Author's Note

For those of you who have read the Whitewater-River Bend series, you are familiar with Allie Summer.  This story is not a part of that series; Allie's Dilemma is a stand alone, with no interference from Rob Conners.  The Lady With the Dark Glasses is also an Allie Summer story.

Allie and I thank you for your patience, and indulgence.  I hope you enjoy the story.

Mark K. Lewis


           “Hey, B11, do you think McRae knows you’re in town?”
           The outlaw with the strange name of B11 Tallent responded with a shrug.  “I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter if he does.  He’s got more intelligence than to brace me.”
           No, he didn’t, but he was going to wish he had.
           B11 Tallent was a hardened killer, but he preferred robbing banks.  And in the last three months of roaming through the eastern Montana territory, he had relieved three financial institutions of most of the deposits of their customers.  A couple of town marshals took offense at that, B11 took offense at their taking offense, and the two lawmen had gotten bullets in their hearts for their being so offensive to Tallent.  So, along with his bank heists, the outlaw was leaving a trail of bodies behind him and his reputation was growing.  Indeed, so ominiously was that reputation growing that B11 had decided that it might be wise to go underground for a while and spend some of his hard-earned cash.  Killing lawmen was also frowned upon—pardon the understatement—especially by others of that profession, thus, B11 was hastening to the Dakota Territory, which lay about 100 miles away.  Evening had caught up with him in town of Antler, where he now was, so he had stopped at Rusty’s Saloon to sample its fare.  He didn’t intend to stay the night, however.
           Marshal Josiah McRae was the law in Antler, and he did, indeed, know that Tallent was in town and patronizing Rusty’s.  At the very moment when B11 was boasting that McRae wouldn’t “brace” him, the marshal was loading a double-barreled shotgun in anticipation of arresting Tallent and holding him for transport and trial.  McRae, a seasoned lawman in his mid-50s, was well aware that B11 was extremely dangerous, and with a reputation of being lightening quick on the draw.  The marshal had faced a lot of desperados in his day, and he knew his duty.  And he was going to do it.
           He thought.
           Worth Strong was the man having the conversation with B11.  Strong fancied himself as an outlaw, but he was no more than a two-bit hustler.  McRae stuck him in jail every so often to let him sleep off a drunk.  Harmless, Strong liked to name drop and when somebody important came to town—like B11 Tallent—Worth always wanted to buy him a drink or two and chat him up.  And that’s what he was doing with Tallent.
           “You know McRae?” he asked Tallent as a follow up question.
           “Never heard of him,” B11 replied, seemingly, and truly, bored with his current drinking mate.  But the fellow was buying the booze, so B11 humored him.
           Strong made a face.  “He’s kinda tough, B11.  Been around a long time.  About 55 now, I think.  If he’s heard you’re here, he’s liable to show up.”
           That didn’t concern Tallent in the least.  “Well, if he does, he better mind his own business or Antler will be looking for a new lawman.”  He looked at Strong and smiled, a wicked smile if there ever was one.  “Sounds like it’s about time he retired anyway.”
           Worth Strong tried to smile back, but his main response was to shudder.  Tallent was only 23 years old, but he had coal black eyes that resembled a bottomless pit.  He wore his hair, which matched his eyes, rather long and straight, though tied in the back.  His clothes were dark, but mostly blue.  His flat-brimmed hat was brown.  B11 Tallent looked sinister, and Worth chuckled nervously, responding, “Try not to kill him too dead.” 
           Tallent grunted at that and idly looked around the room.  “Ok.   I’ll only put him three feet under instead of six.  But only for you, Worth, and only if you buy me another drink.”
           Worth had already bought him four and the booze hadn’t seemed to affect the outlaw in the least.
           But, Strong obliged him, and as the bartender put the full glass down in front of B11, asked, “You gonna hit the bank while you’re here?”
           “No,” was the only response he got to that.
           Worth was trying to make conversation so that he could brag to everybody how he and B11 Tallent were good buddies.   He was straining to think of something intelligent to say—a very difficult chore for Worth—and what he came out with was, “Ain’t you afraid McConnell’s going to send somebody after you?”
           Captain William Travis McConnell was the head of the territorial Rangers.  B11’s…talents…were such that it was extremely possible that McConnell would indeed try to capture the outlaw; the locals hadn’t been able to do it, and when that happened, the Rangers often stepped in to help.  But, as of the moment, Tallent hadn’t seen hide nor hair of any of McConnell’s personnel.
