By Chris Bunton
“Hello in the camp! Permission to enter.”
A man’s voice yelled from the darkness.
Paul knew someone was out there creeping around but there wasn’t much he could do except watch and wait. He stirred the fire with a stick. Sparks rose up, and the fire got a little brighter. Then he laid the stick down propped up on a rock.
“Yep! Come on up.” He yelled back into the darkness.
He loosened his pistol in its holster as he rose, and leaned the scattergun against the tree where he had been sitting.
You never meet a man while sitting down; especially a stranger in the dark woods, in camp.
The man came out of the Missouri darkness, and into the light of the camp. He wasn’t dressed for the woods. He was dressed like a man who came from town on a fresh horse, with money in his pocket and a mission on his mind. Maybe it was the Bowler Hat he wore.
The man wore a grey jacket, tan pants and a gun belt. He extended his hand to Paul.
“Benson Roberts, from Chicago” He said.
Paul took his hand and shook it.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Paul Johnson from the sovereign state of Missouri. What brings you around here?” Paul asked.
Benson smiled at the greeting.
“Well, I’m looking for someone actually.” Benson said.
“Ok” Paul said. “Come sit by the fire.”
Paul walked over to his spot against the tree, and near his scattergun. He sat down on the ground, with his legs out in front. Leaning back against the tree.
Benson sat on the other side of the fire ring, on a rock. Paul made sure Benson was well lit, while he himself was somewhat in shadow.
Paul poked the fire with a stick to make it glow more.
“Who you lookin for?” Paul asked.
His horse’s head moved up and down, looking into the darkness. It’s possible there were more strangers out there waiting.
“There’s been some bank and train robberies going on in the area.” Benson said.
“I heard about that” Paul answered.
“I’m with a group called The Pinkerton Detective Service. We’ve been hired to identify and eliminate the folks guilty of these robberies.” Benson said.
“No Trial?” Paul asked.
“Well, there’s a trial before the hangin if they surrender. But, we doubt they’ll surrender.” Benson answered.
“I see.” Paul said.
“Have you seen any suspicious people in the area?” Benson asked.
“Just you.” Paul said.
“Yeah, I sure don’t fit in around here do I?”
Paul poked at the fire. He heard a twig snap in the darkness.
“Any idea who did it?” Paul asked.
“Well, we think it was some former Confederate Guerilla Bushwhackers who have decided to turn to crime instead of going back to farming.” Benson said.
“I see.” Paul said.
“Do you know any former Bushwhackers?” Benson asked, noticing that Paul was about the right age.
“I can’t say that I do. But, I do know a lot of people who are being punished for choosing the wrong side in that war. A lot of peoples farms burned and kin killed. It’s hard to go back to farmin, when your farm was burned by your neighbors.” Paul said.
“Yep, that war caused a lot of trouble. But, I’m not about debating right or wrong. I’m hired to do a job, and I’m going to do it.” Benson said.
“Those banks and trains were working to destroy people and keep them down. I don’t care nothin for’em.” Paul said matter of factly.
“I don’t care nothing for’em either. But, they pay well.” Benson replied.
“So, who sent you here? It’s odd for you to be in the woods all alone.”
“I can’t really say who sent me here, or anything else.” Benson answered.
“Well, ok.” Paul said as he started to rise. “It’s been good chattin with you, and good luck on your search. But, I need to get to bed.” Paul said, hinting that it was time for the man to go.
He stood up straight and looked at Benson who was still seated, across the fire.
Paul reached down and picked up a handful of sticks, then stepped toward the fire.
Then, in one swift motion Paul dropped the sticks and leapt across the fire. His Colt .45 Peacemaker was drawn and cocked while in mid-flight.
Benson stood and tried to draw, but Paul was on him; the barrel of his pistol against the Pinkerton’s chest.
Several shouts came from the dark woods around them, as Benson’s posse realized they could not murder Paul without killing Benson. Not that they cared. The people of these parts really had no love for Pinkertons, but they wouldn’t get paid.
Benson stopped reaching for his gun and slowly put his hands up as Paul swung around behind him and stuck the Peacemaker to Benson’s temple.
“You Pinkertons are scum. You throw bombs into people’s houses, and kill children; you stab people in the back and hang them without trial; people who were never really criminals.” Paul sneered into Benson’s ear. His lips close enough for a kiss.
“You and your people are former confederates, murderers and thieves, you are criminals, and do not deserve a trial, or mercy.” Benson said, loud enough for the posse in the woods to hear. Loud enough to convince everyone of the cause, even trying to convince himself.
Paul’s arm was around Benson’s neck, his pistol against his ear. He started backing up away from the fire and pulling Benson with him.
“All that is lies. We’ve done nothing but try to survive, stay free and protect our way of life. You should have just left us alone.” Paul said.
“Well, we’re past all that now.”
“Are we? Or are you all just getting revenge on people who refused to obey you? People who refused to accept what you had planned for them?”
“It’s a war.”
“That’s right it is a war.” Paul said, as he kept pulling Benson toward the darkness, where no one could see and all things were equal.
“We will hunt you till you and everyone of your family and friends are dead.” Benson said.
“They already are dead. My mother was raped and shot by the Union home guard. Some of them were her friends and neighbors who were supposed to protect them. Some of them were men from our church. I have no friends or family. You and yours took them and corrupted them. You raped and killed them.”
Paul was at the edge of darkness holding Benson. His arm around Benson’s neck tightening. The pistol poking over and over into the side of Benson’s head, as Paul spoke.
“I know you’ll never stop coming. And I know you’ll murder me from behind or hang me while a crowd watches. But, on that day, I will stand before the Lord, and I do not want your murder on my soul. I have had enough.”
With that, Paul let Benson go, booted him toward the fire, and disappeared into the darkness.
Benson stumbled, his feet tripping over the burning stones and sticks. He spun and drew his pistol but Paul was gone.
Two men came out from the darkness of the woods. One carried a Winchester 1873, and the other carried a double-barreled shotgun. They were members of Benson’s posse; a couple of local toughs Benson had hired and convinced to betray their neighbor.
“You all right?” one asked.
“Yeah.” Benson said, slightly humiliated that Paul had gotten the drop on him, in front of these men. He reached down and picked up his hat, which had fallen.
“Where’s our money?” The other one asked.
“You don’t get paid. He got away.” Benson said.
Both men stepped back and turned, leveling their weapons on Benson.
“You’re just like the rest of the Federal thieves and liars. Thinking you own us.” One of the men said.
Benson raised his hands.
“Come on fellas, be reasonable.” Benson pleaded.
“We’re all past that now.” The other said.
“It’s time for revenge.”