set store by him around here. I’m gonna read you a page outa his book. We’re gonna give you boys a chance to change the direction of your ways. That is, if you want to. If you don’t, then this is where you cash in your chips.”
      “What do you mean?” Moffatt answered.
      “You can unbuckle your gunbelts and drop them on the ground. Then you shuck your rifles and do the same. After that, you saddle up and ride as far from Prescott as your horses will carry you,” Bussler answered.
      “And if we don’t,” Hunter quizzed, not reading a bit of uncertainty in the eyes of the men facing him.
      “Then it’s all over for you. We know you came here to kill Haddok. It won’t bother us to kill you,” Bussler said.
      “You boys talk big with all the odds in your favor,” Morton said.
      “I suppose the three of you against Haddok is what you call fair. The truth is, your odds are probably better pulling iron on us than they are with Haddok. Well, what will it be?” Bussler asked.
      The three gunslingers carefully unbuckled their gun belts and let them fall. They then pulled their rifles from their saddle slings and placed them on the ground.
      “We might just have to come back and visit you boys again some time,” Hunter said as his rifle hit the ground. It was real hard for him to give in.
      “Hope you do,” Bussler said. “This ain’t all of us. I don’t think you want to come back here. By the way, by the time your first drink touched your lips a rider was headed to Haddok’s ranch. If you decide to change your mind and head that way, you need to know you won’t make it. If you head east, south, or west, you’ve got til sunrise before the ranch hands on the range where you’ll be riding will know about you. These men standing with me are off all the ranches around Prescott. Their bosses sent them here and they will be here every day looking for people like you. We aim to serve notice that it ain’t one man you’ll have to kill. By sun up tomorrow, you’ll be fair game for miles and miles around here.” Bussler was beginning to like his
      newfound role in life. He had lied about the rider heading for the Rocking H, but the rest was the truth.
      Sensing it all but over, Haddok slipped back toward the livery. He was a little embarrassed and deeply humbled by what he had just seen. He went into the livery and sat down on a grain keg to wait on Bussler.
      Meanwhile, the three gunmen stepped into their saddles and rode slowly down the street and out of town heading south. A good way out of town they pulled up and climbed down to fish spare pistols out of their saddle bags.
      Standing there humiliated, Moffatt said. “I got the feeling if one of us had sneezed back there we’d all be dead.”
      “Me too,” Morton said.
      “What ya’ll want to do?” Hunter asked.
      Moffatt replied while stepping back into the saddle, “I plan on being as far from this place as I can come sunup.”
      The other two didn’t get to answer him. Moffatt was already riding. They jumped into their saddles and headed out after him.
      Bussler was surprised when he found Reed Haddok sitting in the livery when he returned.
      “How long you been here?” Bussler asked. He was walking as he talked and he moved over to slap his friend on the shoulder. He was still carrying the shotgun in his left hand.
      “Long enough to hear you read them gents from my book,” Haddok said with a grin.
      “Now listen boy. I didn’t want to do that. Everybody else was for it and I’d looked mighty scared if I hadn’t a joined in.”
      “Oh, I know. You was sure acting like you didn’t want to. How long ya’ll been protecting me?”
      “A couple of weeks. All the ranchers came up with the idea and they keep one of their hands here in town all the time. I can’t help but notice the fellers they send are pretty fair with a gun,” Bussler said with a laugh.
      “You don’t know how good it makes me feel, Bob. I mean, to have friends like that.”
      “We all figured it was time this town growed up. It ain’t about just you. It’s about all of us. I ain’t never been as proud of a bunch of people as I am these folks.”
      “Me too.”
      “What brings you into town?”
      “I’m getting married Saturday. I wanted to tell everybody so the ones who want to come can.”
      “What about that,” Bussler said. “You better put a lot of beans in the pot and cook the biggest steer you got. The whole town will be there.”