The Bounty Hunter - A Will Starr Short Story

The Bounty Hunter


Sam Fletcher held the faded circular in his lap so that the light from his fire illuminated the face and description of the fugitive. Then he spat into the embers and put it back into his vest pocket along with his reading spectacles. He lifted his hat and ran his fingers through his shock of gray hair.

“You coming in to my camp or are you going to skulk around out there all night like some damn coyote? I seen you half a dozen times already, boy, and I could have shot you dead to rights, but I take considerations for damn fool kids.”

A tall, thin boy appeared out of the darkness, obviously unsure of what to do next.

“I didn’t mean any harm, Mister. I am sorry for my poor behavior.”

“A man should come clean when he’s wrong boy, but don’t apologize and grovel like that. It makes you appear weak, and someone might decide to take advantage.”

The boy sat, and Sam handed him a cup. “Have some of that there stew in the pot. I kilt me three rabbits today, and I fetched up some wild onions I found. It’s right tasty if I do say so.”

As the boy dipped his cup in the stewpot, Sam looked him over with a practiced eye. Satisfied, he leaned back on the saddle he was using for a backrest..

“Where’s your horse, son?”

The boy gestured into the darkness. “I got him picketed out there by some grass. My tack's out there too.”

Sam nodded. “Best go fetch him and your tack after you finish that stew. I seen Indian sign a few miles back, and they can steal a horse while you’re sitting on it. No sense makin’ it too easy.”

The boy nodded, put down the empty cup and rose to fetch his horse.

“I make you out to be Billy Brighton, the boy who kilt his ma and pa last week.”

Billy Brighton halted in mid stride and slowly turned around, astonishment written on his face.

“How would you know that?”

“I’m a bounty hunter. It’s my business to know every wanted man and boy for a hundred miles around. Seen your description on a wanted poster, dead or alive”

Billy paled. “Are you going to kill me? I never done it.”

“None of you wanted men ever done it, but it don’t make no never mind to me, one way or another. There ain’t no re-ward for you, so I don’t much care about it, other than to keep you from killing me too.”

“I never killed them. I found them dead and reported it right away, but that no account Sheriff Baines saw an opportunity, so he said I did it.”

“Now why would he do that?”

Billy shrugged. “I been seeing his daughter Molly Baines some, and he didn’t like it much. He told me to keep my distance, but Molly is strong willed, so she met me on the sly. I reckon he saw a way to put a permanent stop to it.”

“So I can turn my back on you?”

“Yes sir. I ain’t no murderer.”

“You best fetch your horse. How come you ain’t armed out here?”

“I thought it best to leave my weapons with my horse. I didn’t want nobody at this fire to misunderstand my intentions.”

Sam Fletcher nodded. “Pays to be careful, but what if I was a robber or an assassin? You’d be in a pretty pickle about now. Next time, keep your weapons about you, but keep your hands where folks can see them.”

“Yes sir.”

“And quit calling me ‘sir’. I was an enlisted man and just as good as anybody else. My name is Sam Fletcher. Call me Sam.”

“Yes, Mister Fletch… Sam.”

Billy dumped his saddle and blankets near the fire. Then he picketed his horse within sight of the fire and started gathering firewood under the approving eye of Sam Fletcher. No one asked him to gather wood and no one had to.

When Billy returned to the fire, Sam held out the cup with the last of the stew. Then he pulled the circular out of his pocket and studied the face again.

“Is that a wanted poster? I ain’t never seen one.”

“It the man I’m after, name of Les Quint. He’s wanted for murdering a judge. There’s a five thousand dollar re-ward for him, dead or otherwise.” He handed it to Billy whose eyes widened.

“This is him! This is the man who murdered ma and pa! He come by at supper time and ma fed him. Then he slept in the barn.”

Billy paused, shame-faced. “I snuck out to go see Molly, and when I got back, that man was gone and my folks were dead. He took the cash box ma had hid in the flour bin. I reckon they thought if they gave it up, he would not kill them. I should have been there.”

“If you had, you’d probably been dead along with them. Quint likes to kill people.”

“Maybe. When I heard that the sheriff accused me, I cut out there quick. We were going to lose that farm anyway because the bank was about to take it. And Molly let it be known that she wasn’t interested in a killer like me, so there ain’t nothing back there for me.”

Sam wrapped his blanket around him and rolled over. Billy did the same, and the night was silent except for the crackle of the fire. He thought Sam was asleep until he spoke in a low voice.

“You might as well ride with me in the morning then, boy. We both got a good reason to find Les Quint.

Three days later, they were scouting for a good spot to ford the Verde River, when Billy Brighton spotted a lone rider skylined on a distant ridge. Sam pulled out a spyglass and studied the figure for a moment. Then he handed it to Billy who had never used one. When he finally saw the rider, he nodded excitedly.

