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Real Western Stories, February 1958
THE THREE FATES
by Lon Williams
It was a spooky night when Deputy Marshal Lee Winters
met a man who knew what was What, a man who knew
when was When, and a man who knew where was Where...
EPUTY MARSHAL Lee Winters
had heard a rumor that one Nick
Olfinger, new on his list of
wanted monkeys, was hiding in a weird,
lonely valley west of Forlorn Gap known
as Terre des Revenantes—land of ghosts.
Near mid-day in that valley he pulled up in
nervous surprise before a rounded hill or
mound where, on its southern face, fresh
earth had been thrown up from a pit. His
horse Cannon Ball snorted uneasily and
Winters, warned of impending action,
tightened bridle and knee holds.
Then he saw an object which caused
his scalp to creep and his hat to become
loose on his head. On a scraped-out shelf
of earth bare bones had been assembled to
form a human skeleton. Winters and his
horse were of one mind then, but before
thought could be translated into homeward
action, an apparition appeared, three
ghosts marching in step over this ancient
mound’s curved summit.
They carried a long box. Two held
handles on opposite sides near its front;
their companion supported its rear. Tall
D
REAL WESTERN STORIES 2
and slim, dressed in long black coats and
small black hats, had they looked slightly
more human Lee would have accepted
them as a trio of undertakers. Men never
wore more funereal expressions, and that
long box they carried would have served
handsomely as a coffin.
They put their burden down, faced
Winters, bowed as if performing a
ceremonial, and said in unison, “Good-day
to you, sir.”
Winters gave a start. “Huh! I mean,
howdy.”
One of them said, “We did not mean to
startle you. I trust you will forgive us. We
are three distinguished and scholarly
Englishmen from Oxford. Permit me, sir, I
am Sir Edward Kiewit, Knight of Tombs
and Hidden Secrets.” He indicated his
nearer companion, a dignified gentleman
and, his longer nose excepted, much like
Sir Edward.
This one bowed graciously. “I am Sir
Frederick Peers, Knight of Red Garters,
Round Tables and Spoons, sir, knighted by
her young and gracious majesty, Queen
Victoria, long may she reign.”
Number three lifted heavy eyebrows at
Winters. His eyes, deep wells of darkness,
gave Lee cold shivers. This one bowed
less ostentatiously than had his
companions. His voice had that depth and
resonance to be heard when someone
spoke in a vast empty hall. “I,” he said,
“am Sir George Yonderlook, Knight of
Doom and Finality.” He indicated with a
flabby gesture his two companions. “We
three are specially gifted, in that we
commune with spirits.”
“And,” said Sir Long Nose, “we walk
and talk with those long dead.”
“Moreover,” said Sir Edward Kiewit,
“where there are those who would hide
their secrets from us, we desecrate their
graves, dig up their bones, expose them to
public view, and then sell them, as one
might sell a cord of firewood, or a
pumpkin at Hallowe’en. As arbiters of
human destiny, we also occupy roles as
inexorable as Time, as cold as northern
winds and as unconquerable as shifting
sands. In that awe-inspiring triumvirate, I
am What.”
Sir Frederick Peers drew back his
emaciated shoulders. “I am Where.”
“And I,” rumbled Sir George
Yonderlook, “am When.”
They recited in unison, “Together we
are What, Where and When.”
Sir Edward pronounced gravely,
“When I say what, it is What’s what. It
can’t be anything else.”
Sir Frederick declared gloomily,
“When I say where, it is Where’s where. It
can’t be anywhere else.”
“And,” said Sir George, “when I say
when, it is When’s when. When’s when is
now. And that ends all. It is finality.”
INTERS was sorry he’d wandered
into this scary place. He was out of
sorts, too, with nervous, sweaty anger. “To
me, you bozoes look like a flock of crows
and talk like loonies. What have you got in
that box?”
Sir George flung up his eyebrows
again. “You have not told us your name,
sir. However, judging by that tarnished
piece of metal on your vest, I judge you
are some sort of constable hereabouts.”
Being called a constable and having
his badge belittled, stirred Lee’s wrath.
