Chapter Three—Hannibal Landers

     Well, I guess I better spend a little time introducing myself and explaining why I was in Pine Valley and had left a few dead bodies in New Mexico. It wasn’t a pretty story.
     My Pa and Ma were named Joshua and Claire Landers. They were good people, very good, and they did their best to raise me, their only child. Not only were Josh and Claire good people, they tended to be exceptional people. Both of them were as sharp as a whip, Ma had talents as a musician, seamstress, candle maker, and a few other things that were just natural to her. Pa was strong, and a natural around a ranch—horses and cattle both seemed to understand him and respond to him. Pa and Ma were both kind, gentle people, though Pa wouldn’t back down to anybody. He didn’t go looking for trouble, but he didn’t avoid it when it found him. And I never knew it when trouble wished it hadn’t found him. Except once. More on that later. Bottom line is, both of my parents were well-loved and well-respected in the Rio Plata area in which we lived.
     Their only child, Hannibal—me—seemed to inherit some of the traits of both parents, or a combining thereof. I never got the hang of candle making, though. Incidentally, my friends used to call me “HanLan,” which I didn’t especially like, but I never objected. Unless somebody started making fun of me and then I’d belt him and that would be the end of it.
     We Landers—Pa and Ma, actually—owned a small ranch, about a section, and we ran some cattle and horses, raised a few chickens and pigs, and did all right. We didn’t get wealthy, but we didn’t starve, either. In fact, we even had one luxury—a Japanese cook. Ma Landers was outstanding in the kitchen, but Pa hired the Jap anyway and it did take a burden off ma’s shoulders. And that little yellow monkey was good at other things besides cooking. More on that later, too.
     Me? I worked the cattle, mostly, and went to school. I had a quick mind and, from the very earliest stages of my life, lightening quick reactions. Pa said that in a duel between me and a rattler to see who could strike first, he would have bet on me every time. I decided never to test his hypothesis. But I knew, from playing games with the other boys in the area, that I had a little something they didn’t have. I didn’t show off or boast about it, but I knew it was there.
     And, one more thing. Pa put a pistol in my hand for the first time when I was five years old. Set up five bottles 50 feet away and told me to see how close I could get to any of them. After six shots, four of the bottles were gone. I remember Pa’s dumbstruck face, and then he laughed.
     “Boy,” he said, “if we get attacked by Injuns, I’m gonna put you in the front line.” At five years old, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. I mean, Pa had told me to shoot the bottles and that’s what I did. I was upset that I had missed one of them, and I thought he would be, too. Apparently he wasn’t.
     Anyway, as I said, I generally worked the cattle. I had to stay out with the herd--we generally had about 50--because our land wasn't fenced and I needed to keep them from wandering.  We didn't have any water, either, except for that which we pumped out of a windmill near the house, so I'd head the cattle in each night, let them drink, then pen them up.  And do it all over again the next day.  It can get kinda boring watching cattle eat, so I spent a few years learning more about how to use a gun. And a rifle. After that much practice, I could pretty well shoot a fly on the wing. And I spent considerable amount of my bored time working on a quick draw. Not that I ever intended to be a gunslick. I was just…bored watching cattle eat.
     Pa knew I could shoot, but he never really paid much mind until I was about 15. Then one day he came out on the range. I was idly fiddling with my gun and he asked, “How good are you with that thing now?”
     I glanced at him. About that time a sparrow came flying by, a little too low. I holstered, drew, and blew the poor little critter out of the sky. I immediately felt regret because I hated killing anything but snakes and spiders. But Pa had asked so I thought I’d show him.
     He pursed his lips, then looked at me seriously. “Watch that, Hannibal,” he said. “There prolly ain’t another man alive that can do that. And I never even saw you move.” Then he nodded towards my rifle. “How about that thing?”
     I unsheathed the rifle—I had a Sharps at the time—and looked around, finally spotting a likely target. “You see that little rock sitting on that big boulder over yonder?” I pointed.
     Pa nodded. “That’s at least 500 yards away.”
