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The Sheriff, the Wolf and the Gunslinger (Part 2)
Mick Stratton
(This a continuation of the story “The Sheriff, the Wolf and the Gunslinger (Part 1).” If you have not read that please read if first.)

In the following years after Jake became sheriff he only had to use the ax handle twice. Because the town was so peaceful, Jake, early in the morning, would often mount his buckskin, take his Winchester and go hunting for a deer, raccoon or rabbit. Of course Wolf always went with him.

One day Jake was sitting in front of the sheriff's office smoking a cigar. Wolf was right there, laying down a few yards away observing the townspeople as they went about their business. 

Then, out of the dry-goods store flew the kids, running across the street and up to Jake. 

Jake looked at them and said, “Princess, Rafael, what are you two all excited about?”

Marsan said, “We were sitting at the doorstep going into the saloon listening to some of the men talking about gunfighters.”

Jake responded, “You don't say, Princess. Did they say anything interesting?”

Rafael spoke up, “They were arguing who was the fastest gun fighter who ever lived.” One said it was Wild Bill Hickok, Another said it was Billy the Kid, but the other two said it was Rip Thorn. Paige agreed it was Rip Thorn.

Jake answered, “She did, did she?” 

Princess said, “One of the men said he was in a fight with three men, out drew them and killed all three. Jake is that possible?”

Jake was quiet for a few seconds and the said, “Yes it is.”

Rafael added, “They said that he was different than the others because he was polite to most people and would only kill bad guys who were bullying others. Is that true Jake? Did you know him?”

Jake gave a sad smile and said, “Yes I knew him, but he killed someone who wasn't bad; I saw him do it, and it really angered me.”

Marsan asked, “Did you like him?”

Rafael added, “What happened? Did you tell him off?”

Jake answered, “We rode together on several cattle drives. I liked him for the most part, but he had a temper and was too fast to settle things with his gun. That I didn't like and he knew it.

“I was there that night when Rip Thorn drew and killed the three. After it was over he knew exactly how I felt toward him, which was not good.

“Rip was playing poker when two ruffians with a young cowboy came into the saloon and started causing trouble. 

“After one of them slapped one of the working girls Rip jumped to his feet and angrily called them out. The area cleared likety split so there were now only him and the three men. The ruffians went for their guns and in less than a heartbeat Rip drew and plugged them both. The boy's gun had not cleared his holster because he hesitated since he really didn't want to be involved. Unfortunately Rip shot a third time before he could stop and the kid fell over dead.
“The town declared it was self-defense but Rip knew he should never have shot the kid, and I berated him for it.”

Rafael asked, “Did he get mad at you?” 

“He agreed with me. It was shortly after that that I quit cowboying and came here. I got tired of all the fighting and just wanted to live a quiet, boring life.”

Marsan asked, “What happened to Rip Thorn?”

“He disappeared to who knows where. Some say it was because he killed the kid. He has never been seen since.”

Marsan hugged Jake and said, “I love you. You better never leave us!”

Jake, kissed her on the forehead and said, “When it's time….”

As the years passed Marsan and Rafael did what kids do, grew and matured. Marsan had grown into a very attractive fourteen year old young lady, while Rafael became a tall lanky lad.
One day Rafael told Jake he wanted Jake to teach him how to shoot a rifle so he too, could go hunting. Marsan said she wanted to learn also, but because she was a girl she realized that would never happen. Jake laughed and told the kids to get permission from their parents and he would teach them both.

They quickly became crack shots and, after Rafael scraped up enough money to buy his own rifle, he began to go hunting in the morning and the evenings. Sometimes Wolf would go with him, for he liked both of the kids.

A year or so later Rafael asked Jake if he would teach him to shoot a pistol. Jake hesitated but eventually did, telling the boy that a pistol is a tool, but if used with anger it could cause evil to happen.

Rafael quickly became an excellent shot with the pistol and after a while started practicing fast draw, becoming quite good at that also. Jake kept an eye on him often telling him stories about gun fights that never needed to have happened. He always ended by saying, “If those involved used their brains instead of their tempers to solve their disagreements many a life would be saved.”

Though Jake trusted Rafael, he did have some concern. Rafael had become fast, very fast. Maybe fast enough to give Rip Thorn a run for his money.

Then one day, after Rafael had turned eighteen and Jake was off hunting, and a couple of ornery ruffians rode into town. They entered the saloon and started to get drunk. In a short time they stated to throw glasses into the air, drawing and shooting them. 

As Jake was riding in he heard the shooting and raced his horse to the saloon. He jumped off the buckskin and upon entering saw both of the ruffians on the floor, out cold. Standing above them with his gun in his holster and an ax handle in his hand was Rafael. 
Rafael looked at Jake and said, “I had no choice.”

Jake said, “You had choices and you chose wisely; when the time comes you'll do.” He then turned around and walked out.

After Jake left, Marsan went up to Rafael and asked, “What did he mean by that?”
Rafael shrugged his shoulders.

Paige whispered to herself, “The time is coming….”

Though the town was peaceful, the area to the west was having problems as there was a cattle rustling gang in the vicinity and a number of toughs were trying to develop a reputation as gunfighters. 

Wolf was getting old and did not move as he once did. Jake wondered how long he had left, since he was at least 13 years old. Jake started staying around town more, hunting was getting hard on Wolf, but he always felt he needed to go if Jake did. 

