When Montana Slim opened his eyes, he saw a face. His left hand immediately grabbed the adams apple below the face and his right hand went for his gun. He realized it wasn’t there about the same time he recognized Tennessee Jim and relaxed his grip.

  “Dang, Slim, take it easy,? Jim said, coughing, “you always did wake up touchy.?
 “Where’s my guns??
 “Well, we aint stupid, Slim. We took ‘em off ya. I didn’t want to get perforated before you realized who I was. Say, you sure picked a funny place to take a nap. What happened to you, anyway??

  Without speaking, Montana opened his coat. Jim, Chip and Stevie C leaned over him. In the dim light of dusk they could just make out a .30 caliber hole in his vest. Slim opened his vest and revealed a bulletproof vest underneath.
 “I aint stupid either,? Slim said, “and I thought I told you two to stay with the herd. They’re likely half way to Nebraska by now.?
 “Shorty and Vernon are with ‘em,? Steve said. “We figured you might need help, and it looks like we were right. What’s goin on, Slim??

  Montana Slim favored them with one of his famous looks. Reluctantly, he started to talk;
 “I’m trackin some pretty unsavory critters, boys. They’re crooked and ruthless and there aint too much they wouldn’t do. I think their base of operations is out here somewhere, but I haven’t figured out just where yet.?
 “You think they’re up north of here?? asked Jim, “cause Cyclone headed that way. You don’t suppose he’s in trouble, do you??
  “Well, we aint gonna know that ‘till we find him, are we?? Slim replied. “It’ll be full dark soon, and there won’t be much of a moon tonight. I’m headin north to find the pole cat that knocked me off my horse, and when I do, he’ll be the lucky one.?
  “How do you mean?? Steve asked.
  “My chest will be sore for a week, but he’ll be out of his misery.?
 Without another word, the four of them mounted up and rode north.

  I was completely bumfuzzled. I scrambled out of the way just before the little group got to me, although they didn’t even seem to know I was there. The feller in the middle with his hands tied raised his head as they went past me. He looked me right in the eye like he knew me from somewhere, but I sure couldn’t place him.
  When they reached the big cottonwood at the end of the street, the big guy with the badge tossed his rope over a stout limb about fifteen feet up. I could see marks on that limb that told me this wasn’t the first time it had been used for a hangin. Without ceremony, the noose was placed around the lanky cowboy’s neck. Then one of the vigilantes spoke.

  “Shug Maxwell you’ve been caught, tried, and found guilty of crimes against the association. I hereby sentence you to hang, and that’s just what you’re gonna do.?
  The prisoner was wild-eyed, but he looked more mad than scared as he spoke.
  “Yer a bunch of four-flushin crooks, and you’ll get what’s comin to ya….maybe not now or for a long time, but some day….some day…?

  At this point the rope was pulled tight and ‘Shug’ was jerked a couple feet off the ground. A cheer went up from the group as he kicked and twisted. It was more than I could take. I pulled my .44 and made the single best shot of my life, parting the rope right at the limb. The group of hangmen turned toward me with a horrified look. The one with the badge opened his mouth and a really strange sound came out of him.
  “OOOOOOWAAAOOOO? he went, and they all started to fade away! What I mean is, they got sort of…..transparent! Pretty soon they disappeared completely, except for the one with the noose around his neck. He just sat there starin at me with those weird, deep eyes. Then he spoke.

  “Them fools have hanged me every day for a hundred and twenty five years. I told ‘em they’d get it sooner or later, and now they’ve got it! They’re gone and I know where. Oh, it couldn’t have happened to a better bunch. I’ll tell you what, pardner, I don’t know what’s gonna happen to me now, but as long as I’m here, you’ve got a friend and that’s for sure.?

  He winked at me…and then he was gone! Suddenly, it was dark again. I found myself sittin on a wooden sidewalk in a howlin rainstorm, shakin my head.
  “Must’ve been dreamin,? I thought. “Sure, that’s it. Got knocked out and had some kind of delusion.?
  I got up and started down the street in the rain to look for old Hammerhead. I stepped on something in the dark. I picked it up. There was a flash of lightning, and in the eerie light I saw I was holding a hangman’s noose!


END OF CHAPTER FOUR

GHOST TOWN - CHAPTER FOUR
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