           Tallent rolled his shot glass between his hands, seemingly pondering Strong’s question.  “I hope he does, actually.  I’d like to meet Wade Samuels.  He shot a buddy of mine about a year ago and I haven’t forgotten it.  Trailor is somebody else who needs a lesson or two in manners.”  But then, his eyes sort of gleamed.  “But who I’d really like to meet is Allie Summer.  He’s supposed to be McConnell’s best now.  Fast with a gun and a knife, and supposedly isn’t afraid of anything.  That’s the kind of lawman I enjoy killing.  I like to see their eyes right before I pull the trigger, the fear, the knowledge that they are about to die…Yeah, I hear Allie Summer thinks he’s a hotshot.  I’d like to show him that he’s not.”  Then, he shrugged.  “But, if McConnell’s going to do anything, he’d better hurry.  I’ll be in the Dakotas in a few days.  I really doubt he’ll send anybody, though.  I hear he’s lost a couple of men in the last six months, and I suspect he doesn’t want to lose any more.  Especially Allie Summer.”
           Worth Strange stared in awe at B11 Tallent.  The outlaw’s confidence in his own abilities was something that a weak weasel like Strange couldn’t begin to comprehend. 
           “I…I don’t know ‘bout that, B11.  That Allie Summer.  I hear he’s plum rotten mean.  And got eyes like ice.  Would freeze hell in a moment.”
           B11 gave Worth an irritated glance.  “I’m not scared of Allie Summer’s eyes.  He doesn’t shoot bullets from them.”
           Right about then, Marshal McRae walked through the batwing doors.  Glancing quickly around, he asked, “Is B11 Tallent in here?”  He obviously didn’t know the outlaw by sight; wanted posters with a drawing of B11’s face had been out for quite a while, but the likeness was poor.  Tallent’s back was to the door, anyway, so even if McRae had known what the outlaw looked like, he would not have immediately spotted him.
           The room became deathly quiet when McRae walked in.  Every eye shifted to B11 Tallent, who had a good idea who was asking for him.  But he was saved the trouble of having to identify himself.
             “He’s right here, Marshal,” blurted Worth Strong, and immediately wanted to bite his tongue off.  The look he received from B11 Tallent was less than friendly, and could have been considered downright menacing.  But the bandit didn’t turn around or say anything.
           “Thank you, Worth.  You’re worth something, at least,” McRae said, making a pun, and immediately shifted the shotgun and pointed it at B11’s back.  “Come on, Tallent, you’ve got a jail cell waiting for you, a trip to the capital, a quick trial, and a rope.” 
           B11, who, not surprisingly, had a .45 tied low to his right thigh, still didn’t turn and face the marshal.  Instead, he responded, “I’m just passing through, Marshal.  Let me have another drink or two and I’ll be out of your town.  I’m not looking for any trouble and I’ll leave your bank alone.”
           “That bird’s not going to fly, mister,” McRae said, the shotgun held steady.  “You’re wanted for at least three bank robberies and the murder of two lawmen and a bank teller.  And that’s just in the last few months.  Time to put you away for good.  Now, you can either come with me peacefully, or I’ll save the taxpayers some money and splatter your guts to eternity right here and now.”   When he said that, anyone who was standing in range of his shotgun—especially Worth Strong—put some distance between themselves and B11 Tallent.
           B11 finished his drink and sighed.  He wasn’t particularly worried, though nobody enjoys having a double-barreled shotgun aimed at any part of their person.  He knew he needed to face the lawman before he tried anything.  “All right, Marshal.  I don’t guess I’ve got much choice.”  And he started turning around.
           McRae’s eyes narrowed as he watched the outlaw.  The saloon was silent, watching the play between lawman and killer.  “Turn around real slow, Tallent,” McRae said, “and drop your gun even slower.  And then grab the ceiling.”
           “Whatever you say, Marshal,” B11 replied.  And, with the whiskey glass palmed in his left hand, he slowly turned.  He faced the marshal, arms slightly spread.
           “Now the gun,” McRae said.  “Thumb and forefinger.”  His finger was tight on the trigger of one barrel, still suspicious of the calmness of the outlaw.
           B11 nodded and moved his right hand towards his gun, index finger and thumb extended.  And then he did something that cost the Antler marshal his life.
           He dropped the whiskey glass.
           It was just enough of a distraction.  The lawman’s eyes briefly shifted to the glass and, when that happened, B11 dove to his right, drawing his gun and firing.  The bullet took McRae flush in the chest and knocked him backwards, hard.  The marshal, perhaps in the involuntary reaction of death, pulled the trigger on the shotgun, but B11 was on the floor now and all the pellets did was shatter the mirror behind the bar, plus several bottles of rye.  McRae fell back through the door and dropped to the boardwalk, dead.
           B11 immediately jumped to his feet, gun still in hand.  “Anybody want to defend your lawman?” he asked, looking around, shifting the .45.  Nobody did.  B11 then turned to Worth Strong and shot him between the eyes.
           “That will teach you to keep your tongue in your mouth,” he said.  Then, with another look around the room, and with a hubris few men could match, he holstered his gun, calmly walked outside, mounted his horse, and loped out of Antler.