     “Uh huh.” I aimed, fired, and the rock disappeared. “That was an easy shot,” I said, and Pa laughed. I didn’t know why, I was being serious. I could shoot the antennae off an ant at 600 yards. I’m being a little facetious, but hey, I like to brag sometimes, too. And it ain’t braggin’ if’n ye kin do it…
     Then he got serious. “Don’t ever aim at anything with two legs that doesn’t aim at you first. Never kill a man, Hannibal, who isn’t asking for it and doesn’t need it.”
     “Yessir.” I knew there were some rotten folks in the world, but I had never thought about killing any of them. I played with my guns because I was…bored watching cattle eat.

     But, unfortunately, some of the seedier constituents of humanity tested me the next year. I was sitting under a tree, sharpening my throwing knife—I was pretty good with it, too—when I saw three men riding in my direction. I stood up and watched them come. As they rode nearer, I didn’t like what I saw—three Mexicans, dirty, grimy, sunburned, and mean looking. They pulled up about 30 feet from me and one of them grinned, but it wasn’t because he was being friendly.
     “Ah, what have we here?” he asked. “A muchacho guarding the cattle, no? They leave such a young boy to do a man’s job?”
     “I get by,” I said, my eyes narrow as I watched them. All three were armed and looked mighty dangerous.
     “I am sure you do, muchacho.” He spoke to his companions. “And look, Pedro, Felix—the little muchacho wears a big gun.” He laughed out loud and his companions laughed with him. Then to me, El Boca Grande said, “You must be careful, muchacho, not to shoot yourself in the foot.”
     “I’ll keep that in mind,” I replied. I hadn’t moved.
     The leader seemed to be a little perplexed that I wasn’t intimidated and scared. He scrutinized me up and down. “We would like to…borrow…some of your cows, muchacho. Do you have any objection?”
     “How many do you want to…’borrow’?” I asked, just making conversation now. These guys were rustlers, which I suspected all along, and I imagined they wanted to “borrow” all of what we had.
     And sure enough, Boca Grande replied, “All of them.” And he and his compadres laughed out loud again.
     “And if I object?” I answered.
     “Then we kill you.” Another laugh.
     “Well, feller,” I said, “My pa would be awful mad if I let you borrow all of our cows. But he might not be quite as mad if I died while you were doing it. So I reckon the answer is no, you can’t have our cattle, and yes, you’ll have to kill me to get them.”
     “Aw, it is such a shame that one so young has to die…” And as he was talking, he went for his gun.
     He barely got his hand around the grip. The other two never even touched their guns.
     I sighed, holding a smoking gun. I hadn’t wanted to do that, but honestly, it hadn’t been too hard, either. I learned right then that killing human snakes wasn’t much more difficult than killing snake snakes. But I hoped I wouldn’t have to do it again.
     I had knocked the three banditos from their horses with my bullets, so I loaded them up and took them back to the house. Pa was chopping wood and I could see his eyes narrow as I approached, leading three horses with dead bodies draped over them.
     “Rustlers,” I said, as he pulled the hair of one of them, lifting his head to look at him. I saw him wince at the bullet hole in the middle of the outlaw’s forehead. The other two fellows had similar holes.
     Pa glanced at me, a grave expression on his face, and nodded. “Take them into town to the sheriff.” So I did.
     Come to find out these were the Vasquez boys. I’d heard of them. They’d been rustling cattle in New Mexico for a long time. The sheriff was surprised when I brought them in.
     “Your pa get ‘em?” he asked me.
     “No. I did.”
     “You mean you helped him?”
     “No. I mean I got them all by myself.”
     He inspected the bodies and looked very skeptical. “You mean to tell me you shot all three of these hoodlums, in the forehead, all by yourself? You expect me to believe that?”
     “I don’t care if you do or not,” I replied. “Do you want them or would you prefer I dump them out in the desert somewhere and so that the buzzards can eat?”
