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Ain't No Law in California

Christopher Davis


  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

  Publisher’s Note:

  This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and events are the work of the author’s imagination.

  Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is coincidental.

  Solstice Publishing -

  Copyright 2017 – Christopher Davis

  Ain’t No Law in California

  Christopher Davis


  To my little ones… Silas, Karsyn & Jaxen

  Chapter One

  The evening came off hot and ragged. A late day sun was dropping down behind the range into a dirty western sky like an unwanted rock.

  Up ahead in the pockmarked and wagon rutted road—as hard as a blacksmith’s iron––heat shimmered up distorting the view of the few trees and the cantina. Dan Bardwell, the onetime cavalryman and onetime drifter, continued south along a dirt and macadam road traveled down through the ages. The burnt out remains of the automobiles the elders had once used littered his way.

  There were many places where a man could find trouble here along the barren prairies of the wasteland––alone like he was. Out here, the drifter behind the tin star was both justice and death to those that he trailed. Bardwell it seemed was the only law standing between the ruined and what little there was left of humanity here in the deserts of western Sacramento.

  As much as the lawman—mounted on a good horse and leading another—wanted to continue past the cantina and let these desert folk be, the decision had already been made, he’d have to stop. The horses were spent from a long day in the sun. The poor bastards hadn’t seen water since they’d crossed at the ferry and that was early the day previous.

  A few trees clung to life under a sign leaning with age. PILOT, the letters of the elders read. Cool clean water dripped from a rusting pipe. The lawman stepped to the ground shaking off a hundred miles or better of trail dust as the animals snorted in a wood trough. No one stirred in the out of the way cantina. Bardwell didn’t expect that they would. This wouldn’t be the first cool reception the stranger had received over his years. Folks in these parts just didn’t have much use for the law in the new order of things.

  Rusting vehicles, once used by the elders, sat silent under a great canopy of weathered tin out front, near what remained of the macadam. A ghostly reminder of the way things had once been. Other than dusty chaparral, manzanita, and a few species of grasses, nothing existed here in this man-made desert.

  Bardwell laughed out loud standing under the shade of the mutant growth. An arms race, he thought, the only race that no one could ever win?

  Tin from the canopy overhead squealed in the warm breeze. The lawman spun next to the trough ready for whatever was thrown his direction with the burled walnut grips of two converted Navy Colt pistols well within his reach. Two more hung from the saddle horn along with a Winchester long gun in a worn leather scabbard. The lawman smiled, it was only the wind.

  Turning loose of the reins, the lawman started for the rundown cantina knowing that the eyes of many were upon him. A weather-faded sign swung from rusting chain above the door. MARIA’S, it read.

  The door swung easily, inviting the stranger inside for a cool drink. Four men sat under big straw hats playing cards at a round table with a bottle of whiskey between them. An old couple leaned back against the boards wrapped in the colors of the natives. A lone gentleman sat on a stool at what amounted to a bar. The gentleman didn’t turn as the gringo stranger approached with the rowels of his spurs singing loudly.

  A young woman—Maria, the stranger presumed—worked behind the bar. The barmaiden was beautiful in a simple way with big brown eyes and her long black hair tied to one side and flowing down over a shoulder. No one inside said a word.

  “Whiskey por favor,” the lawman said as he walked across the room, his eyes adjusting to the darkness inside.

  “Sî,” the barmaiden said. She reached for a clean glass and poured it full.

  Bardwell’s Spanish was limited, but he’d traveled through this territory a time or two. The lawman understood a few of their words.

  Taking a seat at the far end of the bar against the wall, Bardwell smiled and took a sip of the rotgut whiskey that a traveler could expect out here in the wilds.

  “What is it that brings you along this highway?” the young barmaiden asked, from her side of the bar.

  The lawman smiled knowing that tension was high in the out of the way cantina. “I am on my way to the missions at Los Angeles, señorita,” he said.

  The elderly gentleman seated on the floor whistled through missing teeth. “Señor,” he said, “that is a journey of a thousand rods and through the borderlands where no man can live.”

  “Yes,” the lawman agreed. “It will be two maybe three days in my getting there?”

  “What is your business at the mission?” the barmaiden asked.

  “I am looking for two men,” Bardwell said, sipping the whiskey in his glass. This place, this rest stop along the highway, held its collective breath listening to his answer. Tension was high and the stranger knew it.

  “Who are these men?” the barmaiden asked. “That you are looking for?”

  “One is a black man,” he answered thinking for the right word. “El Negro, he is my friend, my partner.”

  “A lawman?” the elderly gentleman asked smiling. The toothless smile exposed gums the color of clay mud.

  “Yes, señor,” Bardwell said. “He is a lawman like me. Our paths will cross before the mission. This I am sure.”

  “And the other?” the barmaiden asked. “This other man that you seek, is he a friend also?”

  “No, señorita,” he said. “I am looking for Juan Antonio Sanchez and I will bring this man in for the crimes that he has committed.”