“That’s him! I’m certain of it. He’s big and ugly.”

Sam was looking doubtfully at the river. “Don’t see no good place to ford it, do you?”

Billy shook his head. “No, but it looks wider and slower down stream a piece. We can try it there.”

Sam hesitated. “I don’t like to cross a river where it’s deep. I can’t swim.”

“I can, so let me try it first, and if me and my horse make it, then you can follow.”

For the first ten feet or so, Billy’s horse kept its feet, but then it was swimming and drifting downstream. Suddenly, it lunged and found footing, scrambling up the far bank.

Sam eased his own horse into the river and seemed to be doing well until his horse suddenly began to panic and lunge. Instantly, Sam was in the water, flailing desperately, but with his boots full of water, it was a losing battle and he was going down for the second time when he felt a rope settle over his shoulders. Then he was unceremoniously jerked and tugged to shore by Billy on his horse.

Billy gathered up Sam’s horse as the old man coughed up the muddy water in his lungs. He looked anxiously toward the far off ridge, but the rider was gone. At last, Sam began to breathe normally, and he gathered his thoughts.

“Let’s build us a fire so’s I can dry out. While I’m doing that, you ride up there and see if you can spot Quint. He may be nooning somewhere. I don’t think he knows he’s being followed.”

Sam took off his clothes and hung them on sticks around the fire. His bedroll was still dry, so he wrapped it round himself against the chill. Billy made sure Sam was able to fend for himself and then rode off at a fast clip. Half an hour later, Sam saw him skylined on the ridge.

Three hours later, Billy had not yet returned, so a worried Sam put his still damp clothes back on, doused the fire and mounted up. He began to question the wisdom of sending Billy alone, and cursed himself for a fool. Finally, he topped the ridge, but for several minutes, he saw nothing. Then he spotted a still figure stretched out on the ground far below. His spyglass identified him as Billy Brighton. He nudged his horse and began to pick his way down.

It was nearly sundown before he reached Billy’s body, and he was immensely relieved to see him twist around when he heard Sam’s horse approaching. He was bound hand and foot, and gagged. His face was badly swollen, probably from a beating. He had another rope around his ankles that led some fifty feet off to the south. Sam pulled his revolver, looking slowly all around. Seeing and hearing nothing, he dismounted.

Billy rubbed his wrists as Sam built a fire.

“He was waiting for me, and when I rode around that outcropping, there he was with a rifle. He had me snookered good, so I dismounted with my hands up, but when he saw who I was, he clubbed me with the butt of that rifle. I went down, and I remember being clubbed a few more times before it all went black. Next thing I knew, he had me tied up like this and he had that long rope in his hand as he was mounting up. He was fixing to wrap it around his saddle horn and drag me. Then I heard a snake rattle somewhere around him and that horse took off fast with Quint’s foot caught in the stirrup. That rope jerked plumb out of his hand. I had plenty of reason to hate that man, but I never heard a man scream like that. It went on and on…”

Billy shivered involuntarily and Sam added wood to the fire.

“We find him in the morning, son. Have some coffee, and I’ll make us something to eat.”

They found the horse first, grazing quietly. They found what was left of Les Quint a few minutes later. The sharp rocks and thorny brush had done their work as he was dragged through them. All his clothes were gone and he was unrecognizable.

Sam Fletcher drew a pouch out of his saddle bags and counted out a few coins. He handed them to a puzzled Billy Brighton.

“I got a brother name of Gordon Fletcher about ten miles west of Billings up Montana way on the Double F Connected. That there’s enough money to get you there, and there ain’t nothing here for you anymore except a rope, so you head out, and I’ll take Quint to the Federal Marshal’s office. They know me and they know I was after him. There won’t be no questions. Then I’m coming to Billings my own self. I’m tired of the bounty life.”

“Put that carcass in a box, Henry, and get it in the ground right off. It’s the ugliest thing I ever saw and it’s stinking up the whole town.” The undertaker nodded at the marshal.

Marshal Din Ballard walked with Sam Fletcher down the dusty street and into the Lucky Nine Saloon where the barkeep drew them both a beer. They took a table along the wall.

“Well you done it again, Sam, although I question your methods. The territory is much safer with Les Quint dead.”

“He’s dead for sure, Din, but I can’t produce the body. He drowned, but by the time I found him there wasn’t nothing left to bring back.”

The marshal stared at Sam. “Well then whose body was that?”

“It was a kid by the name of Billy Brighton. His horse drug him, but it was just an accident. He was wanted too, but there ain’t no re-ward. Guess you can pull that circular on Brighton down too.”