     He scratched his jaw, not sure whether to believe me or not. I had kept my abilities with a gun out on our property so he had no idea how good I was. “No, I have to take them. You’ve got a reward coming, you know. $500 for each of them. I’ll get it to you in a couple of days.”
     “Great,” I said as I mounted my horse. “I can buy a new pair of boots…”
     And apparently nobody else believed I killed the Vasquez boys all by my lonesome, either, because I was never asked about it. I was still Josh and Claire Landers’ snotty nosed punk kid…

     Kiko was the name of our Japanese cook. He didn’t say much, but we all got along. One reason he didn’t say much is that he didn’t speak much English. Or at least he didn’t speak much. He seemed to understand every word we said, though.
     He was maybe 10 years older than me; it was hard to tell. One day I was flipping my knife against the barn door and he came up. “We fight,” he said.
     I gave him a puzzled look. “Do what?”
     “You. Me. Fight.”
     “I show you how.”
     Well, I thought I already knew how. I could lick any boy my age in town and not work up a sweat. “Kiko, I know how to fight. Thanks, anyway.”
     “No, you not know. I show you.”
     I sighed. He was at least a half a foot shorter than me and 50 pounds lighter. I didn’t want to hurt him so I’d try not to.
    “All right,” I said, and quickly feinted a left towards him, intending to deck him with my right. Getting the first punch in was always a good thing in a scrap.
     About two seconds later, I was flat on my back looking up at the sky. I had no idea what had happened except that I had done a flip over Kiko’s shoulder. I got up, looked at him strangely, and made another move on him. And ended up watching clouds again.
     I wasn’t stupid. I stayed on the ground this time. “How did you do that?” I asked him.
     He smiled, something he rarely did. “I show you how to fight.”
     So he did. Judo and jujitsu, he called it, and he knew how to box, too—with his feet. Well, he had some strange Japanese word for it that I never could pronounce, but he translated it “kick boxing.” You box, and then when your opponent least expected it, you gave him a swift kick where it would do some good. It was plenty effective.
     For two years, at least three times a week, Kiko taught me how to fight. I got almost—almost—as good as he was, and indeed I could lick him about 4 times out of 10. We were both careful so neither of us ever got hurt, but I was very proud when he told me, “You could win championship in Japan.” Then he grinned. “Second place. After me.” I grabbed him and threw him. He laughed. “Very good. Surprise. Always surprise. Never do what opponent expects.”
     I had to try some of this stuff out, of course. So I did what Ma didn’t want me to do one Saturday and headed to the saloon in town. I figured if I couldn’t get into a fight there, I probably couldn’t get into one anywhere.
     I was about 20 then, so I was old enough to be there. And to know I shouldn’t be. Being Saturday night, it was crowded, it was rowdy, and it would probably erupt before long. Given I had a conscience instilled by my Ma—sometimes she could be aggravating—I decided I’d start something so I could get out of there pretty quick.
     I muscled up to the bar, pushing a couple of fellows out of the way—a couple of BIG fellows, and that was deliberate.
     “Hey, watch it, kid. You almost caused me to spill my drink.”
     “Aw, shut up,” I said. “I probably would have done you a favor since I doubt you can hold you liquor anyway.”
     The fellow inspected me quizzically. “What did you say?”
     I looked at him. He was a good three inches taller than me, probably 20 pounds heavier. Made no difference; remember I was a half foot taller than Kiko and bested him by 50 pounds. Balance, not weight, he had told me 1,000 times.
     I gave him a snide expression. “You’re as deaf as you are ugly. And dumb.”
     He was getting a little hot under the collar. “Boy, why don’t you go ahead and leave and I’ll forget you said that. Otherwise, I’m going to have to teach you a lesson.”
     I turned to him, and as sarcastically as I could, I said, “You couldn’t teach a baby how to burp.”
     That did it. His eyes got big and he exploded. “Why you little punk…” He led with his right. He never came within two feet of hitting me. He went flying across the room with a holler, landed on a table full of poker money and cards, stirred up a hornet’s nest by doing so, and the brawl was on. I fought for about 10 minutes, practicing everything Kiko taught me. It worked, too. When I had enough, I snuck out. The fight was still going on.
