They were after him again, even after all these years. He thought after lying low they would have forgotten about him, but as his father once told him, all debts are paid eventually.
He used to ride in the most feared gang in the north, Dapper Chris Stone and the Prairie Posse. It was a name he hadn’t used in a long time. It had been at least 30 years. He was an old man now, almost 60 years old. He hadn’t planned on living this long, thinking he would have been killed long ago, but now that he had he wasn’t going to go quietly. That had never been his style.
He was riding across the prairie to meet with an old friend. Sly George Brennaman was his right hand man in the Prairie Posse and one of his oldest friends. However, he hadn’t spoken to him in almost 25 years.
They had fallen out over a woman. He had always thought that if anything would come between them it would have been money, but it was Anne instead. After the Posse had split up following their final heist, he and Brennaman had roamed across the country spending their money and having a grand time. They had decided to go west and see the ocean and ended up in Vancouver. In a bar they had met Anne.
If there was a woman in this world for him, it was her. When he thought of her he thought of the sea. They were the same to him. Both beautiful and mysterious, with depths he did not quite understand however hard he tried. She was 20 when they met. He was in his early thirties. Brennaman was in his early forties.
They had been staying in the hotel above the bar where she worked, going down to the beach each day and swimming for the first times in their lives. She took a shine to Brennaman first. He was an older gentleman who had obviously seen the world and there was a bit of danger and mystery surrounding him. He always knew how to intrigue, which is what made him Sly. As she served them, he would regale her with stories of their exploits in the prairies.
“Do you know who this is?” Brennaman would say to her. “That’s Dapper Chris Stone, leader of the Prairie Posse. You ever heard of him? He’s the scariest, meanest, nastiest, but also best dressed outlaw the other side of the Rockies. Why is that Chris? What’s the reason for the fancy duds?”
“It’s about respect.” Stone replied. “Anyways, that’s behind us now.”
“Sure is.” George said. “You always be safe with us.”
They began taking her with them on their excursions throughout the province. Gradually, Brennaman’s stories and roguish manner wore thin on her and she became closer to Stone. She appreciated his quiet manner and warmth. They became lovers.
Brennaman was outraged. He felt Stone had stolen Anne away from him. It came to a head one day when they went up to a hill they often visited that overlooked Vancouver Island. Brennaman confronted Stone while Anne was preparing food.
“You’re with her now, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yes.” Stone replied. “It’s what she wants.”
“She doesn’t know what she wants.” Brennaman said. “We had a good thing going and you cut in.”
“No. You had your chance. It’s not my fault you couldn’t seal the deal.”
“No, it was you. You meddled. It was going well.” He became desperate, almost pleading. “What am I supposed to do now? I may not get another chance. I’m becoming an old man now, almost 50. Who’s going to give me a second look now? I never thought I’d have this chance you know. I’d been riding for a whole 10 years before you and I always thought I wasn’t going to make it out alive. I’d just resigned myself to that fact. But then you came along, and it was different. I felt like we had a chance to make it out alive. And we did.”
“Yes, we did.” Stone said.
“And when we struck out together I was happy. The man who had helped me get out, my friend and I, were going to go on another adventure together. Then we met her and I felt for the first time like I could settle down. Here was a beautiful woman who didn’t know anything about me. She wasn’t scared, didn’t turn away, even enjoyed my company. But that all changed…because of you. I should have known. How could I compete with you, Dapper Chris Stone. You could have had anyone you wanted, but you had to take the one girl I had a chance with.”
“I didn’t take her. Have you considered her feelings? Or are you still as selfish as all those years ago.”
Brennaman lunged at him and they both fell to the ground. Brennaman landed a few solid blows before Stone was able to get a hold of his arm. He held his arm and pushed underneath Brennaman’s chin, then rolled out from underneath him. He let go of Brennaman’s arm and wrapped his own arms around Brennaman’s neck locking his fingers together.
“This is for your own good George.” He whispered in his ear. “I know you won’t quit until I’m dead.”
Brennaman struggled and tried to thrash free. Stone tightened his grip and eventually Brennaman’s body went slack. He heard a scream behind him.
“What did you do?” Anne cried. “Is he dead?”
“No.” Stone said. “He’s knocked out. Come on, we have to go back into town. I’ll tell you on the way.”
He saw the shapes of the buildings on the horizon, silhouetted by the rising sun as he remembered how Brennaman had left the morning following their fight. He hadn’t said a word, just got dressed and rode away. That was the last he had seen of him.
He and Anne had lived together peacefully for another 24 years, until she became ill. He had spent most of his money on a ranch where they had lived together. His earnings had been especially lean that year, so had held up a few stores and several wagons in order to provide for them, while she was sick.
There was still a bounty on him all the time he had been gone and had become very large. The authorities had been waiting for him to show his face in the prairies again and now that he had, they were willing to do everything in their power to bring him in. He had been black mark on their records for almost 30 years and now was their chance to erase it.
When Anne had died, he vowed to take a stand. There was no reason to hide anymore. She was gone, and it wouldn’t be long until he was too. He wasn’t going to wait until they came for him, though.
Over the year he had set about finding other members of the Prairie Posse, but all of them were gone. The Mounties had come down as hard as they could on anyone who had been a part of the gang. Only he and Brennaman were left.
