Part 2

Written By Michael Surbrook

Based on the film High Plains Drifter with influences from Stephen King's The Dark Tower.

Chapter Six: Best Laid Plains

They were the monied elite, the people in power, and even in a town as small as Largo, that meant something. They made the rules, decided who was right and who was wrong, who could stay, and who had to go. Chief among them was Jason Stone and Simon Heller, co-owners of the Largo Mining Company and the sole reason the town even existed. Others shared the table they were all gathered around, but these two sat at its head.

"It don't seem to me that we got a choice," Mayor Johnnie O'Brien, owner and operator of the Largo General Store, paced back and forth, one hand adjusting the black derby he wore. "Seein' we got no time to send for help... and further seein' that our one-eyed sheriff's about as much use...." He paused, trying to come up with the right analogy for the situation, "...as tits on a boar."

There were several smirks and snickers at that, as most in the room agreed the sheriff had rather nice tits, rather nice indeed... pity about the eye, though.

"Sorry I'm late. Anything happen?" Hans Adler closed the door behind him and came down the short flight of stairs into the room, looking about the room nervously.

Jason Stone waved a cigar at O'Brien. "No, no. His Honor's had the floor." He took another drag and exhaled a cloud of smoke, glancing at his business partner, Simon Heller, who looked agitated.

O'Brien opened his mouth, intending to continue, when Heller waved him off. "Look," he said, rising from his seat, "In case you hadn't heard, Shoko and the Puma sisters are due to get out of jail today."

"They comin' here?" Adler asked.

"That's their plan according to reports." Heller looked a little annoyed at the interruption. "No reason to believe they've changed it."

Standing at one end of the room, her hands clasped before her, the Preacher for the Man-Jesus glanced at the room's occupants. "Possibly they've repented their ways," she stated with a hopeful tone to her voice.

Stone shook his head, amazed at naiveté of the comment. "Preacher, they're gonna burn this town to the ground, and you know it. What we're talking about now is a way to stop them," he and Heller exchanged a quick look, "We've got to find that way now, and quick."

"Nevertheless," the Preacher continued, eyes downcast, "my conscience will not allow me to be a party... to the hiring of a professional gunfighter."

"Maybe you'd like to go out there and stand them off yourself, Preacher?" Heller snapped, his patience at an end with the ways of the Man-Jesus, at least for the moment.

Hands raised as if in supplication, the Preacher took a step back. "I'm just a simple woman of Man-Jesus."

Heller gave her a dark look, "Maybe tt's time we unsimplified you, Preacher." He turned and looked at the rest of the room, "Borders, Morris, and Sharp were professional gunfighters on the payroll of the Largo Mining Company—hired to protect our interests and the interests of this town—which are identical." Stone nodded in agreement at that statement and motioned for Heller to continue. "They stood around drinking beer and looking snotty for a full year. Then one day before we actually needed the bastards... they managed to get themselves killed." Turning back to the Preacher, Heller narrowed his brows, "So if you've got a suggestion, we'd be delighted to hear it. Otherwise, take your conscience elsewhere... while we think about saving your ass."

Startled, the Preacher ran her hands through the long strands of her raven-black hair. "Land sakes! Where's time gone to? Miss Lydia's eldest is feeling poorly. I promised--" She looked around the room, nodding her head "If you gentlemen will excuse me."

Stone watched the Preacher go, a faint smile on his lips. Simple woman of the Man-Jesus indeed. "Well, we were talkin' about hiring a gunfighter. But we don't know anything about that woman up in your hotel, Adler."

"Know?" Heller, replied, "We know she took the best we could find to hire."

Stone shrugged, "Yeah, with a gun hidden in her lap."

"So?" O'Brien pointed to his forehead with one hand and gestured wildly with the other, "Three for three. One right between the eyes! Goddamnedest shooting I ever even heard of. Gunslinger quality!"

Adler shook his head, "I still say we're asking for trouble! What do we know about her? Who is she? Where's she come from?"

