The three mounts headed toward the stage on a dead-on course. One of the men fired his .44 twice to signal the stage of their presence as it rounded a gradual curve. As the coach came to them, they turned their horses to ride alongside while motioning with their guns for the stage to stop. The stagecoach guard signaled the driver to ignore the warning and reached for his shotgun. The second highwayman fired a shot into the guard’s chest which caused the man to pull the trigger of the shotgun firing both barrels. The stage driver held onto to the man’s body with his right arm while he pulled on the reins to stop the coach.
“Whoa. Whoa.” The driver shouted at the horses and pulled on the large wooden lever to slow the coach’s wheels. He turned to the trio. “You killed my man. What do you want? This stage ain’t carryin’ any money.”
The large man in the duster with the bandana over his lower face motioned for the driver to get down. He turned to his two henchmen.
“Leave the dead man and get the bags outta the back. Get the passengers outta the stage.”
They complied and prodded the riders to assemble on the right side of the stagecoach.
“Go to your bags and open ‘em for us.” The bandana outlaw had his now dismounted duo push the passengers forward to the littered luggage. They had not donned dusters or bandanas as Vlack had ordered.
There was one middle-aged woman with a scarf around her hair and four men. The oldest was about sixty.
Boda tightened his bandana to alter his voice. “Which one of you is the doctor?”
No one responded.
“Which one of you is from the East–Connecticut?”
“I don’t want to have to kill alla you to get the one I want. I mean what I say.” Boda motioned his sidekick to shoot the man closest to him. “Shoot him in the leg to start.”
The shot rang out and within seconds the man had fallen holding onto his bleeding leg with a loud shriek.
Cotter had ridden to the arc of the curve in the road just as he heard the two pistol shots followed by the shotgun. He looked at the sun and moved to position it at his back. Cotter quickly rubbed his silver conchos free of dust, pulled his bandana to cover his lower face, and moved forward just as the lethal shot to the guard was fired. The stage came into view at the moment the passenger was shot. Cotter was only 50-yards away and adjusted his position to avoid any firing at the passengers. One of the passengers saw him and looked his way.
Boda looked down at the fallen man. “Okay, which one is the doctor?”
There was only silence and palpable fear.
“Okay. No doctor, then this man on the ground will now die.” He motioned the gunman to shoot.
The shot was louder than expected. The man on the ground looked up in surprise as his executioner fell over dead after the simultaneous explosions from Cotter’s Colts.
The second man turned abruptly pointing his .44 at Cotter. The loud thunder claps from Cotter’s Colts sent the man on top of his colleague with the same expanding crimson stain on his chest.
Cotter looked at Boda. “Drop your gun or go down with your friends.”
It was ironic that both men had bandanas to hide their faces. They looked like bandits out for the same booty. Boda holstered his gun.
“I said throw it on the ground or you’re dead.” The timbre from Cotter’s words brought an immediate response.
Boda dropped his .44 and grabbed the woman passenger, pressing a knife blade to her neck. “I’m riding outta here with her or she gets her throat slit from ear-to-ear.”
Cotter sensed the lack of fear in Boda’s voice. “I’ll give you five-minutes on your horse and then I’m coming after the woman. Leave her unharmed or the next time we meet I’ll shoot you on sight.”
The woman’s eyes bulged in terror as Boda got her on his horse and rode away. Cotter went to the passengers and driver. “Your guard is dead.” He knelt beside the passenger with the wounded leg and applied a tourniquet with a length of rope from around a piece of luggage. “You’ve lost some blood. The bullet went through the muscle without hitting bone.” He looked at the stage driver and then spoke to a passenger. “When you get to town, go right to Dr. Garrison’s clinic. Release the rope two turns every ten-minutes and bind it up as soon as you see bleeding. There will be less damage to the leg.”
Cotter rode his horse hard for a mile when he came upon the woman. “Are you all right, Miss.”
“Yes. I think so. He didn’t hurt me.”
“Did he say anything to you?”
“No. I guess I should thank you.”
“Don’t thank me, thank God. Here comes the stage. Goodbye.”
“Aren’t you going to finish robbing us?”
“I wasn’t after you, Miss. I was after them.”
Cotter rode off away from the oncoming stage. That must have been Ken Boda. I’ll remember his holster with all those silver studs. He looked at the map Garrison had sent months before showing the roads on the outskirts of Endura. About three-miles from Garrison’s house, he stopped and changed clothes in a thicket well off the road. He changed hats and secured the Colts in the carry-on bag. He looked at his pocket watch. Charlie Garrison was still working at the clinic. He would be surprised to see him at his home. Cotter watered his horse at a creek on the way and gingerly sauntered to the ample, comfortable-looking house. Garrison had told him about the gingerbread ornamentation over the porch.
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