“I’m Deputy Marshal Lee Winters of
Forlorn Gap, under orders from Marshal
Hugo Landers of Brazerville to keep an
eye peeled for wanted monkeys, wild-eyed
loonies, and apes with odd ways of
making a livin.’ I said, what have you got
in that box?”
Sir George treated his demand as if he
hadn’t heard it. Nevertheless, he gave
indirect answer. “By profession, we three
W
THE THREE FATES 3
are archaeologists.”
“Arkie what?” gasped Winters.
“Ah,” sighed Sir George, “I fear we
cast our pearls before swine when we
endeavor to explain even so common a
word to such an uncouth, unlettered, slimshanked nobody. Let us to our work, my
brothers.”
“Look here,” responded Winters,
“according to what’s in books, we fit two
wars to keep Englishmen out of this
country. If you gravediggers don’t watch
out, we’ll fight another. What have you
got in that box?”
Sir Edward nodded at his brothers in
art. “Brethren, this man’s mind seems
incapable of more than one single fixation
at a time. As to what is in our box, he will
not be satisfied until he is shown. Let’s
open its lid, Sir Frederick.”
Sir Frederick bent to unfasten a latch.
“Do you speak as What?”
“I do, indeed, and you are spoken to as
Where.”
Winters lowered his gunhand in
expectation of violence.
What and Where each unfastened a
latch. Slowly their box lid was lifted and
turned back on its hinges.
But an instant before Winters could
glimpse its contents, Cannon Ball snorted
and jumped in wild fear. With bridle-bit
clamped hard in his teeth, he struck for
home. Lee, unseated, clung madly to
saddle and mane, managed to recover and
remount in a quick, flying leap.
A good mile had been put behind them
before he again had Cannon Ball under
control. By then his curiosity about what
was in that box had been whipped down
by other considerations. He figured he’d
got away just two seconds before when
was when. Right now he had no urge to go
back either.
WO EVENINGS later, Forlorn Gap
had settled into its eerie quiet, except
for one enlivened spot. That exception was
in Doc Bogannon’s saloon, only institution
of its kind that remained in a town which
once roared and reeked with barrooms.
There men sat at card tables, drank
whiskey and played poker. Some sweated
under an ever-present danger of abrupt
death.
Suddenly at a table a middle-sized redfaced, red-haired player yelled, “Don’t
touch it!” With jarring, furious speed he
was on his feet, a forty-five in each hand.
“I’m taking that pile. If anybody don’t
think so, let him show his speed.”
A well-dressed, mild-mannered
stranger shook his head calmly. “Bart
Gosling, I had a royal flush.”
“A quick draw beats a royal flush any
day,” Gosling returned tightly. “Want me
to prove it? If you do, just touch that
money.”
Nobody touched it. Gosling holstered
his lefthand gun and scooped up his loot.
His recent playmates got up and strolled
quietly out.
Doc Bogannon had looked on from
behind his bar. Bogie himself was large,
with dark hair, splendid head and
intellectual demeanor, a man of mystery
who lived contentedly with his half-breed
Shoshone wife, owned and operated a
saloon as his only visible means of
support.
What he saw, he regarded with mild
interest and philosophical understanding.
Forlorn Gap was a crossroads town, with
Goodlett Hotel as its only house and
Bogie’s saloon as its only place of
recreation. Here strangers came and went,
both good and bad, brilliant and stupid,
rich and poor, lucky and unlucky.
Whatever their breed, they had his tolerant
sympathy. They were men, all journeying
to meet their destinies, in part of their own
T
REAL WESTERN STORIES 4
making, in part designed and executed by
forces not of their handiwork.
Bart Gosling, thought Bogie, as that
man of fury came forward, was of an
unlucky breed. Such men usually fell into
pits they had dug for others, died when
they least expected it because they were
never so good as they regarded themselves
and never so clever but that some crafty
madman was cleverer.
“What would you have, sir?” Bogie
asked politely as Gosling leaned against
his bar and stared at him arrogantly.