The sun had risen by the time he rode into town. People were milling about in the streets. He rode with his head down and pulled his hat low. He came to the hotel where he knew Brennaman was staying. He hitched his horse outside and went in.
The saloon in the hotel was dark and dusty, no coverings on the tables or cushions on the chairs.
“Can I get you anything?” the bartender said as Stone entered.
Stone shook his head. “I’m looking for someone, by the name of G. Billings.”
“Yes, Mr. Billings is in his room upstairs. Number four.”
Stone tipped his hat and started up the stairs. He paused in front of the door, staring at the metal four hanging there. Should he open the door? Was he ready to face the consequences? What his father told him came to him again. All debts are paid eventually. He turned the knob and went in.
Brennaman was sitting in a chair facing the window. He was heavier now. His hair was white and scraggly sticking out in every direction. Stone noticed he still wore the same hat as all those years ago, which lay on the dresser across from the bed.
“Hello, old friend.” He said.
Brennaman turned, revealing a face deeply lined with age. His beard was as white and unkempt as his hair. His eyes had the watery look of old age.
“My God.” He said. “It’s you.”
Brennaman got up. He started toward Stone. He had a limp on his left side. He noticed Stone looking.
“Cancer.” He said. “Had to have it taken off about 4 years back.”
They stood looking at each other. Stone reached out his hand. Brennaman took it. They collapsed in an embrace.
“It’s good to see you.” Stone said his voice catching. “I didn’t know how I would feel when I saw you, but I’m glad I came.”
“It’s good to see you too.” Brennaman replied. “I thought about finding you, but I just…I didn’t know if I could take seeing her again. Especially after how I left.”
They held each other at arm’s length, and then Brennaman returned to his chair, turning it to face the bed. Stone sat.
“How is she?” Brennaman asked.
“She’s gone.” Stone said.
“I’m sorry.” Stone said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t put it behind us sooner. I missed you and I know she missed you too. We…Oh Hell.” He began weeping.
“Don’t…It was my fault as well. I couldn’t put my pride aside and find you. I could have been the bigger man.” Brennaman tried to laugh, but his voice caught.
“What would you have thought of that?” He said. “Sly George Brennaman being the bigger man.”
“I’d say you’re a damn liar.”
They laughed together.
After they had a few drinks at the bar, Brennaman asked him why he had come.
“They’re after me again. I did a few hold-ups to help take care of Anne and they caught my trail.”
“So what do you need me for?”
“I’m making a stand.” He said.
“You are, are you?” Brennaman said. “Against what?”
“We’re not getting any younger.” Stone said. “We’re going to be gone to soon. I know it and I know you know it. I’m making a stand to show them they can’t just erase us. I lived and you lived and Anne lived and we can’t just be wiped away. We’re going to leave our mark, even if it has to be in blood.”
“Alright.” Brennaman said. “I wager I’ve got one good fight left in me.”
It was a week before the Mounties arrived. They came with 20 men. They rode up and surrounded the door of the hotel.
“This is Captain James Macleod of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” One shouted. “We are looking for Dapper Chris Stone and one Sly George Brennaman. Anyone not affiliated with those know outlaws should leave the premises immediately.”
The hotel emptied and a crowd gathered behind the Mounties.
“Stone and Brennaman, now is your chance to come out with your hands up. You can come quietly and will receive a fair trial.” Macleod said.
“We’re dead either way.” Stone shouted back.
“You knew the penalties when you embarked on your life of crime.” Macleod said. “I’m only here to collect you, whether it’s dead or alive is up to you.”
“In that case…”
A shot was fired from a window on the second floor of the hotel and a Mountie dropped from his horse.
Macleod and the Mounties jumped off their horses and drew their weapons as they tried to gain entrance to the hotel.
Brennaman picked off another who was trying to run across the street.
They heard a crashing sound as the Mounties broke through the barricade they had made as the people had left the hotel.
Stone turned to Brennaman.
“You ready?” he asked.
“See you on the other side.”
He kicked open the door and looked down upon the Mounties trying to disentangle themselves from the pile of chairs and tables they had crashed through. Stone emptied the chambers of both his revolvers, taking out three of them, before being shot in the shoulder.
Brennaman came out behind him and shot one Mountie breaking through a window, before he too was shot in the stomach. He fell to the ground in front of Stone.
“Hand me a revolver.” He said, blood running from his mouth. “I’m not dying without a gun in my hand.”
Stone passed him a revolver, he had finished reloading. A Mountie came up the stairs and Brennaman shot him in the shoulder. As he fell his gun went off and the bullet caught Stone in the leg. He cried out.
“Let’s finish this.” He said. “On my count, we stand and give them all we’ve got.”
They stood and the hotel erupted with the roar of gunfire. When the smoke cleared, Macleod surveyed the scene. Brennaman had fallen through the railing and lay on a broken table. He had been shot at least 15 times. He could not see Stone. He started up the stairs.
He found Stone slumped against the wall between rooms. He was covered with blood. Macleod knelt in front of him.
“You had to do it the hard way, eh?” he said. He noticed Stone’s chest moving slightly. He looked up to see Stone looking at him and smiling.
“Yes, because people will remember this.” He said and shot Macleod between the eyes.
“We paid the debts in blood.”