Heller now turned his attentions to the hotel owner, "You've got our permission to go and ask her." He nodded out the window towards the shattered from window of the barber's "Although the last three that tried that didn't fare all that well."

Any further discussion on the matter was interrupted by the sound of shouting.

"Damn you! Let go of me, you one-eyed sack of shit!!"

Everyone in the room glanced at each other and then rose to see what the ruckus was all about.

"Let go of me! Get off me!"

Stone was the first to step into the other room, finding Theresa twisting and turning while Sandra tried to keep her arms confined. "Hey, come on. What's this?" he said soothingly, deciding someone had to calm Theresa down before Sandra lost her other eye.

Sandra gave Stone a nod. "I was just down there soundin' out that stranger..." she gestured back out the door, "...when she come in blastin' away like --"

"All right, Sandra," Stone grabbed one of Theresa's flailing arms and pulled her away from the rather battered looking sheriff, which promptly made him a target for her ire.

"You're gonna let her get away with this?" she snapped.

"Get away with what?" Stone replied, wondering why exactly Theresa seemed so upset about the deaths of Borders, Morris and Sharp. It's not like she'd liked them much anyway... no one had.

"Stealing Evelyn, that's what!" Theresa struggled to escape from Stone's grip, but had to settle for angrily tossing her head.

"Steal.... is that what all of this is about?" Stone shook his head, "Be a little patient, will you? No one is stealing anyone from you."

"Yes she did! That Stranger took her in broad daylight right there in the barn."

"So?" muttered Sandra, "S'not like you two ever did any different."

"Sheriff's right," Heller added. "Maybe if you two looked at us more often and less at each other, this wouldn't happen. Now shut up and get out, there's too much at stake here to to throw it all away on hysterics."

"Hysterics?" Having finally pulled free of Stone, who seemed happy to let her go, Theresa turned her attentions to the other mine owner. "Well, I can remember some hysterics one night not too long ago."

"Theresa, keep your mouth shut!" Stone took a step forward and grabbed her arm again, forcibly pushing her across the room, "Heller, get her out of here. We'll talk about this later!"

Chapter Seven: Anything You Want

Sitting next to the Stranger as she ate her breakfast in the Largo Hotel dining room, Sandra leaned on the table, trying to keep her tone even. "Well... why not?"

The Stranger sopped up some of her eggs with one of Sarah's fine biscuits and took a bite. "'Cause I'm not a gunslinger."

Oh, aren't you a liar. Sandra dismissed the thought and shook her head. "Well, don't get facts mixed up with stupid."

Apparently ignoring Sandra's comment, the Stranger finished her biscuit and took a drink of tea. "Besides, I have nothing against these people."

Didn't stop you before.

The Stranger turned to look at Sandra, "Who'd you say they are?"

Shoko and her cousins, the Anna and Uni." Sandra paused, "They're Pumas. They worked for the Company. What you call "troubleshooters."" Another pause. "Just like those three you done in yesterday..." she added helpfully. "Except when they was here before, there was lots of trouble. And they took care of it too... Y'know how Pumas are. Except... except they got too damn big for their britches." Sandra nodded as he talked, her words coming out in a hurry, as if she was talking to convince herself a much as the Stranger. "Started pushin' people around and takin' over the town... and we had to--"

"Had to what?" the Stranger asked sharply.

"We had to take them into custody, that's what." Sandra rose as the Stranger pushed back her chair. "I clapped the irons on them myself." She glanced down at the Stranger's breakfast. "Hey, you won't be wantin' that slab of pie, will ya?" she asked as she scooped the slice up. Sarah's pies were not to be missed.

Ignoring the dark glare Sarah was giving her—like the blue-skin had any say in the matter—Sandra followed the Stranger outside, warming up to her story. "You know what happened, friend?" She also decided to ignore the look the Stranger gave her at 'friend.' "They stole a golden ingot out of the mining office..." Sandra glanced down the street and leaned in close, almost whispering into the Stranger's ear, "...and they hid it under the floorboard of the shack that they lived in."

"Kind of careless of 'em, wasn't it?" the Stranger replied as she lit a cigar and then turned to look at Sandra. "Does a mining company usually leave gold ingots lyin' around like that?"