           The men in the saloon were still stunned at what they had seen.  There was silence for several seconds.  Then, one man croaked, “I heard he was good, but I never seen anybody beat a man who had a shotgun pointed at him, with his gun still in his holster.”  There were a few head nods in agreement.
           An old drunk named Festus McCain, who had spent a few nights in the local jail himself over the years, leaned down and picked up the shot glass, which hadn’t broken when it hit the floor.  He looked at it like it had held some kind of magic potion.  “I kinda liked old McRae,” he said softly.
           Billy Armstrong was sitting close by.  In a voice without much conviction, he said, “Reckon we ought to get up a posse and go after Tallent?  I mean, he did kill our marshal.”  He shifted his gaze to Worth Strong’s dead body.  “And old Worth, too.”  Worth had been a bit of an aggravation at times, but he was harmless and didn’t deserve to die in the manner in which he did. 
           The room full of men—and a few ladies who treated them—were still in disbelief over what they had just seen.  One minute, they had a marshal, who had served Antler for many years.  The next minute, he was gone.  Gene Farlow responded to Armstrong’s suggestion.  “Well, we can’t head out tonight.  We’d never find his tracks in the dark.  I vote we get a group and start out at first daylight in the morning.”
           The vote on that proposition was unanimous.
           And all the men of Antler slept in a little late the following day.
           B11 didn’t get a bank, but he did get a third lawman.
           Well, he had never liked lawmen anyway.

            But B11 Tallent’s hubris went only so far, which was one reason he had managed to stay alive since turning outlaw at the age of 17.  He had actually been born and raised in Colorado, but had fled there about two years previous when things had gotten a little hot for him after a few heists and killings.  So he had come to the Montana territory and laid low for a while.  Bored, he started on his robbing and killing spree again in the spring.  Now he had another notch on his gun, and a lawman to boot.  That was good—and bad.  And it simply confirmed him in his resolve to get to Dakota as quickly as possible.
            So, concerned about a possible Antler posse, Tallent put almost 10 miles between himself and the town before he stopped for the night.  The next day, he pushed his horse, a strong, stout roan, forty-five miles to the next town, a place called Bathsheba.  “I reckon some fellow named David must have named this dump,” B11 grunted to himself.  He arrived about dusk, but traveled the back streets.  He didn’t want to run into a lawman who might identify him.  Most of them, like McRae—and especially in this part of the territory—wouldn’t have recognized B11 on sight, but there was no sense taking any chances.  Not this close to the Dakota Territory and safety.
            He was thirsty, though, and stopped at a place called the Jack of Diamonds Saloon and Gambling Hall for a few drinks.  It was a Saturday night, and the J&D, as the locals inaccurately nicknamed it, was, unsurprisingly, doing a healthy business serving very unhealthy beverages.  I won’t stay long, B11 told himself.  I’ll have a few, then do another five miles or so tonight.  I might make it to the Dakota Territory tomorrow.  Tallent wasn’t exactly sure how far it was to the border, but he knew there was a town called Shepler just inside the Dakota line.  I’ll be safe then.  The Montana law can’t touch me there.  He certainly had no intentions of staying in Shepler for long, though.  Maybe I’ll swing around and go to the Hole-in-the-Wall.  Camp there for a few weeks till everything blows over.  Then maybe go down to Arizona.  Better stay clear of Colorado, though...The Hole-in-the-Wall was a notorious outlaw hideout in Wyoming.  A fugitive could go there and stay for as long as he wanted, provided he followed the rules and paid his own way.  Kid Curry, Black Jack Ketchum, Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch Gang, the Sundance Kid, and a host of others had stayed at the one of the several cabins at the hideaway.  No lawman would dare enter the Hole-in-the-Wall.  That would have been suicide.  It was an outlaw sanctuary.
           That Saturday night, B11 did as he planned.  He only stayed in Bathsheba long enough to enjoy a few drinks and talk to no one—he wasn’t recognized—and then he rode about seven miles until he found a decent place to camp.  The next day, the roan was tired, but game.  Just a few more miles, boy, and you can rest a spell…  Even outlaws had enough sense to take care of their horses.  Well, the smart ones, like Tallent, did.
           B11 arrived in Shepler, Dakota Territory, just as the sun was setting that Sunday night.  And he had a smile on his lips.

           The town of Shepler was small, mostly ranching and farming, but with some mining in the nearby hills.  The railroad had come through, which helped a lot, and helped the local law, too.  Being located where it was, Shepler had its share of B11 Tallents passing through and stopping for a little R&R.  The railroad tracks cut off the northern third of the town, and that’s where Sheriff Angus MacPherson was able to bottle up the riff-raff that populated Shepler—or might be using the burg as a way station.
           Outlaws who, like B11 Tallent, were fleeing the Montana territory felt relatively safe in Shepler.  They had largely made a truce with MacPherson; they would stay on their side of the railroad tracks and not cause any trouble, and he’d leave them alone—as long as they didn’t stay too long.  Most of the brigands were drifters anyway, so they were gone within a few days of their arrival.  And they honored their part of the bargain.  They kept away from the decent citizens of Shepler—and the bank—and gave the sheriff no headaches.