     Nobody ever said a word to me about starting that fracas.

     But a couple of years ago, things began to turn sour and the story was an old and common one—greed and power. Arn Cooper owned the biggest ranch in the Rio Plata and he wanted more. As in everybody else’s ranch, too. He tried to buy folks out—at ridiculous prices. He made my pa an offer for our section and Pa just laughed at him.
     “Cooper, don’t insult me. My family loves it here and we don’t want to move—at any price, much less one that’s about a tenth what our land is worth. Why can’t you just be satisfied with what you have? You’re the biggest rancher around, you have a lot of respect, the rest of us would be happy to work along with you and make this a good cattle county. There’s no call for this.”
     But, to Arn Cooper there was. Men become very unreasonable when money starts floating in front of them and Cooper had lost all sense of rationality. He convinced himself that the whole Rio Plata region belonged to him and that by even offering to pay pa and the other smaller ranches for their property, he was doing them a favor—even if his offers were, as pa said, insulting. To Cooper, it was his land anyway, so why should he pay any more for it than he wanted to?
     There were six other ranchers in the region that Cooper was trying to buy out, all of them with spreads about the size of ours. A few of them were frightened at what Cooper might do—especially when we began to see men in town (Rio Plata was the name of the town, too) who didn’t look a bit like ranch hands but were obviously on Cooper’s payroll. I asked one of them one time if he had a piggin string I could borrow and his answer was “What’s that?” That’s all I needed to know. The man was a hired gun, and he had about 10 helpers with him. It must have been costing Cooper a wad because those fellows don’t come cheap.
     The other six ranchers—Bates, Gilmore, Franklin, Causey, Ahrenhart, and Delay met at our place one evening to come up with some kind of strategy for defense.
     “Joshua,” Will Causey said to my pa, “Cooper’s hired him some gunmen now. Tom Dilotto and Peek Hanley are two of ‘em and those boys play for keeps. What are we going to do?”
     “We’re going to protect our land, Will. We’re going to fight for what’s ours because that’s what men do. I’ve got a fellow we can use to help us. He’ll be sort of a roving patrolman if you will. We’ll stop ‘em.”
     “Who’s your man, Joshua?” Gus Franklin asked. “And how much will he cost us? And will one be enough? Look how many Cooper has.”
     I remember Pa’s smile very well. “You fellows just let me know if you see anything suspicious around your property, as in Cooper might be up to something nasty. I’ll handle it from there.”
     The other men weren’t terribly thrilled with the idea; they wanted to know more, but Pa asked them to trust him, and they agreed to do it.
     And it almost worked.
     When the six ranchers left the meeting that night, Ma asked Pa, “Joshua, what do you have in mind? Have you hired your own gunman?” Ma wouldn’t have gone along with that at all.
     “Don’t have to, Ma.” He always called her that when I was around. “We’ve got the best gunman in the area in our own house.” And he smiled again.
     It took Ma and me a few seconds to figure out what he was saying. Then Ma exploded. “No! Joshua, I will not let you put that boy’s life at risk.”
     “Claire, look at him. He’s not a ‘boy’ any more. He’s a grown man. And he’s the best with a gun I’ve ever seen.” He looked at me. “Son, this land is going to be yours when your Ma and me pass on. Are you willing to fight for it now? ‘Cause if you ain’t, there’s no sense in me leavin’ it to you when I’m gone.”
     I was a little nonplussed, but there was no question what I was going to do. “Well, of course I’ll fight for it, Pa. What do you want me to do?”
     “Keep your guns loaded.”
     Ma continued her protest but to no avail. And she really didn’t put up that much of a fuss. It had to be done and she knew it. But she was my Ma and always would be which meant she’d always worry about me. That’s what mothers do.