"That does seem a bit peculiar." Sandra nodded. "Matter of fact, Shoko kept bringing that up at the trial all the time... saying that she and the Sisters was being railroaded." She paused, doing her best to look imploring. "That's why they're mad at us."

The Stranger stopped suddenly, glancing up and down Largo's main (and only) street. "I'll tell you what you can do, Sheriff."

"What?" Sandra felt she wasn't going to like the answer.

"When those Pumas come back to town... you just clap the irons right on 'em."

Tool. She hated it when she was right. "Me?" Sandra shook her head. Going up against one Puma was bad enough, but three? "I might have forgot to mention... they were all passed out drunk at the time."

Hurrying her step, Sandra circled around in front of the Stranger, holding her hands palms up. "Look, I'm no lawman. They just hung this thing on me when that young Marshal Nys was killed." Now it was Sandra turn to glance up and down the street, trying to avoid the steady gaze of Stone and Heller, who stood in front of the saloon, drinking beers. "You know she was whipped to death right here in this street. Bullwhipped. Damnedest thing I ever saw."

The Stranger stopped dead, her cold gray eyes narrow. Sandra felt a sudden chill run down her spine. "Why would anybody want to do a thing like that?" the Stranger rasped.

"I don't know." Sandra shrugged. "It wasn't anybody from this town anyhow."

"How do you know?" the Stranger asked as she started walking again.

"This is a good town and these are good people." Sandra nodded, gesturing at the buildings around her. "Look, friend, we sure would like it if you'd help us with our problem."

"I'm not your friend." The Stranger stopped again. "Sheriff, your problem isn't a missing eye, it's a missing backbone. You people don't need me." She turned on her heel and pointed back down the street. "Look. Place a couple of good men with long-guns on top of that building. Maybe a couple more with scatter-guns down behind grain bags over there. A few more on this roof here." She turned again and indicated the Church of the Man-Jesus, "A lookout up there in the tower. Maybe a rifleman. That should take care of it."

Sandra nodded. Now she was getting somewhere! "Well, what would it take to see that through?"

The Stranger gave her a quizzical glance.

"The ambush." Sandra explained. "What would it cost us?"

"Sheriff," the Stranger's voice was cold, "I don't know if I really like this town that much."

"But... This is a good town. These are good people." She tried to keep her voice from cracking. So near....

"You like 'em, you save 'em." The Stranger pushed past and headed for the stable.

Time to go for broke. "What if we offered you anything you want?

The Stranger stopped again and turned around, slowly. "Anything?"

Chapter Eight: A Free Hand

Johnnie O'Brien paced back and forth as the Stranger slowly surveyed his store. The woman may have been shorter then he was, but she still managed to extrude an aura of menace. He found it strange, that such a slight woman (well, short anyway, he had it on good authority that under her long coat and rough homespun, the Stranger was fairly solidly muscled), should rattle him so. It wasn't like she was a Puma, or even Marshal Nys, who had nearly been as tall as any Puma and almost as broad across the shoulder and hip. Maybe it was the eyes—the cold gray eyes that never seemed to blink and missed little.

Swallowing his nervousness, O'Brien stopped his pacing and pulled his cigar from his mouth. "Unlimited credit. That's what it means. An open charge account with no reckonin'." He gestured with the cigar at the store, hoping the Stranger would satisfy herself with just a few cigars and maybe a new coat.

Sandra gave the Stranger a grin, looking rather pleased with herself. "What His Honor's trying to say is, you got yourself a free hand in this town."

"Any damn thing I want, huh?" The Stranger fixed O'Brien with her gaze.

"Yeah...." O'Brien swallowed and wished he had a drink handy. "Go on. Help yourself." He waved his free hand, almost shooing the Stranger away and hope she'd look at the store some more and not him. "Help yourself!. Go ahead. It's my pleasure." He felt only a little better when she looked away.