           B11 intended to linger in Shepler for only three or four days.  He mainly wanted to give his horse a blow; he’d ridden the poor beast pretty hard to get to Dakota and knew the roan needed a break.  But B11 also had a chance to relax, and he even saw a couple of friends in Shepler.  A lot of outlaws who stopped in the town did know each other, and occasionally partnerships were formed in the dusty saloons.  B11 wasn’t looking for a partner, but he enjoyed bantering with some of the men he knew.
           The conversations in the saloons generally ran along the following lines:
           “Hey, Curley, how you been?  Ain’t seen you in a coon’s age…”
           “Watch that marshal down in Grover City.  He’s a mean ‘un who carries a sawed-off shotgun with him ever’where he goes…”
           “Buck, Farrell, and me hit a train just on t’other side of the Canadian border.  Didn’t rightly know where we was till we heard there was some Mounties comin’ after us.  We hightailed it outta there in a hurry, that’s fer sure….”
           “I been down in Arizona for a few months.  Hotter’n the back side of hell down there, but the Injuns is all quiet and the railroad is comin’ through so there’s some money to be had.  I think I’m gonna stay up here this summer then head back down there in the winter.  I know some greasers in Tucson who say they got a map of a lost gold mine and I’m gonna buy it from ‘em and see if’n I can find it…”
           “Them Mescans’ll slice your neck for a shot of whiskey, Slim.  You better stay away from that…”
           “Nah, I know the head beaner pretty good.  I think he’s on the up and up…”
           Slim got a lot of dubious looks over that tale.
           Anyway, there was a lot of boasting, lying, and general good camaraderie among a brotherhood of outcast humanoids who hated everybody but each other.  Strangely, they felt safe amongst one another; most of them would slit some innocent’s soul throat just to see what was in his pockets.  But everybody has to trust somebody, I suppose.
           The man with whom B11 was most acquainted was a stagecoach thief named Red Dog Mitchell.  He was called Red Dog for two reasons:  he had red hair, and he owned a mangy red mutt who helped him on his robberies.  He had trained the dog—which was huge and frightening—to lie out in the road in front of an approaching stage.  The coach would have to stop or run over the mongrel.  If it appeared the stage wasn’t going to stop, the dog would stand up and growl and bark fiercely enough to frighten even the strong horses pulling the coach.  Usually.  When the stagecoach halted, Red Dog appeared from hiding and took what he pleased.  It didn’t work every time, but often enough to keep Red Dog in whiskey and women.  He’d never killed anybody so he was only wanted for armed robbery.  His last job was in Montana so he had skedaddled across the border to Dakota before the law could catch him.  Red Dog did all right and he and B11 were pretty good buddies, though not partners and never would be.
           It was the next night, Monday, and B11 and Red Dog were at Jed’s Saloon, leaning on the bar.  There were a few other men there, sitting at tables, clinking glasses, playing poker, funning with the whores, and indulging in whatever concomitant rituals accompany these activities.  B11 and Red Dog were sharing a bottle and some tales and laughs when a stranger walked into the saloon.  At first the stranger drew only a few glances, as is wont to happen anytime a new person enters a room.  But then there were some second looks.  The new customer looked like a kid, not even old enough to shave, though reasonably tall and thus obviously beyond puberty.  The kid quickly glanced around, seeing a fairly typical bar on a fairly typical Monday night.  Jed’s was pretty small and didn’t even have a piano but there were stairs to the left and a few gaming tables in one of the upstairs rooms.  The faded oak bar was situated where such structures usually are, in front of the door, maybe 25 feet in.  Sawdust covered the floor as did expectorated tobacco juice from those patrons who missed the spittoons placed here and there around the joint.  A ring of smoke wafted through the air.  It looked—and smelled—like a small town saloon.  Perhaps because that’s what it was.
           Anyway, this kid who came in, after a brief pause for a look around, walked up and stood on the left side of the bar, the opposite end from B11 and Red Dog, the latter who was standing around the corner where the bar curved.  The bartender came over to his new client.
           “Sarsaparilla,” the kid said, and got some snickers, mainly from B11 and Red Dog.  The bartender, whose name was Manny, nodded, and with his eyes still on the kid, reached under the counter, pulled out a bottle of sarsaparilla, opened it and set it down on the counter.
           “Five cents,” he said, and the kid dropped down a nickel and picked up the bottle with a gloved hand.
