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Stu's Stories
Tales of the Diamond W
  Lily was hurt.

  She was shot and it hurt.

  Her brain was burning with thoughts of revenge. There was a forty four slug in her side that would have killed an ordinary person by now. But Lily was not ordinary. As her blood stained the saddle and ran down her leg, she turned over and over the dim image of a tall lanky cowboy. It had been pretty dark, but Lily saw well in the dark. So well in fact, that the children of the orphanage had called her ‘Big Ugly Cat’ behind her back. But never to her face. Lily had been the terror of the orphanage. She had been the terror of everywhere she had ever been. And she would remember that cowboy.

  “I’ll get ‘em.? She said through pain clenched teeth. “I’ll get ‘em all!?

  Spurring her horse savagely, Lily headed for the cave. Toby was at the cave, and Toby would help her. He was good at taking out bullets. He was good at everything, and he would do anything she asked. He was terrified of her. She liked that.

  “I like that? Chip said. “ Tastes like Arbuckles. I never even knew there was a Roy Rogers brand of coffee.?
  We had busted up a couple of old chairs and built a fire in a small pot- bellied stove in what had apparently been the general store. Someone had thoughtfully put some wire over the end of the stove pipe, so it wasn’t full of bird nests. The smell of salted bacon and coffee filled the place and gave our little group a restored sense of well-being.

  Montana Slim had made the decision to start after the outlaw woman at first light.

  “There might be more of ‘em, but it’s usually just Lily and these two yahoos that gets everything done. Now, who was that talkin about a cave, and where do you recon this cave is??

  Since Slim was lookin at me when he spoke, I took it on myself to try and answer him. I started out with “You aint gonna believe this,? and went on to tell them all about my experiences since I’d found this place, including the weird dream about Shug Maxwell and the hangin party.

  “Yer right? Slim said, “I don’t believe it. You tellin me some guy that’s been dead for a hundred and twenty five years is tellin us where to find this here crazy woman??

  “I don’t know who’s tellin us anything, Slim, but I think we better listen.?

  As I’d been talkin, Jim had been lookin at me real hard, his eyes kinda bugged out and froggy lookin.

  “I heard it too? he said, “we all heard it. I mean….if we heard it, it must be somebody, don’tcha think??

  “OK, OK? Montana was clearly gettin exasperated. “We better get some sleep. It shouldn’t be too hard to track ole Lily after that rain. We’ll head out at first light. We’ll leave those two bad boys tied up in the barn ‘till we get back.?

  And that’s exactly what we did. Her tracks led away to the southwest from that big Cottonwood like a super highway. Most of the morning we travelled at a good lope with Jim and Montana readin sign while Chip and Steve and I watched the horizon. We were well into the Flint Hills. The country rolled away from us like waves on the ocean. Sometime after noon Slim raised his hand. We stopped and dismounted, quick and quiet. Slim pointed to the west where a rock face about twenty feet high and a hundred feet long jutted up out of the prairie. At the bottom of the face was an irregular shaped hole. It was taller than a horse and twenty feet wide. The ground in front of the opening was pretty well trampled.

  Slim said “Cyclone, you and Jim come with me. Steve and Chip, picket these horses and keep an eye peeled.?

  On the south side of the rock face was a group of gnarly Osage Orange trees. Chip headed for them to tie the horses up while Slim and I walked to the cave opening. We heard the sound of cattle, and an unmistakable odor wafted out at us.

  “Well, that answers one question for me? Slim said.

  “You mean these people been rustling cattle and hidin ‘em in this here cave? But, why would they stick ‘em in a hole instead of….?

  The ground began to rumble like an earthquake. We heard cattle bawlin and someone hollerin. We knew what was comin, but there wasn’t time to jump out of the way. The lead steer was roughly the size of a locomotive. He knocked Slim into me and we both went down hard, and all we could see was hooves and horns!!