“Whiskey,” Gosling stormed. “What
did you think I wanted?”
“Whiskey,” Bogie replied politely.
“Then why did you ask me what I
wanted? Why didn’t you just pour me
some whiskey?”
“In my cloistered youth I was taught
never to be presumptuous,” Bogie replied.
He set a glass, filled it and stood his bottle
beside it.
OSLING tossed down his drink and
helped himself to another. He put
down his empty glass and leered at Bogie.
“Charge it,” he spewed. After a look of
insolent defiance, he walked back and
forth, kicked over a table surrounded by
drinkers, came back and filled his glass
again. “Charge it, I said; or didn’t you hear
me?”
Bogie was about to tell him he kept no
charge accounts, when his batwings swung
in and a lean, weatherbeaten, darkmustached, familiar personage tramped in.
“Winters!” exclaimed Bogie. He
lowered his voice as Winters strode up.
“Winters, am I glad to see you!”
Winters planked down a coin. “Wine,
Doc.”
“Wine it is, Winters.” Bogie quickly
filled a glass, looked at Winters
searchingly, and lifted his brows. “You
look peeved about something, Winters.
Has your wife given you a scolding? Or
did your latest wanted monkey get away?”
Winters leaned forward. “Doc, I want
to ask you something.”
“By all means.”
Winters indicated his official badge.
“Doc, do you see this star?”
“How could I help seeing anything so
bright and shining?”
“Are you sure it don’t look tarnished?”
“A star in heaven couldn’t be more
flawless.”
“All right,” said Winters.
“Now, let me ask you a question,” said
Bogie. “Has your wife berated you for
neglecting your badge? Or did she shine it
for you, then berate you for neglecting to
thank her?”
“Neither,” said Winters. “Two days
ago my badge was made fun of by three
snooty Englishmen.” He glanced left, then
looked at Bogie. He jerked his head at a
freckled redhead who stood a few feet
away and regarded Winters from
contemptuous, whiskey-reddened eyes.
“Who’s he, Doc?”
Bogie alerted instantly. “My apology,
Winters. I want you to meet one of my
newest and most esteemed friends, Mr.
Bartemus Gosling. Mr. Gosling, Deputy
Winters.”
Neither showed any pleasure at this
courteous introduction.
Gosling spat at a spot midway between
them. “Deputy marshals ain’t my favorite
people. Fact is, I heartily despises ‘em.”
Winters leaned his back against
Bogie’s bar. “You know, Doc, this feller
reminds me of when I was in second grade
in school down in Trinity Valley, in Texas.
We had a teacher named Watlington
Jones. Us scholars all called him Highpockets. One day I come across a word in
my reader I didn’t know what it was. So
up front I goes to ask High-pockets.
“I puts my finger under it and I says,
G
THE THREE FATES 5
‘What’s that word, Professor?’ Old Highpockets takes a good long look and says,
‘Young feller, that word is go-sling.’
Would you believe it, Doc, I was ridin’
herd on a thousand steers in West Texas
before I ever knowed that word was not
go-sling at all; it was gosling.”
Red Bart’s inflamed eyes gleamed.
“Are you poking fun at my name,
Winters?”
“No,” said Winters. “I was merely
hinting that, your name, pronounced
another way, contains a bit of advice to its
owner.”
“I don’t need advice, Winters. I told
you I despises deputy marshals. Maybe
you didn’t hear me. It could become
mighty unhealthy for you around here.”
Y AND LARGE, Winters realized
that he lived a scared life. Yet some
hidden spring of courage poured
steadiness into his blood when going got
rough. “Being a deputy marshal is right
unhealthy, so I’m told,” he said casually.
“But I’m still alive, Gosling, and in fair to
middling health. Does that mean anything
to you?”
Gosling thought it over. Discretion
tempered his valor. He spat again. “Every
dog has his day, Winters. Sooner or later,
you’ll have yours.”
Winters, aware that Gosling had
cooled off, turned to Bogie and put down
another coin. “A drink for your new and
esteemed friend, Doc. I’m late for supper.
Good-night.”