Jake also remained in town more because it had grown and there were more troublemakers coming in from the western part of the state. Though he never said it to anyone, the incident with Rafael had taken a big weight off his shoulders.
Late one afternoon several months after the Rafael incident, Jake was sitting in the chair in front of the sheriff's office with Wolf laying down several feet away when two drifters rode down the street. Rafael had gone out hunting earlier and had not returned yet.

Jake sized up the two drifters and quickly recognized them as two gunslingers, the Johnson brothers, Don and Jeb. They had a reputation as cold, hard killers who hired out to whomever paid the most. There was also a rumor they were part of the rustling gang. They rode over to the saloon, dismounted and went in. Jake got up and walked into the sheriff's office. When he came out he told Wolf to stay, and started toward the saloon.

The drifters had looked at the sheriff from a distance, aware of his reputation as a hard customer, but also that he never carried a gun. That was enough for them because they did carry guns and were a lot tougher than the ordinary cowboy or drifter, so that they had no fear of an unarmed sheriff.

Once inside they sauntered up to the bar to order a drink. Several of the townsmen were at the bar, so it was crowded. The two each grabbed a customer and shoved them out of the way, ordered their drinks and told the people if anybody caused them trouble they would be killed. Paige was behind the bar and John was at the end. Marsan was working behind the counter in the dry-goods store but could hear the commotion in the saloon. John started to say something, but Jeb Johnson drew his gun and said “Shut up or you're dead.” 

The place was deadly silent as Don said, “We plan on being here a while and expect you all to do what we say, and if that sheriff of yours tries to stop us that will be the last thing he ever does.”

Then from out in the street they heard a low, hard voice say, “You Johnson brothers come out and saddle up. You are to leave town right now.”

The brothers stepped out and saw Jake standing in the middle of the street. 

Marsan had run to the entrance on the dry-goods store side. How would Jake be able to handle these two thugs with just an ax handle? When she got to the door she saw Jake, but no ax handle, and then she noticed something different about Jake. He was wearing a six-shooter slung low on his hip and tied down.

Rafael was coming back from hunting and was about a quarter of a mile away. He saw there was something happening in the street; wondering what it was, he picked up his pace, but he arrived too late.

The two brothers eyed Jake and then moved apart onto the street. One was at Jake's ten o'clock and the other at his two. Neither of them, nor Jake, saw Wolf who had ignored Jake's command and was standing about ten feet away in line with the two gunslingers.
Don said, “Sheriff, I am sure either one of us could beat you to the draw; but there are two of us and that guarantees your death. Undo your gun belt, mount up and ride out of town or we will kill you as you stand.”

Jake responded, “I am going to count to three, if you haven't started to unbuckle your gun belts I will shoot you both.” And then, “One, two…”

Don and Jeb went for their guns; before Don could clear leather there was an explosion and a bullet hole appeared between his eyes. Jake then swung his pistol toward Jeb but was too late. Wolf, slow and old as he was, had taken Jeb down. In the struggle Jeb pulled his gun and shot the wolf twice in the chest before Wolf ripped his jugular open. 

Jake ran to the wolf, knelt down, put his hand on the wolf's face and with tears in his eye whispered, “Your last hurrah, my friend, and a great one it was indeed.”

Wolf licked Jake's hand, then as he laid his head down; Jake felt Wolf's spirit rise from his body, to go home to where all noble animals go when they're through with their earthly tasks.

He gathered Wolf up into his arms and started up the path to the top the hill where the town cemetery was located. As he started up many of the townspeople started to follow him. He turned around and softly said, “No, please don't come with me.”

Marsan and Rafael, who also started following, stopped and Marsan let out a sob. Jake looked over at them and said, “You youngsters grab a couple of shovels.” The two ran to the dry-goods store, grabbed two shovels and ran to catch up.

Jake held Wolf in his arms looking toward the setting sun as Marsan and Rafael started digging. The townspeople respectfully stayed at the bottom of the hill and watched. Once the grave was dug, Jake gently put Wolf in it. Then he stood back up as the youngsters covered the grave.

The townspeople looked on as the three stood at the top of the hill in silence. Marsan was shaking with grief, so Rafael put his arm around her. After a few minutes the two youngsters headed down the hill, but Jake just stood there. 

As John and Paige went to bed that night, they looked out the window to see the lone man still standing over Wolf's grave.

The next morning the town came out to see Jake saddling the buckskin, his gun riding low on his hip. Marsan realized that there was something different about him; then she realized he was clean shaven, no beard and no mustashe. She ran up to him, hugged him and with panic in her voice said, “Jake, what are you doing?”

He kissed her on the forehead, mounted, gave her a sad smile and said, “It's time.” Then he looked at Rafael and said, “Son, take good care of Princess and the town. I'm leaving it in good hands.” He then turned and rode off.

Marsan ran into Rafael's arms and whispered, “Why, oh why is he leaving? I don't want him to!”

Paige had walked up next to the young man and woman, and said, “There are others that will be very upset that Jake is leaving us also.” 

Marsan looked confused and said, “Why, do they know Jake?”

Paige hesitated for a second and then said, “No, no one west of here knows Jake or have even heard of him by name, but they all know and fear Rip Thorn, and he is returning to the fray.”