     To Cooper and his men, I was just a young punk kid. They had no idea how good I was with a gun and so I posed no threat to them at all. So Pa stationed me in town a lot to keep my ears open. “If you see any of Cooper’s men in Rio Plata,” he told me, “you try to get as close as you can, as inconspicuously as you can, and see what you can find out.” Well, Ma didn’t like it, but I spent a lot of time in the local saloon—drinking sarsaparilla and playing poker. And listening for anything of interest. And the town grapevine suggested that Cooper was about to have his men burn Barry Gilmore out as a lesson and inducement to the other ranchers as to what would happen to them if they didn’t sell out. I didn’t know exactly what night they planned to hit the Gilmore place, so after scouting around a bit, I found a nice location on a small hill above the house and barn where I had a panoramic view of the whole ranch house area. And I was out of sight. I’d hear them and when I did…it would be like shooting ducks in a pond. Not that I ever did that….
     I didn’t have to wait long. The second night I was camped out above the Gilmore place, I heard the rumble of horses’ hooves and knew what was about to happen. It was dark, of course, but if you want to burn somebody out, you’ve got to have torches and such. So Cooper’s boys rode in hell bent for leather, and I put five horses on the ground before those outlaws got to within 100 yards of the house. I shot the horses rather than the men and always regretted it later. But those fellows turned and skedaddled and Barry Gilmore was left standing on his front porch in his pajamas scratching his head. He had no idea what had happened, either, though I reckoned he figured that Pa’s secret agent had been at work. Never got to talk to Gilmore about it.
     I was in Rio Plata the next day and there were some mighty feisty men there. And upset. Cooper was paying them good money and they didn’t like to fail any more than he wanted them to. I didn’t get any idea what they might be up to next, but the following day, Will Causey showed up at our ranch.
     “Joshua, my boy has spotted a couple of strangers riding on the edge of our land. I’m not sure what it means, but I’m a little worried about it.”
     Pa cast a quick glance at me and then gave an almost imperceptible nod. We both knew what it meant. Cooper’s men were reconnoitering. They weren’t about to let what happened at Gilmore’s happen again.
     Pa went with me this time. I got on top of the barn and he found a shallow ditch on the other side of the house and lay there. Causey never even knew we were there. Cooper’s men came from three directions, but that didn’t bother me or Pa any. I saw him point at two of the groups, indicating they were mine, and he took the third party. We actually had them in a pretty good crossfire. A few dead horses and a couple of wounded men later and they were hightailing off Causey’s land like the devil was after them. This was supposed to be easy for them but it wasn’t. Pa and I snuck off Causey’s land before he saw us.
     I wish I had been a fly on the wall at Cooper’s ranch house. These piddly little two-bit ranchers were defying him—and getting away with it. Well, we almost did get away with it. Cooper knew that Pa was the ringleader of the opposition so he finally tried to do what I would have done in the first place—kill Pa and the rest would scatter.
     And, unfortunately, he succeeded.
     Our big mistake was not thinking Cooper would hit during the day, that is, he’d only authorize night raids. But he changed his tactic. I went into town again a couple of days after the Causey raid and was a little surprised to see that none of Cooper’s men were there—there had always been a handful of them, mostly the gunmen, but not that day. It took me a few minutes too long to add two and two.
     I had Raven then and—no pun intended—he could fly. It was about five miles out to our ranch house and that horse made it in record time. But as I got near, I could see the smoke. Then I heard some rifle fire. By the time I got to the house, it was over. I saw Cooper’s men riding off. I pulled my rifle and nailed a couple of them—and I wasn’t aiming for horses, either. But that didn’t do Pa and Ma or our home any good. The ranch house was almost finished, as was the barn, and there were dead animals everywhere. I had no doubt that our cattle had met the same fate.
    I found Pa and Ma—and Kiko—between the house and barn, all of them shot full of holes. I wept for a solid hour, then buried them. I found the two men I had shot, put them on their horses, and rode into town with them, straight to the sheriff’s office.
     “Sheriff, you ever seen these two men before?”
     He was as crooked as a barrel full of snakes, so I wasn’t surprised to hear him say, ‘No, can’t rightly say I have.”