"Yes, sir." Now that she was looking around the store again, and not at him, his normal demeanor returned. "Anything you want that's here, as best as we can get it for you, we will." Leaning on the counter, O'Brien shot the Sheriff a wink. "Even if it's a Tepachi... to keep your bed warm at night." The Sheriff expression was blank in return—she had no real liking for Evelyn or Theresa, nor their tastes in each other.

The Stranger didn't both to respond, but simply helped herself to a fistful of cigars, stuffing them into a jacket pocket. O'Brien blanched slightly, then spotted an old Tepachi, with two children in tow, examining a stack of blankets in the back. The Stranger may have a free hand, but Tepachi were a different matter. "Hey, you!" he snapped, startling the old man. "Keep your sticky fingers off them blankets..." He pointed his cigar a the two children, "and keep them kids under control." Glancing over at the Sheriff, who hadn't moved, he muttered "Damned savages..." and then gave the Stranger a friendly grin, to apologize for the outburst.

Helping herself to a cigar as well, Sandra nodded to the Stranger, "And besides, about handlin' that ambush, everybody in town, more or less, is at your orders." She lit it with the snap of a match and watched as the Stranger made her way next to the Tepachi.

The Stranger sized up the old man and his two... grand? children. The man gave her a wary look, while the youngsters simply stared curiously. Reaching out, the Stranger grabbed two jars of candy off of the counter, handing the larger to the smaller child, and the smaller jar to the larger of the two. As the children smiled with glee and started to work the tops off of the jars, she then selected a tall stack of blankets and thrust them into the old Tepachi's hands. "Here you go."

Turning to O'Brien, the aged Tepachi shook his head, a look of apprehension on his face. "No, no," he stammered turning back to the Stranger, obviously fearing the worst if he accepted the gift.

"Tell him it's all right," the Stranger instructed O'Brien, making her way towards the door.

Making placating motions with his hands, O'Brien tried to keep a pleasant expression on his face as he assured the Tepachi. "It's all right."

At the door the Stranger paused and stepped to one side, making room for Sarah J Ferrari, who had come to the store to pick up supplies for the hotel. As she passed, giving the Stranger a wary glance, the Stranger let her gaze travel up and down Sarah's trim, well-proportioned figure, obviously admiring the way her blue skin contrasted sharply with her bright white blouse. Turning to look at Sandra, the Stranger smiled around her cigar. "Anything I want, huh?"

* * * * *

"How's that feel?" Jeremy Luckhestein asked as the Stranger finished pulling on a boot and stood up. She clumped around his leather-working store for a few moments, watched by Sandra and O'Brien, before turning back around.

"Not bad. I'll take 'em.

"All right, that's three pairs of hand-stitched boots and a tooled belt with silver buckle." Pausing for a moment, he started to figure the total on his fingers, looking at the ceiling in order to concentrate, since the alternative was looking at the Stranger's tight-clad form. He wasn't certain where she'd gotten her clothing, but her trousers fit more snugly then he'd thought possible. "That'll be—five and two, carry the nine—that comes to exactly --"

"No charge." Sandra pulled the cigar out of her mouth and smiled.

* * * * *

John Sizemore watched glumly as Korey, his 'prentice, lifted his best saddle off of its display rank and started for the door. Reaching over for the sign listing the saddle's price, he scratched a pencil across the cardstock and then settled for simply tearing it up. It wouldn't have been so bad, if not for the grin plastered across the face of the Sheriff. Apparently she found shopping with the Stranger to be the height of hilarity.

"Come on, now," the Stranger motioned towards the door and started down the street. Staggering under the bulky weight of the saddle, Korey followed, tailed by Sandra, O'Brien, and a growing gaggle of townsfolk. Once it became apparent the Stranger was making for the Saloon, more people joined in, asking each other what was happening.

* * * * *

As the doors to the saloon banged open, Aoi looked up in surprise from the game of Watch Me she was playing on the bar top with Evelyn and Theresa. The Stranger strode in, with what looked like half the town in tow. She stepped up the bar, motioned to Aoi, and stated "I'd like to get all these people a drink."