Gosling waited until Winters was out
then poured himself another drink.
“Charge it,” he sneered. “I don’t accept
charity from no lawman.” He strode back
and forth. Again he kicked over a table.
When objection was raised by its users, he
snapped hands to both guns. “All right,
want to do something about it?” To show
how tough he was, he kicked over still
another table.
Then he turned and stared as Bogie’s
batwings swung and three tall, gloomy
strangers marched in, one behind another,
all in step, all dressed alike in long black
coats and round black hats. Only their
faces were markedly different. One face
was large and moon-like; one was
centered by an extraordinarily long nose;
one was elongated and thin. They marched
as if by prearrangement to an unoccupied
table, sat down and assumed attitudes of
waiting.
Bogie hurried round. “At your service,
gentlemen.”
One said, “I am Sir Edward Kiewit.
My companions are Sir Frederick Peers
and Sir George Yonderlook. We would
have wine, my good man.”
Bogie bowed respectfully. “Wine it is,
my valiant sirs.” He backed away, turned,
promptly came back with glasses and a
bottle. He said as he poured wine, “It is
not uncommon for an Englishman or so to
visit here. But three English knights—ah,
that is a distinction.”
Sir George tossed his heavy eyebrows
upward, then lowered one of them. “We
are archaeologists, my good man. Though
an archaeologist retains his nationality for
what it may be worth, he is truly a man of
all climes and places, interested in all
times, as well, alive in all accepted ways,
yet forever touching fingers with death. He
is an explorer of tombs, an interpreter of
things that were and are no more.”
“You are a most venerable breed of
men,” declared Bogie. “But what tombs do
you find to explore in this jumble of
mountains?”
“What we are given to know,” Sir
Edward Kiewit proclaimed in a
melancholy voice, “is not given to
ordinary men. As for me, I am he who
knows what’s what.”
“And I,” announced Sir Frederick
B
REAL WESTERN STORIES 6
gloomily, “am he who knows where’s
where.”
Sir George nodded. “And I am he who
knows when’s when.”
Bogie’s own eyebrows lifted. “Most
interesting,” he said nervously.
Bart Gosling had sauntered to their
table. He put one foot in a vacant chair and
eyed them with drunken contempt. “You
fellers sound like a bunch of squirrels. Can
you play poker?”
They looked at one another with lively
interest and nodded.
Sir George said resonantly, “We
merely dropped in for wine, a bit for our
stomachs’ sake. We could play poker, if
we were of present mind to do so; indeed,
we could take all you have in one short
evening.”
“I’ve got a thousand smackers which
says you can’t,” Gosling bragged
arrogantly. He touched his sixguns
significantly. “And I’ve got a couple of
powder-pushers here which says you
won’t.”
IR GEORGE and his companions
exchanged eyebrow talk.
Sir Frederick pinched his long nose.
“No, friend Gosling. We adhere to original
intentions. However, we should deem it an
honor to drink with one so daring. Wine or
whiskey, sir?”
Gosling eased into a chair. “Whiskey.”
Sir Frederick nodded at Bogie. “A
quart of whiskey, my good man.”
Bogie responded, but with misgiving.
He figured something was going to happen
to his esteemed friend Gosling, and he
hated to think of what it might be.
However, he had never held himself in
general terms as his brother’s keeper. In
this particular instance, fraternal instinct
was so low as to be practically nil.
A few minutes later he saw them
escorting Gosling away, one walking
before him, one on each side. Those beside
him gave him physical support, which
indicated to Bogie that Gosling was
soaking drunk.
Outside, refreshed by night air,
Gosling roused what remained of his own
power and demanded where they were
taking him.
“To your long home,” replied Sir
Edward. “When a man is down, as you
are, forced to place his fate in other hands,
there is no substitute for friends. You are
especially blessed, in that you have three.
We three are taking you to where you can
rest and sleep. Aye! and sleep.”
“Where is my home?” demanded
Gosling.
“A man’s home is where he rests and
sleeps,” said Sir George.
Gosling was dreamily aware of being
led by moonlight to a vehicle to which
were hitched two splendid black horses.