The marshal glanced at Sam, took a thoughtful sip of his beer and chewed his lip, nodding all the while.

“I saw that circular, and I would have thought Billy Brighton was much smaller than that from the description. But I’ll pull that circular on him, Sam. I surely will. Now let’s go get your money. I’ll take your word that Les Quint is dead. After all, you’ve never lied to me.”

Marshal Ballard gave Sam Fletcher a slow, knowing wink and they finished their beer.

More by this Author


Comments 70 comments

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 18 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Well yes indeedy buckaroos that was a great read. Hooray for the good guys and that wonderful rattlesnake. You gotta figure that that Marshal figured exactly what was up. Thank you for a delightful read.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 18 months ago from Rural Arizona

A new story from my friend is a great way to end the day. As usual, the ending twist snuck up on me and took me by surprise. Thanks for writing and sharing your work Bill.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 18 months ago from The Beautiful South

Another very enjoyable story Will! You remind me of what HubPages should be about.

Up and sharing.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 18 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

Hello Will. Great to see another Will Starr story posted here. Now, those where the days when a man's word meant something. They seem to be long gone now. You have the tone just right, the setting true to fact and the essence of the old west perfect.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 18 months ago from Olympia, WA

A bounty hunter with a heart. Who would a' thunk it? I love a good story, Will, and you just produced a dandy. Thanks for the great read.


drbj profile image

drbj 18 months ago from south Florida

Great story, Will, as always with a great kicker at the end. When it comes to short Western story-writing, you ARE the man!


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 18 months ago from Hereford, AZ

Wonderful story Bill, and just the thing to cheer me up.


Lee Cloak 18 months ago

Love it, great dialogue, very enjoyable, a really splendid read, voted up, Lee


Mandy Avery profile image

Mandy Avery 18 months ago

Great story


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 18 months ago from Central Florida

Great story, Will. What Sam did for Billy was so kind. Now Sam can retire and the young Brighton can live the rest of his life without looking over his shoulder.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 18 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Reminds me a bit of Steve McQueen in "Wanted: Dead or Alive"" which is one of my favorite old series. He should have been a social worker instead of a bounty hunter. voted up and shared.


Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 18 months ago

As always great! "Justice can be very clever".


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 18 months ago

I love it when the good guys win!!!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Eric, for your kind comments!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thanks for being such a good friend and faithful reader, Mike Blue!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

I agree Jackie, that HubPages is not what it used to be. Thank you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Mike! Your approval is important!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Bill!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you drbj! What a nice compliment!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Becky! Are you OK?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Lee. It's nice to know my little stories are read all the way across the pond!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Mandy, and thank you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Shauna! You summed it up nicely!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Don, and you're correct. Both Steve McQueen and Nick Adams had such shows back in the 50's.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hiya Ginn. So good to hear from you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

So do I, Pattie! ^_^


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 18 months ago from Hereford, AZ

I am Bill, my husband is not so well. He is in ICU. Doing better after four days on antibiotics, but still in there and the VA wants to take him to Tucson as soon as they get a bed open in ICU there. Hopefully he will get out before they get a bed open. I do not want to have to drive two hours to visit him.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Is Fred still there or did he move?


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 18 months ago from Hereford, AZ

Fred is still here, and he came over yesterday.


RoadMonkey profile image

RoadMonkey 18 months ago

Another great Will Starr story. I always have to read them as soon as the notification comes through. Pity about Molly!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Fred is a good man, and I'm glad he's there, Becky.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, RoadMonkey, and how is that PhD quest going?

(I've always liked the name Molly, and I'm sad to admit that whenever I use it in a story, she not very likable!)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 18 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

No one writes a western short story with integrity, texture, down-to-earth twist endings, and nuanced characters like Will Starr. No one. You are the master. Can they get any better than this? Nope. :-)


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

I started writing five years ago, Genna East, and I was stunned when I received almost immediate approval, and flabbergasted when I took first place in a writing contest on Rope and Wire, the largest western writing site. Then I took fourth place in a contest while competing with professional authors, and Best Fiction writer twice here on HubPages. I credit God with my success, and I am grateful to have known wonderful people like you, 50 Caliber, billyBuc, Mike and Mike, Pop, Don, Eric, Jackie, Bob, Ginn, drbj, Becky, and numerous others. Thank you!


resspenser profile image

resspenser 18 months ago from South Carolina

Could you please write a crappy one so the rest of us can feel better about ourselves? Didn't think so! Another fine yarn woven by a master storyteller. Thanks for the story!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Ronnie! You too were on my list! (The good one.)


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 18 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Awesome story. It was much exciting. But ending made me sad. Killing Billy can't be digested by me. It was a great twist.