"Yes, sir. One round for the house," Aoi wiped her hands on her apron and started to pull bottles out from under the bar. "This gentleman here's buying a round for the house," she announced, as eager hands grabbed glasses.

"Hey!" Ling Ling called out, with a touch of indignation, "I get to order too don't I? I want a glass of beer!"

Aoi nodded to the shapely Elvan. "You get a glass of beer right there. Coming up." She picked up a glass and pulled the level to the tap, and then handed over the foaming pint. "There you are." Ling Ling grabbed the glass with a smile and greedily started to drink it down.

"Now, that's one round for the house, m'am." Aoi said to the Stranger, "Anything else?"

The sable-haired woman gestured with the stub of her cigar. "Get yourself something."

"Thank you very kindly, m'am." Aoi smiled and reached into the humidor behind her. "I'll have a cigar," she said and tucked it into a breast pocket. "And smoke it later."

Placing her hands on the bar, Aoi took a deep breath. "Now, including the smoke, that comes to about...."

"There's no charge, Aoi," Sandra pulled her cigar out of her mouth and smiled. "You was at the meeting. Anything she wants in this town, she gets. You voted on it."

Aoi looked at the crowd happily drinking and carousing and tried not to imagine the lost income it represented. "I didn't know that meant free whiskey."

"Everybody's got to put somethin' in the kitty. Right?" Sandra replied, looking mighty pleased with herself.

"Right." The Stranger reached over and pulled Sandra's badge off of her shirt, promptly pinning it to Ling Ling's tunic. "About time this town had a new sheriff."

Ling Ling glanced down at her ample chest. "I'm the sheriff? I'm the sheriff!"

At Sandra's elbow, O'Brien sniggered and patted her on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, Sandra... but you looked so comical when she put your badge David's pointy-eared servant girl."

"I'm not a servant girl anymore," Ling Ling snapped. "I'm the sheriff."

"And the mayor," The Stranger stated as she dropped O'Brien's bowler atop Ling Ling's ink-black locks.

"And I'm the mayor." Ling Ling looked pleased at her new status.

"Any objections?" the Stranger asked O'Brien.

"No," O'Brien shook his head, doing his best to keep his opinions to himself. "No, that's fine."

"I'm the mayor. I'm the sheriff." Ling Ling seemed almost in a daze, but then, Sandra and O'Brien weren't much better off. Turning on her heel, she glared at David Tam, who was still sipping at his glass of whiskey. Hands on her hips, she strode over to where he stood, hands on her hips, eyes narrow, and brows knitted. "No more 'Ling Ling, bring the water. Ling Ling, take out the laundry. Clean up the mess.'" She punctuated each comment with a sharp jab of the finger to Tam's chest, forcing him to back up.

"Hot damn!" Ling Ling then exclaimed as she turned away from her former master. " I'm going declare a holiday. Hot damn!" Pausing, she then assumed a sober expression. "Wait a minute. I can't be a sheriff if I don't have a gun."

* * * * *

"Is this about the size gun you're lookin' for?" David Ganavan asked holding up a small-caliber derringer. The sort of pistol ladies used as holdout guns, tucked into a garter as used as a weapon of last resort. Ling Ling, however, seemed to have other ideas. She pointed at a large brushed steel revolver. "No, that one. That'll do." Ganavan stared at the pistol for a few moments before picking it up and setting it on the countertop. "Okay."

Ling Ling picked up the pistol and sighted down the barrel,. Pulling the hammer back she cocked the gun and then dry-fired it, nodding at the result. "Yeah, this'll do."

"Whatever this lady wants, she's to have." Sandra explained as Ling Ling shoved the pistol into her sash. "Orders of Mr. Stone and Mr. Heller."

The Stranger stepped away from the counter and looked over a rack of long-guns set up on one wall. Running her hand across them. she looked back at Ganavan. "I want everyone in the regiment to have one of these nice rifles."

"What regiment?" Ganavan asked, puzzled.

"The City of Largo Volunteers," the Stranger answered with a slight smile.

Ganavan crossed his arms over his chest. "Never heard of' 'em," he announced.

