The trees whipped by at an unforgiving pace. Two men sat in the train’s cab facing one another. Sam reclined as he peered at the flying landscape, boot-tapping a rhythm to match the incessant click-clack of the rails below. As usual, Clyde seemed to simply be memorizing the lines and scars of his hands.
“Hoo boy, I can’t wait til we get there. How bout you, Clyde?” He gave his traveling partner’s knee a slap. “I betcha can’t wait neither.”
Sam gave time for the response that he knew wasn’t coming. Clyde pulled his bowler hat a bit further down to cover his eyes. Sam pursed his lips in response. “Shame things had to turn out this way and all. But you know you’re getting what’s comin to you for good reason, dontcha?” Clyde wore his silence as fine as the blackened leather belts strapped around his waist. “Ah well, you’re gonna hang first thing for sure. I know it. I can’t wait, though. Can’t wait! Gonna be sweet.”
Clyde intertwined his fingers and looked up at Sam then shifted his view out the nearby window in disinterest as the train started to leave the forest behind in favor of a lake view. They couldn’t be more than a hundred miles from the Red Rivers station now. Red Rivers Chapel is where the law liked to do the public executions of well-known criminals such as himself.
For the usual thieves or occasional murderers, any old noose tossed over any old tree branch would do, but not for Clyde King. He was going to get the special honor of a proper hanging. He thought perhaps he was supposed to feel honored by the gesture. They’d at least have the decency to put him in the ground in a box this way. Better than knowing your body was going to end up as a fine treat for some forest critters.
“Cannot wait, Clyde. Can’t wait.”
* * *
Clyde was the leader of a gang who ran their business and sordid affairs out of High Ground. They weren’t known by a name or any such nonsense - that type of vanity was left to the amateurs. Their dealings ranged from extortions and kidnappings to the good old-fashioned bank robberies. It was true that innocents were found with a few extra holes in them from time to time, but they were simply unfortunate enough to be in the wrong places at the very worst times.
Only once did Clyde King seem to be caught where he shouldn’t have necessarily been. An attractive young lady had fought long and hard at the saloon to catch Clyde’s eye. She wailed the story of a husband who didn’t do right by her and beat her mercilessly, that is, whenever he managed to find a reason to come home. It didn’t do much for Clyde’s pity, but he wasn’t one to turn down the invitation from a beauty in such dire need of attention.
The outlaw found out in a most unfortunate way that the tart he went home with that evening was the young Mrs. Branford – Sam’s wife. Sam’s untimely return home caught all three of them off guard. The lawman had Clyde get dressed and cuff himself behind his back as he held him at gunpoint. Once Clyde was dressed, Sam marched him out of the house and as he did, Sam turned and put a bullet in wife’s pretty little forehead for humiliating him by being so damned unfaithful. He left the outlaw’s pistol behind as proof of the deed.
* * *
Clyde affixed his gaze at the officer who sat opposite him aboard the train bound for his execution. He shook his head in disgust at the thought. Sure, he had put down a few in his time as well, but only out of necessity for his own survival. And never a woman.
“What?” Sam asked as if he didn’t know what the accusatory glare was for. He resumed his boot-tapping staccato symphony upon being ignored once again.
The outlaw averted his eyes from his captor and began to take note of the other occupants in the car with them. At the far end on the other side of the aisle sat a sheraph reading from his book. There was a likely chance this man was meant to end up being Clyde’s executioner once they arrived at the Cathedral. The priests and holy men like the sheraph were the official law bringers in these dusty plains; men like Sam Branford were little more than local bounty hunters and mercenaries for hire.
A few rows closer sat a man and his daughter. He appeared to be teaching her about the world that was passing them by on the rails. She would ask him questions and he would answer. She would point at some miniscule object on the horizon and look up to him for approval and he would return her inquiry with a smile and nod. The continued happiness of these two passengers somehow made him regret the choice he had been forced to make a few hours prior.
* * *
After Clyde’s capture and Mrs. Branford’s execution, Sam decided to take his prisoner to Red Rivers himself rather than alert local authorities. Upon seeing the outlaw’s face, many townsfolk greeted Sam with praise and adoration for taking down such a delinquent of their budding society. He claimed to them that he was making the delivery himself because he wanted, nay, needed to see justice done. However, the decision was more likely to be based on the hopes of claiming a reward for some type of bounty on the outlaw’s head.
The railroad ran a few miles just south of town and so the duo was forced to walk the distance to the nearby station. Sam didn’t have the good fortune to have the money for horses or other travel expenses besides the train. Luckily, their destination lay at the end of a dirt path made by the travels of many others’ journeys. Years ago, a ranch had popped up along the route and as Clyde and Sam progressed they heard gunshots emanating from a building on the premises. The lawman insisted on investigating the situation, being the upstanding citizen that he was.