     “You’re a liar, sheriff,” I said to him. I was in absolutely no mood to be nice to anybody. “You know good and well that this scum is part of the crowd Arn Cooper hired to run the small ranchers out of the Rio Plata. They just burned us out and killed my father and mother. I nailed these two as they were trying to get away.” I looked him dead square in the eyes and he fidgeted. “Now, are you going to do something about it, or am I going to have to?”
     “Now, listen, son, I don’t rightly know these fellows were on Cooper’s payroll, and I’m sorry to hear about your ma and pa. I’ll do some investigating—“
     I never cursed but I had to bite my tongue not to do it that time. “Sheriff, by the time you get your pants pulled up, Cooper’s hired thugs will be 1,000 miles from here.” I mounted Raven. “I’ll leave a few more dead bodies for you at Cooper’s place.”
     That riled the sheriff some. “Now, boy, don’t you go over there. You’ll get yourself killed sure as shootin’. This is a matter for the law.”
     I looked at him with contempt. “Then why hasn’t the law done something to stop Arn Cooper?”
     “He hasn’t done anything wrong. Anything you can prove, that is.”
     Technically, he was right. Morally, he was wrong. I wasn’t going to win in a court of law. So I’d take the law into my own hands. “See you around, sheriff. No, come to think of it, you probably won’t.”
     I rode off towards the Cooper ranch. I actually had two gun belts—one that holstered only one gun, the other a two-gun outfit. I wore the two-gun belt now. That gave me twelve bullets. Plus 15 in my Winchester. I hoped to use them all, and then some.
     I rode straight up to the Cooper house. There were about seven or eight men standing around the front porch, drinking beer and laughing. Arn Cooper was one of them. They stopped drinking and laughing when I pulled up.
     “Well, you did it, Cooper. You killed my ma and pa and burned us out. Unfortunately for you, you aren’t going to live to tell your grandkids about it.”
     He snorted. “Kid, go home. I don’t know what you’re talking about. If your ma and pa are dead, I’m sorry to hear it. I had nothing to do with it.”
     “Oh, yes you did. Incidentally, the sheriff has the two that didn’t make it back. Not that that should bother you. It will simply be that much less you’ll have to shell out to these murdering sons of whores.”
     His eyes narrowed and the other men with him began turning and facing me. They were a rough looking, dangerous bunch, that’s for sure. But I didn’t care.
     “Kid, I told you, get on home. Or wherever you need to git now. There’s eight of us here. Surely you don’t think you can get all of us. And probably none of us. I’d hate for a young fellow like you, with all your life ahead of you, to end it here and now.”
     I dismounted and stood about 30 feet from them. “Yeah, Cooper, you’re right. There’s eight of you and, chances are, I’ll get plugged, too.” My eyes bore into his and he couldn’t hold contact. “But, Cooper, you’ll never know if they do or not because my first bullet is going straight into your heart.”
     And I meant what I said. Those eight men apparently thought the conversation was going to continue or that I would back down. What they didn’t expect was for me to draw both guns and start shooting. I had six of them on the ground before any of them could even pull a gun. And the other two froze, wide-eyed and…scared.
     “Holy Moses, I’ve never seen anything like that,” one of them muttered.
     The shooting brought a few more men—and Cooper’s wife—to the front of the house. I ejected my spent shells and reloaded my two guns. Arn Cooper’s wife was staring from me to her husband—who was dead on the front porch—then back to me again. Several of Cooper’s cowhands had gathered round, too, and were looking at me, none too friendly.
     But, I simply mounted Raven and looked at Mrs. Cooper. “Ma’am, I’m sorry for what I just did. Well, for your sake. But your husband just killed my father and mother, all our livestock, and burnt our ranch to the ground. Men like that have no business on the face of this earth.”
     She was looking at me, searching my face. She was twice my age and had obviously once been a pretty woman. But 20 years of living with Arn Cooper had taken its toll.
     She sighed. “He was not a good man, no. I tried to tell him that what he was doing was wrong, but he wouldn’t listen. He lost all sense of reason and proportion the last two years. He was obsessed with having this whole valley.” Some tears came to her eyes, but she smiled. “I’m very sorry to hear about your parents. Joshua and Claire Landers were as fine a people as I’ve ever known and they raised a good son.”