"You ought to. You're in it." The Stranger turned to look at the gathered crowd and started pointing. "So are you, you and all of you out there. I want you all out in the street in ten minutes for drill."

Chapter Nine: Triple Puma Threat

The prison was a building of white stone set out in the middle of a seemingly vast white plain. It was squat for its size, and gave the impression of thick-walled strength. Windows were few, doors fewer, and all were heavily barred. Inside were all the the scum and villainy of the Barony, men and women who'd committed the most base of crimes and had been sent here, to rot away their days (and in many cases, their minds).

Warden William "Hard" Case stood in front of the prison gate, the stock of a sawed-off scatter-gun held in one hand. He was flanked by several guards, armed with short pikes and more scatter-guns, cut down to make them easier to bring about in the close quarters of the prison. The shortened barrels also meant the weapon's load spread faster and wider, a useful trait inside. Designed for close-range fights, they'd vaporize a man from the waist up if needed. Or a woman too, if it came to that.

Before Case stood a trio of Pumas, equally tall, broad of shoulder and hip, and stupendously endowed. Anna, Shoko, and Uni, the infamous "Triple Puma Threat." They were true hard-calibers, not like most of the riffraff decaying in the prison, they'd done deeds the rest of the inmates could only dream about. Nearly as tall as himself, Case found himself both repelled and attracted to the trio. Dressed as they were, in clothing gone bad from a year inside, their fine figures were obvious. He grinned at the sight, recalling the times he saw them in a lot less, their bodies slick with sweat, naked breasts bouncing and swaying, his hips working as he leaned over their well-muscled bodies, with wrists securely manacled to the wall. There was no way he could take a Puma by force, they were too strong for that, but he could make a deal, a trade, an offer they'd be more than willing to accept. It's not like they had any dignity anyway. He got a little pussy (well, a lot, really), and they got extra food, drink, a blanket, a hot bath. Hell, the guards had taken to trading them liquor rations in exchange for a chance to watch them go down on each other. And if another prisoner got uppity? There was no better threat than dumping them in the Puma's cell for an hour.

Covered by the other guards, a man unlocked the chains hanging from each Puma's wrist and ankle. He didn't bother to toss them aside, but let each length fall to the dusty ground with a thump and a rattle. Case wasn't taking any chances—leg irons, manacles, and an extra length running from each one's waist. If they tried anything, he wanted to be able to blast them into pulp before they could get a hand on anyone.

Stepping back, the guard wiped his hands on his pants and then hefted his own firearm. Case was pleased to see his men were steady and unruffled—Pumas were big, strong, and tough, and even a small one could take a grown man with ease.

"Shoko, Anna, Uni... don't forget your tickets back here to my little hotel." Case grinned at his own joke and slung several gunbelts out into the hot sun. They landed in a cloud of dust and sat there, shells glittering in their loops. "And don't worry—they ain't loaded."

"What about our horses?: Anna called, glancing from the belts to the guards.

"We had three good animals," Uni added.

Shaking his head, Case stepped backwards towards the relative safety of the prison. "What do you think you've been eatin' the last six months?"

The three Pumas stared as the gate clanged closed. Shaking her head, Shoko walked over to the pile of belts, fished hers out and started to strap it on. Once it was good and tight she drew her pistol, rolled out the cylinder, and began pushing shells in.

"Damn him!" Anna snapped, "I didn't eat my own horse!"

"That slop he fed us wasn't our horses," Shoko replied, shoving her pistol back into its holster. "He just stole 'em and sold 'em!"

"That's what he done!" Uni exclaimed, glaring at the bright white walls of the prison.

"Shut up." Shoko was feeling more irritable by the minute. Having spent a year cooped up with the Sisters was bad enough, but now they were letting their anger over their missing horses distract them from the real issue at hand. "When we get to Largo, you can have the mayor's horse."

Anna grinned, her teeth white in the shadow of her thick mane of hair. "Fried or barbecued," she asked.

Uni turned and looked out at the baked plain and the line of trees edging the horizon. "Well, I guess we walk some."

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