Upon their arrival, the two men found not a trace of the attackers, only what had been left behind. A family had been pulled from their home, robbed, and then shot. Either the assailants were inept or entirely cruel, but they had shot them all in the bellies rather than a quick death granted from a shot to the head. There was always the slight chance the marauders meant to entirely forego killing their victims, but they managed only to prolong what was now inevitable. The head of the household was coddling the bloodied, lifeless remains of his wife and child all the while grimacing in his twofold agony.
Try as he might with his somewhat good intentions, Sam could not seem to convince the man to allow his assistance. The father wailed and cursed the heavens as his whole world lay in the blood around him. He insisted he didn’t need any help and that his life was over. Clyde knew as well as he did that he’d never make it with a wound like his, even with their assistance.
Sam wasn’t one to take no as answer and forced the man to his feet, allowing the heads of the deceased to fall to the bloodied grass with a wet thud. The man fought with the lawman to be left to die as he should. As Sam forced the man to his feet once more, Clyde slipped the restraints under his feet so his hands were free to do as they needed. Upon pilfering Sam’s sidearm, he managed to grant the father of the household his final wish as well as shoot his own bonds loose before the officer was able to react. An intense moment followed with both men having a pistol each and both aiming to kill with a single shot. Clyde shrugged and tossed the pistol at Sam’s feet and mounted a saddled horse nearby. He continued along the path to the Pinedale station with Sam trailing behind.
* * *
The outlaw realized that he didn't regret the decision that he had made, but rather the situation as it had occurred. He admired the connection the man on the train had with his daughter. From what he had experienced, it seemed much more difficult to make a new life than to destroy one. Destruction was easy - all it took was a twitch of the finger.
Two men entered at the opposite end of the cab from where Clyde had perched himself when the train left Pinedale. One remained behind and gazed out the window beside the sheraph. The other continued forward and stopped next to the outlaw and lawman.
“Afternoon, gents. We ready?” A pistol was drawn in one hand and a hefty looking satchel was slung over his back.
Clyde addressed the man with a nod and stood. The sheraph had been relieved of his weapons as Sam was in the process of surrendering his own pistol and keys as well. The three of them gathered together at the rear exit and confirmed that they had already procured the church fund and both bank deposits that had been intended to be transferred to the capital. Clyde’s men ran down the itinerary as he removed the broken handcuffs from his wrists.
Sam spoke not a word while the three men exited the cab and proceeded to uncouple the final car at the rear of the train. With a tip of his bowler hat, Clyde released the caboose and the passengers watched as the car slowed and shrank into the distance.
* * *
The blow to Sam Branford’s ego was enormous as he quickly became known as ‘The Man Who Lost Clyde King’ rather than the man who brought him to justice as he had intended. In the following weeks he began drinking heavily and gambling profusely. With little effort, his debts surmounted the small fortune that he might have acquired had he completed the prisoner transfer of a notorious criminal. He was unable to find employment due to his disreputable job history and the bounties he pursued all managed to elude him. The men he was indebted to were quickly become aggressive.
After much begging and pleading on Sam’s part, a friend of an acquaintance granted him a job working as security personnel for his bank. After two days of standing next to a doorway, it quickly dawned on him that the pay was insufficient to ever be able to cover the cost of his loans.
One dark evening after closing, Sam took it upon himself to do away with the banker and steal the money in order to save his own skin. While his employer was transferring money to the safe, Sam followed him in and shot him in the stomach after knocking him to the floor. A bullet to the head made sure the job was done - a lesson learned.
He piled as much as could fit into both leather deposit satchels and left the vault in a hurry. He closed and locked the enormous door behind him in hopes of it slowing the process of others finding out what had happened, thereby slowing their pursuit of the culprit. As he pivoted on his heel to leave the scene of the crime, he was halted by the sight of a man donned with a bowler hat standing just inside the bank doorway. A smile of recognition cut across the intruder’s face as a single shot was fired. The man strode forward, accepted the bags as his own and exited the premises with a tip of his hat.
Clyde King was pleased that no innocent men had to die by his hand that day.
ABOUT CLYDE KING
Truth be told, Clyde King was written with the intention of being a teaser into a new novel that I plan on completing in the near future. The entire world, timeline, and back story for characters and their plot is sitting and waiting on the sidelines. Clyde King himself will most likely end up playing a minor role in the book. I simply wanted to give this world life and a new perspective from where I was coming from in the main story arc.
I have a strong desire to bend and play with the rules of morality and social responsibilities with my stories. The anti-hero has become too cliched recently though. What if there was no hero at all? Who would win and who would lose? Is there a black or a white or is it possible that everything is gray? What if someone had no hidden desires and did exactly what he wanted, when he wanted, and was good at it? Would you adore this man or fear him? By leaving Clyde with no spoken dialogue, the reader is left to answer questions on their own.
This story was originally published as a bonus to the first edition of The Seventh Horn.
This story was originally published as a bonus to the first edition of The Seventh Horn.