           Manny continued to stare at his new consumer.  What he saw was somewhat out of the ordinary.  The clothes were typically western, but loose and ill-fitting, and the kid was wearing a dusty black trench coat that ended just below his knees.  A gun was tied low to his right hip—that was something Manny could see clearly and figured was intentional.  His feet were shod with knee-high moccasins, not boots, with the pants legs tucked inside, which was a little unusual, but the strangest thing was that the kid’s flat-topped, dark green hat was pulled so low, and the front brim turned down at such an angle, that his eyes were hidden.  The bartender leaned his head down a bit to try to see those eyes, but the kid turned his head away, looking over at the tables.
         “Interested in a game of some sort?” the bartender asked him.  “We got roulette, faro, poker.  Upstairs.  Anybody is free to play.”
           “No,” was all the kid replied, and with such finality that Manny figured he wouldn’t waste any more attempts at conversation, which would no doubt end just as laconically.  So he just shrugged and walked away.  A young whipper-snapper who thinks he’s tough…wears his gun low…hides his eyes…doesn’t talk much…Manny had seen quite a few such hotshots—dreamers—in his life and usually only saw them once.  They got their comeuppance in a hurry and either ended up on Boot Hill or deciding that they’d try another lifestyle.  Given some of the looks the kid was getting from other customers, Manny expected this young fellow was about to get a lesson in what the real world was like.  Don’t hurt him too much, guys, Manny thought with a look at B11 and Red Dog.  The two men caught the look, and knew what it meant.  B11 sneered and Red Dog sort of rolled his eyes.
           It didn’t matter what night of the week it was in a bar.  When a lot of liquor was being quaffed, things happened.  Manny knew it.  He was just trying to play some damage control here and keep a young ignorant from having his life ruined.  Or ended.  The bartender just hoped Young Ignorant was smart enough not to push the matter to an ultimate tragedy.  Manny knew it would start soon.
           B11 didn’t like the looks of the kid from the get-go.  As noted, Tallent was only 23 years old himself, and with a queer sort of logic, perceived the newcomer as a threat.  B11 was the youngest and—to himself—the toughest in the saloon.  B11 read the kid’s demeanor as a challenge, a challenge Tallent gladly accepted.
             So, he fully intended to goad the kid into a fight that would probably end in death—but not death for B11.  “Sarsaparilla,” he said, talking to the kid and grunting a scornful chuckle.  “Don’t you know where you are, kid?  It’s a bar, a saloon.  Probably the first time you’ve ever been in one, from the looks of you.  Men come in here to drink beer, whiskey, rye—stuff that will put hair on your chest.”
           The kid didn’t bother looking at B11, he just took another sip of his drink.  He didn’t say anything, either.  He acted like he hadn’t even heard. 
           The kid’s lack of response, not surprisingly, irritated B11.  So he flung another barb.  “Look at that kid, Red Dog,” he said.  “Not even old enough to shave.  Not a whisker on his face.  Skin is as smooth as a woman’s.  Are you a woman, kid?”  Another sneering laugh.
           “Could be a Injun, B11,” Red Dog replied.  “You know that redskins, besides havin’ yellow bellies, don’t have no hair on their face.  Or their chest.”  And he laughed as well.  Two of his statements were obviously aimed at the kid’s masculinity.     
           “Hmm,” B11 said, examining the kid, who still hadn’t looked at the outlaws or given any indication he had heard what was being said to and about him.  “His skin is pretty dark, but not as dark as a typical Indian.”  Then, he spoke to the kid again.  Are you a yellow-bellied redskin, kid?   One who won’t face a man face to face, but has to skulk around in the dark—like most of your kind.  Aren’t you supposed to be on the reservation?  I hear that Indians that leave the reservation are fair game.  The only good Indian is a dead one, you know.”
           No response.
           “I think maybe he is an Injun, B11,” Red Dog said.  “He don’t seem to understand a word we’re sayin’.”  It was a little surprising that the insults hurled hadn’t gotten at least some rise out of the kid.  But he had made absolutely no move, except to drink his bottle of sarsaparilla.  You’d think, the way he was acting, that he was the only one in the bar.
           But he did speak again.  He had finished his drink and put the bottle down on the bar.  His head turned towards Manny—the bartender still couldn’t see the eyes—and said, “Can I have another one of those?”
           Manny nodded and opened another bottle.  Hoping to defuse the situation some, he tried to strike up a conversation.  “Where you come from?”
           Montana.”  B11 and Red Dog sniggered.  The obvious implications were they believed the kid was an outlaw—or thought he was—and was fleeing the Montana territory, just like they were.
           “Where you headed?” Manny asked.
           “I’m going back pretty quick.  Probably tomorrow.”
           That puzzled everybody.  “That’s awful fast.  What’re ye here for?”
           “Business,” was the only thing the kid said, and started drinking his bottle of sarsaparilla.
           “You hear his voice, Red Dog?” B11 said, the mockery evident in his voice.  “He doesn’t sound like an Indian, he sounds like a woman.  I asked you once before and I’ll ask you again, kid.  Are you a woman?”