“Our carriage,” announced
Yonderlook.
“Looks like a blasted hack to me,”
Gosling protested drunkenly. “I don’t need
no hack. Take your stinking hands off me.
I got a room at Goodlett Hotel.”
Kiewit and Peers seized his arms and
bound them behind his back. “When we
would do one a favor,” said Peers, “we
expect cooperation, not resistance.” When
Gosling began to kick at their shins, they
likewise bound his legs. In short order
they relieved him of money and guns,
lifted him up and laid him down in a long
pine box mattressed with a few straws and
filled with vile odors.
“Help!” Gosling screamed.
But a lid was slammed down and
latched, so that his screams were confined
within their own alcoholic mist. Then
began a furious, clattering journey, full of
jars, jolts and bounces, sobering and
horrifying in their effects. Horses and hack
hove to a miserable eternity later, and
S
THE THREE FATES 7
Gosling’s narrow prison was lifted from
its swaying carriage and dropped upon
more solid support.
“Let me out of here!” he yelled.
“Of course,” a ghostly voice
responded. “That is what we intend to do.”
T WAS NOT done immediately,
however. Gosling next felt himself
being lifted, carried up a steep incline,
over a summit, and down on its farther
side. Once more he was dropped. Then his
box lid was turned back.
He gazed upward at a sky filled with
bright stars. “It’s a good thing you opened
up,” he said, his own voice sounding flat
and unreal. “If it’s a joke you want, you’ll
get it. Just wait till I get on my feet.”
They turned his box over and dumped
him out on his face. With rough dispatch
they lashed him from head to feet to a
stout plank then turned him, face-up.
“Now,” rumbled Yonderlook, “what
have you to say, most unconvincing
braggart?”
Gosling laughed crazily. Of course this
was only one of his liquor-soaked
nightmares. He’d wake up, and it would be
over. He heard himself say in that hazy,
torturing land of dreams, “What are you
going to do with me?”
“Ah,” replied Yonderlook, “being
archaeologists, we plunder as thieves
among these ancient sepulchers. But we
are honest thieves. We take their unfeeling
dead, but we pay them back in kind, bone
for bone.”
Kiewit said, “We are three fates, so to
speak. I am What. When What says what,
it is What’s what, and there can be no fate
but death.”
“And I,” declared Peers, “am Where.
When Where says where, it is Where’s
where, and fate can overtake you nowhere
but here.”
“And I,” said Yonderlook, “am When.
When When says when, it is When’s
when, and when is now, with doom and
with finality. Let us to our work, my
brothers.”
Gosling did not scream. He laughed.
He was so glad this was only a dream. He
dreamed he was dropped into a pit, that
dirt was scraped in a flood upon him. But
he’d had worse dreams. He was not afraid.
He was about to smother, but often he’d
been in that state just before waking. Yet
he must wake soon. He must wake. . .
INTERS had late supper, yet not so
late as to deny him precious
minutes with his beautiful wife before a
fireplace in their cozy cottage.
After Myra had briefly watched him,
she said, “Lee, why do you keep polishing
your deputy-marshal badge?”
He held it up for inspection. “Reason
enough,” he replied positively. “A snooty
loony posing as an English archaeologist
called it a tarnished piece of metal. I didn’t
like it.”
Myra was curious. “Archaeologist?”
“Right. But don’t ask me what one is.
Only thing I know is, more than anything
else in nature they looked like buzzards.”
“Why, Lee!” Myra exclaimed.
“Archaeologists are scholarly people.”
“What do they do for a living?”
“From what I’ve read, they usually
work for universities and museums. They
study old things, especially old tombs and
ruins of ancient times and cities. They
dig.”
“They do, don’t they?” said Winters.
“Well, yes.”
“And rob graves?”
“Not just any grave. Old ones, like
tombs of Egypt. It’s for education. They
dig up old records, some written on stones,
or on clay tablets, or on walls of temples.”
“And people?”
“Yes, they dig up people, too.
