The Long Ride Out

Lewis Shiner
The Long Ride Out
By Lewis Shiner
Distributed under Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
The sweet taste of cold and wood smoke hung in the air. Marlin rode
low in the saddle, his shoulders curled against the hungry wind. His hat
was pulled down tight and his eyes didn't move as he passed the crude
shacks at the edge of town.
He tied his horse in front of the saloon, unwinding his long body as if a
sudden movement might snap it. He turned down the collar of his
greatcoat and checked to make sure his big Army Colt was loose in its
holster. The saloon door was a single chunk of white pine, still oozing
sap, and he had to put his shoulder to it to force it open.
The long room inside was quiet, and not much warmer than the street.
Clusters of people sat nursing coffee and drinks, talking quietly if they
talked at all. Marlin spotted a few farmers the railroad had brought in
from Europe: rounded hats, nervous eyes, skin as red as blood. At the
far end of the room a half-dozen cowboys turned over cards with
patient boredom.
Marlin walked up to the bar. "Whiskey," he said, and when the drink
came he tossed it straight down and felt it pull his lips into a grimace.
He nodded for a refill.
When he turned to face the room they were all watching him. "I'm
looking for a man named Kraamer," Marlin said. "Anybody here know
of him?"
One of the cowboys turned casually and rang the spittoon with a stream
of tobacco juice. Marlin knew the long, thin face from somewhere, the

blond hair that fell limply to his shoulders. He smiled at Marlin and
showed his brown-stained teeth.
Marlin felt the lines in his own face, the gray in his hair, the chill in his
bones. He was too old for this. He set a half dollar on the bar and
started for the door.
"Don't get in a huff," the bartender said. Marlin looked back. "Kraamer
lives about a mile west of town. Follow the railroad and take the first
trail south."
Marlin touched his hat and went out into the cold.
Leaving his horse to follow the tracks, Marlin pulled a grimy telegram
from his coat pocket with one gloved hand. It was addressed to the Iron
Horse Saloon in Dodge City, and it read: 100 DOLLARS TO ANY
The sun was nearly down when he reigned in beside a big sod house,
fifty feet long and completely overground. Parched yellow grass grew
out of the roof. There was flat prairie in all directions, without a sign
that anybody had ever tried to farm it. As Marlin got down a
tumbleweed rolled out of the desolate land behind him and hung onto
his leg. He kicked it aside and led his horse to the corral.
"You must be the gunfighter," said a man from the door of the house.
He was short and balding, maybe fifty years old. His new denim
overalls were already stained and torn.
"That's right. You Kraamer?"
The old man nodded, his corncob pipe bobbing up and down. "Bit long
in the tooth for this line of work, ain't you?"
"I made it this far. There's a lot can't say that."

The old man laughed once, like a cough. "Once you see to your horse,
come in and get some supper."
The mud walls of the house gave off a damp smell, but at least it was
warm inside. A fire snapped in the stove and Marlin stood in front of it
to warm his hands. Two iron-frame beds stood at one end of the single
room, and there was a cupboard and a table and chairs near the stove.
The furniture was all storebought, light and strong, obviously well-used.
In contrast there was a brand-new steamer trunk in the corner.
"Going somewhere?" Marlin asked.
"Had an idea once to travel and see the world. That was before the
present trouble, of course. Sit down, I'll find you a plate."
Kraamer talked while Marlin ate, pouring himself shots of whiskey out
of a clay jug. "I'm a homesteader," he said. "I guess you already figured
that. On the other side of my property is a rancher by the name of
Britton. He's got about ten thousand acres, but he won't be happy if he
gets a million. North of me is the railroad. Besides my homestead, the
government says I can buy 160 acres of railroad land too."
Marlin nodded; it was how the railroads turned their
government-granted land into money. It was the reason they brought
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