           “Maybe she’s here lookin’ fer a job,” Red Dog, countered with a guffaw.  “Hey, Manny, you need any more whores?  That woman over there looks like she might fit the bill.”  And he laughed and laughed and laughed, pounding the top of the bar with the flat of a hand. 
           Manny gave the two outlaws an annoyed look, then glanced at the kid, who still hadn’t moved or given the slightest sign that anybody else was in the room.  The bartender didn’t know how the kid—if he was a hotshot looking for a reputation—could stand all the abuse he was taking.  The lid had to blow sometime, and probably soon.
           But Manny tried.  The first thing he did was give a glance to an old man sitting at a table near the door.  The old timer knew what that glance meant—go get the sheriff.   So the man left the room, largely unnoticed.  Most of the people in the saloon were now watching the play at the bar, and like Manny, wondering when the thing would explode.  Insulting a man the way Tallent and Mitchell were doing was something no true MAN in the West would tolerate.  Most men would have come at B11 with fists flying after the first thing he had said.
           And Manny attempted to diffuse the situation.  He said to Tallent, “B11, you and Red Dog leave the kid alone.  He ain’t botherin’ nobody.”
           “Now, Manny, we’re not looking for trouble,” B11 said.  He fixed a hard stare directly on the kid.  “Red Dog and I are just wondering if this brat’s momma knows where he is.”  Then, to the kid he said, “Kinda late for you to be out, ain’t it, boy?  Yore momma’ll be worried about you.  I’m sure she wants to wash behind your ears.” 
           This time the kid yawned, a yawn of boredom, not of sleepiness.  Manny even smiled.  The kid’s cool, I’ll give him that…
           That yawn really irritated B11; he interpreted it as being aimed at him.  “Hey, kid, I’m talking to you.  Are you deaf?  Maybe I ought to go over there and put a hole in your ear so you can hear better.”
           No response.  Another sip.
           Now B11 was mad.  “Maybe if I slap you around a little that will help your hearing and manners,” and, before Manny could say anything, B11 stepped over to the kid, grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him to face the outlaw.  Immediately, and with a move nobody saw, B11 had the tip of a very sharp knife pricking his throat.  There were a couple of gasps in the room and B11’s eyes showed a healthy amount of surprise.
           “Why don’t you mind your own business, punk?” the kid said, and with another unseen movement, a cocked derringer was in his extended left hand, pointing at Red Dog Mitchell.  “Red Dog, if your finger gets one inch closer to that gun, it’ll be as close as it ever gets again.”  The kid’s eyes, which B11 couldn’t see, appeared to still be on Tallent. 
           Red Dog, whose hand had indeed moved towards his gun when he saw the knife at his friend’s throat, narrowed his eyes and slowly placed his hands flat on the bar top.
           The room was totally silent now, everybody watching, hardly breathing.  B11’s head was tilted back, partly to help alleviate the pain of a knife at this throat.  The outlaw tried to regain the upper hand.
           “Kid, you don’t know who you’re dealing with here—“
           “A piece of outhouse basement stuff named B11 Tallent,” the kid interrupted.  Then, he asked, “You want to do the world a favor and go for that gun on your hip?”
           B11 was staring at the curved brim of that hat, wishing he could see the kid’s eyes.  “And if I do?’ he replied, his voice becoming a bit strained.
           “I’ll cut your eyes out from inside your head.”
           The kid’s voice was ice.  He hadn’t made another move since pointing his derringer at Red Dog.  Then he smiled, but B11 was awfully sure it wasn’t a friendly smile.  “Or maybe I’ll scalp you from the bottom up.”
           B11 had never met anybody like this before.  The kid was just standing there, the point of his knife at Tallent’s throat, his derringer still aimed at Red Dog.  As noted, B11 was pretty good with a gun, but he certainly didn’t like his odds at the moment. 
           “Who are you, anyway?” he asked.
           For an answer, the kid slowly pulled his left hand back and, with the tip of the derringer, pushed his hat up his forehead a little. 
           Manny’s jaw hit the floor.
           Red Dog muttered, “Oh, my sainted mother…”, and crossed himself.
           Somebody from one of the tables said to a companion, “Do you see what I see?”
           Even B11 Tallent gulped.  He was looking at the most frightening thing he had ever seen in his life.
           The eyes of Allie Summer.
           I guess that means the “kid” was a she, not a he.
           Allie spoke first, to Tallent.  “’Do you want to go to Port Station on your horse?  Or over it?”  Port Station was the location of the Ranger HQ.
           B11’s head was still tilted back.  “You can’t touch me here, Ranger.  We’re not in Montana.”
           “We’re not in Montana?”
           “No, we’re not.  So get on your horse and ride.  You’ve got no jurisdiction here.”