     I had to fight back tears, too. “Thank you, ma’am. The ranch is yours now, I suppose, and you can have ours—mine, too—but I’m going to get what it’s worth from you.”
     She nodded. “I don’t know what I’ll do yet.”
     I looked around and spotted Reggie Planters, Cooper’s foreman. He was a good man. “Reggie, take care of her.”
     He started to say something, but stopped. He just nodded his head.
     I turned and rode back to town.

     Barbara Cooper—Arn’s wife—might not have held me guilty of killing her husband, but the law would. I killed eight men, and even if she testified in my behalf, I was looking at a long jail sentence at best because I took the law into my own hands. So I obviously couldn’t stay in Rio Plata. Didn’t want to now anyway. But Arn Cooper owed me, and I intended to get payment in more than just blood.
     As I rode back to Rio Plata, I did some figuring and came to the conclusion that our ranch was worth about $15,000. So, when I got to town, I stopped at the bank.
     “I’d like to see Mr. Flowers,” I told the teller at the window. “It’s about a big withdrawal.” Glen Flowers was the bank manager.
     “Ok,” the clerk said. He pointed. “He’s in his office, right over there.”
     I knocked on Flowers’ door and, when invited, entered the room. He stood up. “Yes. Joshua Landers’ son, correct?”
     “Yes. My name is Hannibal. I’d like to make a withdrawal.”
     He looked a little puzzled. “Well, my teller should be able to handle that…”
     “No, not this time. Arn Cooper just killed my father and mother and destroyed our ranch. I want to close our account and withdraw $15,000 from the Cooper account in payment for our ranch.”
     He didn’t quite know what to say. “He killed—?”
     “Yes, “ I interrupted, and then pulled a gun. “Mr. Flowers, this is not a request. I don’t want anything but what is mine and what is owed me. Whatever is in the Landers account is mine now. I figure our ranch to be worth $15,000. Cooper is going to pay for it.”
     “Well, I don’t think Mr. Cooper—“
     Again I interrupted. “Arn Cooper will never be in this bank again.”
     He stared at me, especially after he got my meaning. “Mr. Landers, this is not legal.” I wonder how he figured that out….
     "No, but it’s justice. Now, how much is in—my account? And the rest from Cooper’s.”
     He looked at my gun. “You wouldn’t use that.”
     “I’ve already killed eight men today, Mr. Flowers. I don’t want to make it nine.” I was bluffing, but he didn’t know that. I wouldn’t have killed him, but I might have shot his ear off. Both of them, if he proved real obstinate.
     But he didn’t. He hemmed and hawed a minute until I cocked the gun and then we went back to the safe together. I saw him give his teller a quick nod, and then a few moments later, the fellow disappeared. Going after the sheriff, I assumed.
     I sighed. “I wish you hadn’t done that, Mr. Flowers.” I bopped him on the head with my gun and he shriveled to the floor. I took a minute to count out $16,133—$15,000 for the ranch and $1,133 in our account—put it in a sack, and headed for the front door.
     The sheriff entered when I was about 15 feet from the door. “Hold it right there, Landers. You’re under arrest.” He had his gun pointed at me.
     “For what?” I said. “All I did was withdraw all the money from my personal account and the $15,000 Barbara Cooper owes me for my ranch, which she now owns. She agreed to it.” Sort of.
     “Barbara?” he asked, a little perplexed.
     “Yeah. Arn wasn’t there to make the decision. Hard to make them from hell.”
     It took him a moment to catch my meaning, but by then it was too late. I had my pistol back in my hand. I fired twice, once knocking the gun out of his hand, and a second time hitting him in the shoulder. I didn’t really have to do the latter, but I hated crooked lawmen.
     “Don’t pursue me, sheriff. You won’t find me.”
     I pushed past him, tied the money bag onto my saddle, mounted up, and left Rio Plata.