I
W
REAL WESTERN STORIES 8
Especially in Egypt. You’d be surprised at
how well preserved those dead people are.
Why, in Egypt they’ve found mummies,
that is, preserved bodies, so lifelike after
five thousand years that people of their
time, if living now, would recognize
them.”
“Yeah, I begin to remember now.
Years ago I heard a man named McKenzie
down in Amarillo tell about mummies he
saw. Why, McKenzie said, some of them
mummies was so real and natural looking,
if you’d give ‘em whiskey they could’ve
set up and talked.”
“Now, Lee,” Myra chided goodnaturedly, “you’re being facetious. But
where did you see an archaeologist?”
“It wasn’t just one; it was three. I saw
‘em in Ghost Valley. They had a pit dug in
an old Injun mound. One of them knows
what’s what; another, where’s where. Sir
George Yonderlook knows when’s when,
and when he says when you’d better watch
out.”
YRA WAS thrilled. “Lee, I think
you’re only teasing. But if there are
famous people so close as that, we ought
to invite them in for a visit.”
Winters took a final look at his badge
and pinned it on his vest. “Good idea.
Might have ‘em for supper. There’s
something I’d like to know first.”
“Know?”
“Yeah,” he said, and looked worried.
“I’d like to know what was in that box.”
“Box?”
“It was a long box, sort of like a
coffin.”
“Coffin!”
“And they carried it like it was heavy.
Not away from that mound, but right on
over its skyline and down to a pit they’d
dug. Do archaeologists sometimes put
bodies in them old tombs, or do they
always only take ‘em out?”
“Horrors! They only take them out.”
After a thoughtful silence, Winters
gave his wife a sidewise look. “Still want
to get acquainted with ‘em?”
Myra studied a moment. “Yes,” she
said wistfully. “I’m sure I’d like to meet
them.”
Winters could sort of understand
Myra’s feelings. Those fellows really were
interesting vultures. Nevertheless, he
hoped they’d never be seen again in his
bailiwick. He’d hate to shoot ‘em, but he
might have to. Once he’d seen a white
crow. Had a chance to bust its feathers
with a shotgun, too. But he’d let it go. In
his opinion, such oddities had a spicy
effect on life. If everybody looked and
acted alike and were all of one moral
pattern, existence would get mighty dull.
Besides, he told himself, it ain’t every day
you meet a bozo who knows what’s what.
NDIRECTLY, because of a reward
poster from Marshal Hugo Landers, he
got interested in those archaeologists
again.
He took his poster to Doc Bogannon
and laid it on Bogie’s bar. “Know that
feller?”
Bogie studied it. “Well, now, I see so
many strangers, ranging from treeswinging monkeys on up to college
professors, it’s hard to remember all of
them.”
“This one was sort of special,” said
Winters. “Redheaded. As freckled as a
guinea hen’s egg. Carried two guns. Name
was Bartemus Gosling. Said he despised
deputy marshals.”
“Ah!” Bogie exclaimed. “Now I
remember. Wanted me to open a charge
account for his drinks. He also kicked over
my tables.”
“He also murdered a couple of
travelers near Brazerville, and he’s wanted
in Missouri for horse-stealing.”
M
I
THE THREE FATES 9
Bogie remembered something vital at
last. “Now I’ve got it. That same evening
when you met this Gosling, three rather
mysterious and singular looking strangers
came here to imbibe a bit for their
stomachs’ sakes.”
“Monkeys who knowed what’s what?”
“And where’s where?”
“And when’s when?”
Bogie nodded and wrinkled his
forehead. “Sir Eddie, Sir Freddie and Sir
George. I have it now. They took your
man Gosling away with them. What they
did with him, I wouldn’t know.
Speculation as to his fate is something my
mind dislikes to dwell upon.”
“When have you seen those three
loonies?”
“Last evening. They’ve become
regular customers.” Bogie smiled ailingly.
“They even invited me to visit them. It
seems they are doing research work of
some sort hereabouts.”
“Yeah,” said Winters dryly. “They’re
archaeologists.”