  A hush fell over the cantina like a hot wet blanket trying to smother the life from the place.

  It was Bardwell’s duty to track a man to the ends of the earth—if need be—and bring him in dead or alive. Most arrived back in town nothing more than a bloated corpse tied over the other horse with the look of terror in his glazed eyes. Years—it seemed—the tin star lawman had chased bandits and desperadoes across the desert states. Although dead now, all of these men had once had a story to tell.

  “What has this man done,” the barmaiden asked, “For you to be following through the wilds?”

  “Juan Sanchez,” he said, “has killed three men in cold blood. This I know to be true as one of these gentlemen was my friend.”

  Tears wanted to form in the barmaiden’s big brown eyes, familiar to the lawman somehow.

  “How far have you traveled in hunting this man that you seek, this Sanchez?” she asked.

  “I have come from Sacramento,” the lawman said, sliding his glass forward for another round.

  The barmaiden complied pouring the glass full. Hushed voices spoke too fast for the stranger to understand what was being said. The words, gringo, blanco, and diablo, he understood. Yes, the white devil, they called him, a fitting name for a man behind the tin star, the white devil.

  Outside of the cantina, two men galloped away to the southwest, their dust rising on unseen currents of warm air. The barmaiden turned watching as did the stranger smiling. The barmaiden remained silent. She didn’t need to say anything. In time, her eyes would give her away. The stranger sipped his whiskey staring at the tired o
ld man gazing back in the cracked and broken looking glass behind the bar.

  The barmaiden’s eyes darted to the back corner of the cantina where four Mexicans played cards. She looked quickly back to the stranger. The young woman’s eyes had betrayed her.

  Bardwell stood on his boot heel grabbing for one and then the other of his Colt pistols, alternating shots between his left and his right hand. Missed shots tore ragged holes in the wood bar and the cantina’s wall. The air was abuzz with flying lead as the two sides exchanged gunfire. The cantina whores screamed and glass shattered in the melee. The Mexicans—no match for the gringo gunslinger—fell like a needed rain to the dusty boards.

  Miguel Rodriguez went first to the dirty floor without so much as a sound as his partner Emilio Vasquez grabbed for his stomach in a vain effort to staunch the crimson flowering from his belly. A gut wound here in this place would prove fatal for the man, but that would be hours into the hot afternoon before he would succumb to his deadly mistake. Maybe others would learn something here today.

  The barmaiden cried as the others cowered for protection against the lone gunman in their midst.

  Jose Contreras—already involved in raising his weapon—fired just one shot at the gringo stranger standing before him.

  Thumbing back the hammer, the lawman let it fall making quick work of the Mexican. Contreras fell across the table spilling whiskey from the glasses that once rested peacefully there.

  The fourth gunman fired. Bullets from his iron failed to find their mark. His eyes widened as the lawman fired first one, then the other of his single action Colt pistols, the first round striking the Mexican in the shoulder. A now useless right hand dropped the weapon, the hammer striking the dirty floor and firing its last harmlessly into the ceiling and punching yet another hole in the shack.

  Before the Mexican’s pistol had fully struck the floor, the strangers second shot tore a gaping wound in the Mexican’s throat, silencing that man forever. Blood ran from his collar as the man gasped for the air to fill his lungs.

  Black powder smoke hung thick in the tiny cantina. The stranger spit to clear the sulfur taste from his mouth.

  “What have these men done to you señor?” the barmaiden asked, surveying the carnage in her tiny rest stop, “What have they done to trade their lives?”

  “These men,” he said looking around the cantina. “They drew their weapons with bad intentions señorita. They would have killed any other man as he sat here clearing away the road dust in his throat. They would have killed me also, but…?”

  “Auga por favor,” Vasquez pleaded with any who would listen from the other room.

  One of the whores rushed to his aid—there were no good women out this far, they were all whores here—she held his head to her breast complying with his last wish as she brushed the greasy hair from his eyes.

  Blood pooled under Vasquez and the nearby table mixing with spilled tequila from the once peaceful game of cards. No one dared move while the empty pistols remained in the hands of the lawman.

  One of the Colts lay on the bar as Bardwell removed a handful of cartridges from his gun belt, thankful that the Colts had been converted recently to use the soft lead .38 bullets.

  “What will you do when you find this Sanchez, señor,” the old man asked, still leaning back against the rough boards.

  Bardwell continued loading the pistols, looking up at the man as he spoke from the far wall, somewhat out of respect for his elder and somewhat due to the tension now thick within the cantina’s walls. “Sir,” he said. “As much as I would like for it to be otherwise, I will most likely kill this man for what he has done?”

  “So señor,” the old man continued. “There will be no judge or no jury for this man that you seek? Is that your law? Gun down a man for his name and his name only?”

  Tears ran down the face of the pretty barmaiden as the stranger spoke to the old man and the others in the cantina.

  “Do you know this man?” the old whore asked. “Will you know him when you meet or will you continue to shoot every man that you see until you are satisfied that you have brought him to justice?”