           Allie smiled again, and, as Tallent suspected, it came nowhere near her eyes.  She tweaked the knife a little bit, and enough to draw some blood from B11’s neck.  “This knife gives me all the jurisdiction I need, punk.  Besides, I didn’t see any signs saying I was leaving Montana.  Maybe I could just kill you here and leave your body.  Do you think anybody in Montana would miss you?”  Allie then spoke to Red Dog.  “Mitchell, get out of here.  I’m not after you and be thankful I’m not.  But don’t let me ever see you again, either.  I don’t like dogs, especially mangy ones.  I tend to slit their throats on sight.”  Then, she paused for just a heartbeat.  “Like I did that big red mongrel outside the saloon.”
           Red Dog gritted his teeth and his eyes blazed.  If the Ranger was telling the truth—and he had no doubt Allie was—he had lost his major source of income.  It didn’t make him happy, either.  Or smart.  He replied, “All right, Ranger.  I’ll leave.  But I’m not following your orders or marching to your tune.  And I might just send a wire to the territorial governor telling him you’re working where you got no business being.  He’ll turn B11 loose and you’ll get fired.” 
             He then walked towards the saloon doors.  Just before he left, still burning with anger, he cast a glance back at Allie.  She was staring at B11, holding the knife at his throat.  Red Dog Mitchell then made the final mistake of his life.  He swung around quickly and went for the gun on his hip.
           With a flick of her arm, with a swiftness that would make a rattlesnake envious, the knife Allie had held at B11 Tallent’s throat sailed across the room and into Red Dog Mitchell’s heart.  His eyes got wide and, with a gasp and cough, he tumbled backwards and fell at the base of the swinging doors of the saloon, dead on his feet, then dead on the ground.  His gun had never cleared its holster.
           And before B11 Tallent could blink, the derringer in Allie’s left hand was pointed at his neck.
           “Lord, did you see that?” somebody whispered.  “He didn’t even look at him…”  Because of her clothes, and the fact that all her hair was piled under her hat, everybody in the room still thought Allie was a man.
           “Now,” Allie said to B11, “how about let’s you and me go see the sheriff.  He’ll have a nice jail cell waiting for you, I’ll get a soft bed at the hotel, and we’ll go home tomorrow.  Sound good to you?”
           B11 was young, and he was quick.  And he thought that, while she was talking, Allie would be distracted enough for him to go on the offensive.  That hubris he had in overabundance convinced him that he was invulnerable.  So he quickly jerked his head to his left, away from the derringer, and at the same time, threw a sharp, short, quick jab towards Allie’s midsection.
           Allie moved, but not quite fast enough.  B11’s fist clipped her side and turned her body slightly to the left, and she dropped the derringer.  But she reacted immediately.  With a classic Indian wrestling move, she hooked a foot around B11’s right ankle, pulled and gave him a shove at the same time.  He went sprawling with a shout.
           And then, B11 Tallent made the final mistake of his life.  It was the same mistake Red Dog Mitchell had made.  He went for his gun.
           His reactions were actually very swift.  He grabbed the butt of his gun as he was falling and was drawing it by the time he hit the floor.
           “Don’t, Tallent!” Allie shouted at him, seeing the gun in his hand.  But he persisted and pulled the weapon up to aim it at the Ranger. 
           Allie’s .36 belched flame and B11 Tallent grunted and arched his back as the bullet hit him full in the neck.  His finger inadvertently pulled the trigger on his gun, but it was pointed at his own foot now.  That’s what he shot.
           But he didn’t feel it because he was already dead from the missile that had traveled up through his head and into the base of his brain.  With a sigh he slumped to the floor.
           There were a few seconds of silence as everybody in the saloon took in what they had just seen.  Then someone whispered, “Did you see him move?”—meaning Allie.
           “Nah, he musta had that gun in his hand the whole time.”
           “But he’d been holdin’ that knife…”
           “He musta drawed after he throwed the knife…”
           Allie hadn’t drawn until after she had yelled at B11, but she didn’t care what the men in the saloon believed.  She walked over, nuzzled Tallent’s body with her toe, just to make sure he was dead, then, after replacing the spent shell, holstered her gun, went and pulled the knife out of Red Dog’s body, wiped it on his shirt, picked up her derringer, and headed back to the bar where she had set her bottle of sarsaparilla.
           “Good drink,” she said, as if nothing had happened.
           Sheriff Angus MacPherson entered.  He saw the two bodies immediately.  “What’s been goin’ on here?  What was that shootin’?”  He had a shotgun in his hands.
           Everybody looked at Allie, expecting her to answer, but she didn’t.  She simply finished her sarsaparilla, said “thank you,” and started to walk out of the saloon.
           “Hold it there, stranger,” the sheriff said.  “Ain’t nobody leavin’ till I say so.”
           Allie looked at MacPherson.  He saw her eyes for the first time and started.  “Then say so, Sheriff MacPherson.  I’m hungry and tired and want a meal and a bed.”
           “You’re Allie Summer,” MacPherson blurted out.