Voted up and awesome.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Venkatachari M,

I think something was lost in translation because Billy was not killed. The bounty hunter lied about Billy being dead. The bounty hunter said Billy was dead so the law would stop looking for him. Billy was still alive.


lilyfly profile image

lilyfly 18 months ago from Wasilla, Alaska

Just another great story! Those two joes look a bad lot. Of course, please do call me, and make Hyphenbird call too! Clark cook is even going to visit this summer! Call, darn it! I like to talk to talent!


Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 18 months ago from Hyderabad, India

Oh, Sorry. I misunderstood it. I did not realize that he told a lie. Then, I will be happy now. Thanks for clarifying it.


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 18 months ago from Oklahoma

A wonderful and compelling tale. Great hub!


DJ Anderson 18 months ago

Will, I thoroughly enjoyed your western story.

Felt the heat from the fire and loved your rabbit stew.

You really brought it all to life.

I love a story with an unexpected twist at the end.

Yours was a most pleasant surprise!

DJ.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Lilly, and yes, I will call you!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Venkatachari M!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Larry!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, DJ!

BTW, lots of my stories have a twist! In fact, almost all do.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 18 months ago from Rural Arizona

Bill, your middle name should have been "twist" because you get me every time. Even though I know the twist is coming I rarely see it until it happens.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 18 months ago from Queensland Australia

Another great story Will, displaying the best aspects of human nature and your endings never disappoint. A wonderful read today.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

If I can still lead you astray Mike, I guess I'm doing it right!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, John! This new Hub of yours is great! :

http://hubpages.com/literature/How-to-Talk-Aussie-...


Jodah profile image

Jodah 18 months ago from Queensland Australia

Thanks Will


CatherineGiordano profile image

CatherineGiordano 18 months ago from Orlando Florida

An excellent story. I really enjoyed reading it. You have a lot of talent as a story writer. here's the second time today, I have to say I admire (and envy, just a little bit) another's talent.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank Catherine! Much appreciated, especially coming from a talent like you!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 18 months ago from Asheville, NC

Yet another great tale. As usual you mold your characters so quickly that we feel we know them right away. Good stuff.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Suzie and thank you!


bethperry profile image

bethperry 18 months ago from Tennesee

Will, another thoroughly enjoyable read! I like this bounty hunter Sam very well. Have you thought of a Sam Fletcher serial of stories?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hmm. Not a bad idea, Beth! Let me think on that one, and thank you for the thoughtful comment!

Are you feeling better?


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 18 months ago from Stillwater, OK

I really enjoyed this. You made the boy look so innocent, and parlayed a real chunk of excitement. Nice!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Deb!


Aladdins Cave profile image

Aladdins Cave 18 months ago from Melbourne, Australia

I might be wrong, most likely I am, but maybe you can have a look anyway

"ed him to gather wood and no had to."

Should that be no one had to ? Just saying.

I also don't know the word nooning, or find it on Google. Is it a slang word ?

Otherwise it was a dam good read. 5 star stuff and thumbs up

Thanks for that

Cheers from DOWNUNDER


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Hi Gus,

Error corrected, and thank you!

A 'nooning' was the stopping for the midday meal and to rest, and was based on the noontime of day. It is seldom used today.

Thank you for the superb comments!


Aladdins Cave profile image

Aladdins Cave 18 months ago from Melbourne, Australia

Hi Will,

thank you for taking the time to explain the word "nooning" .

Great to learn new things. Great story and I'm going Tweet it for you now, get some more readers

Cheers from DOWNUNDER


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 18 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

A great way to get a sense of how people spoke in those days is to read old letters or journals. Those who came west on wagon trains spoke of taking a 'nooning' to feed, water, and rest their animals and later, themselves.

BTW, their animal's needs always came first, mostly out of kindness but also in case they needed to move out in a hurry.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 12 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Terrific short story set in the Wild Wild West. It was gripping and real to nature to set it there. Great job!


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 11 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Willstarr, you have given us another enjoyable story. Good people need to win sometime.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 11 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Stella!


Surabhi Kaura profile image

Surabhi Kaura 11 months ago from Toronto, Canada

That was a nice read. Well done!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 11 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you, Surabhi Kaura!


LennyLennard 7 months ago

I enjoyed reading such stories my whole life and yours is a pretty great piece of work!

Especially the dialogues! :D

I kept this videos running in the background, which were totally great for the whole ambient feeling^^

https://youtu.be/t0yWdF2rfHc?list=PLfkfxk3Q1BOLvmB...

https://youtu.be/mrBuefdiPtc?list=PLfkfxk3Q1BOLvmB...

Can't wait to read the other Will Starr short stories! :D

Again, great work!


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 7 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona Author

Thank you Lenny, for those very kind words!

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