A day of hard riding brought him back
that night, tired and thirsty. When again he
stood by Bogie’s bar for his nip of wine,
Bogie leaned close.
“They’re here, Winters.”
“Who’s here?” Winters asked.
Bogie answered cautiously, “Eddie,
Freddie and George. Oh-oh, wait a minute.
Here comes somebody else.”
A handsome dark-haired stranger of
about forty approached, looking down his
nose at things in general. Winters noted
his diamond shirt studs, figured they were
as big as buckshot and that their owner
was a rich Easterner.
“Gentlemen,” this prosperous looking
newcomer said on a sarcastic note, and
threw a contemptuous glance at
Bogannon.
Bogie nodded graciously. “Pleasure
has so far eluded us, I fear. I am Doc
Bogannon. My good friend here is Deputy
Marshal Lee Winters.”
“I should be delighted,” responded
their visitor, though his tone proclaimed
that he was not delighted at all. “If it
matters, I am Rockford Covington. You’d
probably refer to me privately as an
Eastern plutocrat. I’m much more than
that, however. I’m a famous globe-trotter,
explorer, adventurer, and commentator on
human affairs.”
“Indeed,” said Bogie. “You look all
that you say you are. Would you have a
drink?”
“Not just now, sir,” said Covington.
“Presently I am interested in your, what
you call, lawman. I’ve read about Western
lawmen and what a virulent breed they’re
supposed to be. I must say, however, I
didn’t expect to find one looking so
insignificant and scrawny. Now, if Deputy
Winters were only as bright and shining as
his badge, I should not return East so
disillusioned.”
INTERS turned his back on Bogie’s
bar and hoisted his elbows. He was
sorry he’d done so much badge-polishing,
but be-confound if a man could please
everybody.
“Rocky,” he drawled, “do you know
what it is that makes a man look
scrawny?”
“I’d be delighted to learn,” Covington
responded loftily.
“Well, sir, it’s this here Western wind
and sun. We’ve got whole passels of
Easterners out here, so dried up and
shrunk they crawl around on their bellies.
We call them horned toads.”
Covington’s mouth lifted at one
corner. “Charming!” he declared with dry
sarcasm. “Bogannon, serve this yokel a
drink at my expense.”
“I’m obliged,” said Winters, “but I’d
be pleased to buy you one.”
W
REAL WESTERN STORIES 10
“It’s quite presumptuous of you to
think I’d let you,” said Covington. He
shifted his attention. “Just now my interest
is in characters. Really, I came West to
escape boredom for a while. Frankly,
however, I find your country
excruciatingly drab, dirty, and unexciting.
Elkhorn Pass and Pangborn Gulch are
great stinks, and this deserted village of
yours is no more exciting than a dead cat.
Not one what you call shoot-out have I
witnessed since my arrival five days ago.
I’d see more of interest on New York’s
Bowery any hour, any day or night.”
Bogie spread his long-fingered hands,
palms up. “We Westerners have been
shamelessly maligned by Eastern scandalmongers. There’s no more civilized spot
on earth than here. Right, Winters?”
“Right,” said Winters. “If you’ll
excuse me now, I’ll run along home. Got
to eat my porridge and then hold my
wife’s yarn while she knits. Good-night,
gentlemen.”
WO EVENINGS later, Winters rode
homeward by moonlight from
Elkhorn Pass, where a wild-eyed gunman
named Branton had resisted arrest. That
was a shoot-out Rocky Covington would
have enjoyed—badman and a deputy
marshal walking toward each other down a
dusty street, drama in pure Western style.
At a noise Winters pulled up and cased
his horse into a cove. What sounded like a
mad runaway approached from toward
Forlorn Gap. In almost no time a hack
drawn by two black horses whirled past.
Two men occupied its only seat. A third
sat behind them on a long box. They
leaned forward, bounced and held onto
their hats.
Once more Winters wanted to know
what was in that box. This time it was an
angry, compelling desire. He brought
Cannon Ball around and pursued. A mile
up Elkhorn Road there was an old trail that
ran southward into Terre des Revenantes.
Team and hack swept and skidded into this
trail and plunged onward.