           “Yeah, and that’s Red Dog Mitchell and that’s B11 Tallent,” she said, motioning to each of the dead bodies.  She shrugged.  “You can have them.  They’re of no use to me like they are.  Send the burying bill to McConnell, whatever the cost is of two trash sacks.”
           “Aren’t you out of your jurisdiction?”
           “Well, I’ll let you wake up those two thugs and apologize to them for me.”  And Allie was gone.
           MacPherson, still a little dumbstruck, watched her for a minute, then turned back to the room, looking at Manny the bartender.  “What happened in here?  Did Allie Summer do this?”
           Manny just slowly shook his head and a whimsical smile came over his face.  “I don’t know, Sheriff.  I never saw him move…”
           Allie Summer left Shepler with everybody still believing she was a man.

A few days later
           When you’re in some deserted locale like the back side of the moon—or worse yet, the eastern Montana territory—you don’t really expect to stumble across the strange and unusual.  But that’s what happened to everybody concerned in the remainder of this prologue.
           The rider wasn’t in any particular hurry—wasn’t in any hurry at all, truth be told. The road being traveled wasn’t a main thoroughfare, but did see some traffic, mainly local ranchers heading to market once a week or so.  Being in the middle of a rainless June, the grass covering the undulating hills was brown and probably tasteless to any critter who might want to eat it.  The landscape was mostly barren of trees, except in range of a stream or small river. It was in just such a copse that our tale truly begins.
           The rider was Allie Summer, the lady ranger we’ve already met, but perhaps a bit more introduction would be helpful to those who do not yet know her.  At the time of this story, Allie was a 20 year-old female who worked for the Montana Territory Rangers—and in the three years she had done so, had established herself as the best of Captain W. T. McConnell’s personnel.  Allie was half-Cheyenne Indian, as quick as a cat, as wily as a fox, and an expert in nearly every offensive and defensive tool available at the time, including Indian wrestling, which most white men were utterly incapable of countering. She was stunningly beautiful, and her reputation for success was rapidly gaining notice among saint and sinner alike.  She loved being a Ranger and, as noted, did her job better than anyone else on the force.
           Allie’s most riveting characteristic, however, were her eyes.  Her mother had been a blonde-headed Scandinavian with lovely, soft blue eyes, but the daughter’s eyes were almost shocking in appearance, mesmerizing, hypnotic.  They were the color of ice—a very light blue that at times appeared almost transparent.  Those eyes had frightened and frozen many an outlaw—the eyes of Allie Summer had almost as wide a reputation as she did.  It didn’t hurt that those petrifying eyes belonged to the quickest, deadliest Ranger in the territory.
           As she was riding down this barren road, Allie was returning from the assignment that had taken her to Shepler, Dakota Territory.  McConnell, the Ranger chief, had sent Allie to find B11 Tallent and bring him back for trial, though the captain figured he’d probably never see Tallent—an assumption that, as we have seen, proved to be correct. One time, when Allie had returned from such a manhunt—without the man—McConnell had asked her where he was.
             Allie had shrugged and said, “He really seemed to like the landscape over there. You know, high blue sky, wide open spaces. I thought it would be such a shame to take him away from it….”
             The Captain of the Rangers was annoyed, but he had gotten the point. And, over time, McConnell learned not to ask any questions regarding Allie’s methods.  She never failed and that was what mattered.  Most men would rather have a bullet than a rope anyway.
           Allie had been puzzled about Tallent, though, at least concerning one matter. “Where did he get the name B11?” she had queried McConnell before she’d left. “Is it a nickname?”
           “I don’t know,” McConnell had replied. “Why don’t you ask him—when you’re bringing him back here to stand trial.”
           Allie had smiled at that one. She did find out why the outlaw had the name B11. MacPherson had told her before she left Shepler.  “His pa and ma weren’t very bright. After having so many kids, they couldn’t think of any more names so they started giving them numbers.  I think B11 has a brother named A10 and a sister called C12.”
           “Well, at least they knew the alphabet,” Allie had answered. “What would they do if they had 24 more?”
           Anyway, Shepler, B11 Tallent, and Red Dog Mitchell—the latter whom she hadn’t know was in Shepler—were all behind her and the lady Ranger was on her way to her next assignment, trying—but failing because of that assignment—to enjoy a warm summer day, and a pleasant ride through the countryside.  It was midday, and her horse, a young Appaloosa colt appropriately named Ranger, hadn’t had a drink for awhile.  So when Allie spotted the brace of trees about a mile ahead, she figured there was water in the vicinity and decided to stop, let the horse have his fill, and take a rest herself.  She was nearing where she needed to go, but she wasn’t going to push herself getting there.  Although she loved being a ranger, the job that awaited Allie was one that she dreaded.
           When the lady ranger rode up to the trees, she ran into the Strange and Unusual mentioned in the first paragraph of this section.  And what Allie Summer saw stunned her and made her blood run as cold as her eyes….