  With both of the Colts now loaded and holstered, the lawman sat to finish his glass of whiskey. “I will señora,” he said. “There is very little chance that he will escape me.”

  A young boy of maybe six or seven years of age stepped in through the back door. The lawman smiled at the boy. The barmaiden shooed the lad away to the heat outside, shielding him from what was playing out within the cantina.

  That gentleman sitting at the bar continued to stare into his empty glass. A big hat shielded his face from view.

  “Juan Antonio Sanchez,” the old man said. “He is very good with a pistola señor. I would not want to go up against the man that you seek for fear of him shooting me and leaving my body for the buzzards to pick clean and time to bleach my bones on the sand. No one will know if he does señor.”

  Having heard enough the lawman finished with his glass, sliding it forward to the barmaiden along with a piece of silver. Her tears had dried since the earlier ordeal of death and gunfire.

  “The hour is getting late señor,” she said. “You should continue on your journey as it will get dark and you will be alone on the road.”

  The young woman’s voice reminded him of another in a distant cantina much like this one, the smiles, the tears, and the emotional pleas for him to move along and soon.

  Bardwell stood to retrieve his hat, setting it down tight over his long hair. Gracias, he started to say when that gentleman seated at the bar stood facing him holding both of his pistolas.

  The gentleman fired each of the revolvers without warning, both of the bullets tearing at the sagging doorframe behind the stranger.

  With that second shot, the gringo lawman slapped his hips coming up with a Navy .36 in each hand, his first shot cleanly removing the Mexican’s index finger.

  The Mexican dropped the pistol catching and raising the weapon with his good hand. He fired harmlessly over the lawman’s shoulder and again into the sagging door.

  Bardwell was obligated to return fire. The bullet from his Colt struck the Mexican high in the arm below the shoulder. The barmaiden ran from behind the bar seeking protection with the others across the room.

  “Juan Sanchez,” the lawman said, smiling. “I am glad to find you here today. This will save me many miles of riding in search of you.”

  The eyes of Sanchez widened, now knowing his fate. “What is your nombre señor?” he asked. “You name, your name?”

  A dead silence settled over the tiny cantina––not a single soul stirred. Four men lay dead on the dirty floor, the product of their own violence and poor judgment here in no man’s land, a place where bad things could happen if a man were not careful.

  “Lucifer,” he said thumbing back the hammer, “Take my hand por favor?”

  Before the final shot had rang out, the gringo lawman behind the tin star stepped back out into a warm, late day breeze. Like the cantina inside, nothing stirred out here in the heat. Not even a prairie songbird dared venture here in no man’s land.

  The horses had rested under the shade of the few trees and the tin canopy left by the elders. The stranger removed the skins over his saddle horn and filled them with cool water from the rusting pipe. The journey would prove a long one and water might prove to be in short supply.

  Chapter Two

  In normal circumstances, Bardwell would have tied Sanchez over the other horse and hauled him back to town for the authorities there. This trip would break protocol for the lawman. Sanchez—although wanted—was not the man or men that he would trail across hell and high water here in the wastes of the borderlands.

  Wyman Maddox, Marion Holderman, and Parle Deville were the gentlemen that he was after. The trio of bandits had torn out of Sacramento three days ago after a murder spree that left more than a dozen men dead in their wake. Witnesses along the road had told of the bandits, riding hell-bent for
leather in the direction that the lawman now traveled.

  Somewhere along the way, the lawman would cross paths with his partner and the hunt would be on.

  Ancient concrete slabs from one of the tall buildings used by the elders lay toppled over along the road. Its sign—although leaning—stood bravely against the elements of time. MOTEL 6 it read. Bardwell reckoned a blast had gone off nearby as both the concrete and the canopy outside of the cantina had been blown in the same direction.

  A tired sun had all but disappeared behind the range to the west in its long tireless journey. The lawman would need to find a place to hole up for the night and soon before there was no light left to work with, but for now, he needed to put a few miles between himself and the squirrely desert folk at the rest stop behind him.

  Bardwell reckoned that the horses had covered five of those before dark. None of the cantina folk would be following at this distance. Those two gentlemen who had departed the watering hole earlier, they would be miles away by now and most likely well along the road to the missions in Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo.

  Automobiles of the ancients rusted in an organized fashion out here along the paths of the elders.

  Bardwell unsaddled his mare and hobbled both for the night. This far from what little civilization there was, mutant grasses managed a hardscrabble life in the shifting desert sand.

  The lawman checked his Colts before searching out a handful of sticks for the small fire that would see him through the night.

  Seven vehicles of the days past huddled together along the macadam, all on the path south. A bullet-riddled, rusted green sign announced Los Angeles 140 Miles. Bardwell ran the teachings of his youth over in his mind. A rod was 7.14 miles in the measurement of the old. What the old man had said at the cantina was correct, it would be three days at best before he could expect to be in that most ancient of places. That was if he pushed the horses hard and they could hold up to the effort.