Down in Ghost Valley they stopped by
their Indian mound. Before Winters got
within hailing distance, they had unloaded
and with their box marched up, over, and
down out of sight. He swung left, took
roundings and came upon them by an open
pit, where they had put their box down.
He caught them by surprise,
dismounted, lifted his sixgun, and aimed at
hip-level. “Now, you buzzards, what have
you got in that box? This time I’m your
man that knows what’s what, and when.”
Those sepulchral characters eyed one
another.
“What!” snapped one.
“Where!” said another.
Winters cocked his gun. “Hold right
there, unless you want to die.”
Yonderlook’s lips moved, but no
sound came out. He stared at Winters’
gun, which carried especial menace for
him.
Winters nodded at Yonderlook’s
companions. “Open your box.”
Sir Frederick and Sir Edward bent to
obey, but hesitated as groans sounded
creepily. Sir George lent encouragement.
“When’s when is not yet, my knightly
friends. Do as Officer Winters has
bidden.”
They obeyed.
Premonition had already told Winters
that somebody alive was in their coffinlike
contraption. He told himself that he
needed but one guess as to who it was.
Doc Bogannon would have said, Irony
takes care of snobs and braggarts.
When their box lid had been thrown
back, a moonlit figure groaned to a sitting
position.
“Well!” exclaimed Winters. “Am I
surprised! Is it really you, Covington?”
T
THE THREE FATES 11
Rocky was bound hand and foot and
had a gag in his mouth. He tried to get to
his feet but failed. His effort to talk was in
vain. Winters obliged by jerking off
Rocky’s gag.
“It’s about time,” Covington cried
furiously. “Winters, what kind of law and
order are you upholding in this heathenish
country? Make yourself useful and get
these ropes off my arms and legs. A fine
officer you are!”
Yonderlook’s voice rumbled deeply,
“Officer Winters, would you be pleased to
have me proclaim that it is now When’s
when?”
“Just hold your rope tight, while I give
it some study,” Winters replied. “Seems I
remember some smart remarks about my
badge made by you fellers, including
Rocky Covington.”
“Winters,” Covington seethed, “if you
don’t get these ropes off me, I’ll report
you to proper authorities and have you
fired. You’re as great a disgrace as this
dried-up country you live in. Now that I
think back a little, I’m satisfied you’ve
been part and parcel of this dirty, lowdown
prank that’s been played on me.” Rocky
bounced and twisted, but was unable to get
up. “Winters, trifling excuse for a human
being though you are, release me. Delay
another second, and it will cost you your
job.”
INTERS drew a hand across his
mustache. “You’ve just made me
think of a problem, Rocky. I’ve got these
three unofficial undertakers that’s to be
took care of. Only way I can get them to
town is in their hack. Now, seeing as there
ain’t no extra horse for you to ride, I
reckon you can go back like you come.”
“Winters!” screamed Covington.
Winters also screamed. “Yonderlook,
it’s When’s when. Slam that lid shut and
haul this braggart back to town, same as
how you fetched him here.”
While Covington screamed and
threatened, Yonderlook and his brethren
battened him down, hoisted his prison and
carried it up, over and down to their
waiting team and vehicle. Winters, on
Cannon Ball, followed.
In seconds they were off on a wild
ride, Sir Frederick and Sir George up
front, Sir Edward seated on Rocky’s long
box. They reached Elkhorn Road and
headed east.
Winters, riding at a lope behind them,
gigged up close and yelled, “What’s
wrong with your royal highnesses? Can’t
you go any faster?”
“Aye,” Yonderlook shouted back,
“wind was never faster than we can go.
Hi-yee!” Lashing whip and slapping lines
set up a hurricane of clattering hoofs and
rumbling, bouncing wheels.
Winters pulled his hat down tight and
pursued. Those blacks up ahead were
tornadoes when it came to speed, and
Cannon Ball had to stretch out. “Faster!”
Winters yelled. Then he said to himself,
Most likely tomorrow I’ll be ashamed of
this, but right now I’m enjoying it a sight.
W

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