Charlie Smith couldn’t tell the truth if he was hogged tied and hanging by a thin rope over a five thousand foot
    cliff.  Given the choice between telling the truth and telling a lie, Charlie went with a lie every time.  If he couldn’t
    make up something when he spoke, then he wouldn’t speak until he could.  There were bad men and liars in the
    West and not one could match the lies and the twisted actions of Charlie Smith.  The name itself was a fabrication
    and everyone knew it, but not one living outlaw knew Charlie’s real name, or where he was born, where he was
    raised, or what his past was.  Only Charlie knew why Charlie, at age 33, was being such a bad hombre.
       Not one thing could crack the hard granite-like facade of Charlie.  His partners in crime gave the outlaw a wide
    berth.  No one tangled with him and they talked real gentle and respectful around him, for Charlie clearly didn’t care
    whether he lived or died and he wasn’t afraid of nothin’.  This was shown time and again, and there was a chain of
    dead men along the wild trails to prove this.  One thing Charlie could do better than shoot off his mouth, was shoot
    his guns.  Charlie was one of the real bad men.
       That’s why it came as such a shock to the gang at Robbers Roost, when eleven of the outlaws came back with
    Fletcher’s daughter, hands tied behind her back, wearing her Sunday dress and still riding in her father’s fancy
    buggy.  Never before had the gun fighter Smith intruded in the schemes of the thieves.  Those of Robbers Roost
    noted his interest the minute he came to observe the girl, and it especially made the eleven kidnappers nervous.  
    From the dark shadow of a store building’s door frame, Charlie stared.  He saw her sitting in the buggy in the full
    light of the sun.  She sat up straight, defiant, and her face glowed with vitality.  In her long flowing dress, she
    appeared willowy thin with the contours of a full grown woman but also with an athletic fitness coming from hours in a
    saddle.  There were freckles on the young woman’s sun-browned face, and she looked squarely up and at her
    captors through blue eyes.  Charlie thought they looked the color of the cloudless Utah sky.  Her flowing red hair
    gleamed in the bright sunlight.
       Staring at the girl, there was a change that came to Charlie Smith.  Instant and conflicting thoughts and feelings
    he had never experienced before ran rapidly through his head.  Her very physical presence made an impact on
    him.  Perhaps it was her handsome looks that prompted him to think as he did.   But he also knew her innocent and
    brave demeanor affected him as well.   His immediate thought was an impassioned desire to protect and save her
    from the demeaning hands of these cutthroats.  Always he had disliked the one glaring reality of the world he lived
    in.  He hated the company he had to keep.  It meant he had only this riffraff as friends and associates.  How he
    despised their bad manners, their illiterate and reckless behavior.  Now he could do something about it.  At least for
    a very short time, he would pick the better company of the girl.  Tossing aside his past carefree ways, Charlie made
    his decision and stepped out and off the porch of the store.
       Taking one long look at the female captive, Charlie drew both his guns, and forced the captors to untie her
    hands.   His disturbing resolve compelled him to protect her from these desperate characters.  Minutes before he
    had lived and fought beside these men, now he made the conscious decision to turn against them.  For the first time
    in his life, he considered another human being, and he turned deadly and serious.
       “Drop your guns, boys,” said Charlie.  “Now!”
       “What’s the matter, Charlie?” asked another outlaw leader with the same last name of Smith.  “You want the
    ransom money for yourself?”
       “There isn’t much I wouldn’t do except harm helpless critters and women,” answered Charlie.  “And kidnapping
    and molesting a woman is off my list.”
       “Are you going against us?”
       “That I am.”
       “You won’t get away with it, Charlie.  Not against all of us.”
       “We’ll see.  Couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.  Annie Fletcher, you grab that horse on the hitching rack and
    get aboard, I’m taking you home.”
       Despite her long dress, Annie did as she was told.  She found the stirrup with her left foot and mounted, holding
    up the folds of her long dark dress as she did so.  Bad Charlie Smith held up his pearl handled six-shooters.  The
    barrels of the guns followed the track of his steely eyes.  With fingers on the triggers, he held the outlaws back as
    they stared into the twin barrels of the double dark bores.
       “Now hold on, Ms. Annie,” called Charlie.  “We got some hard riding to do.”
       They rode recklessly across the open valley surrounded by mountains and on towards the secret, narrow, and
    guarded exit of Robbers Roost.  It was a cleft in the rock created over the centuries by some giant fault that was
    opened further by a river and rushing rainwater.  As they came to the narrow pathway, Annie Fletcher spoke.
       “I know who you are, Charlie Smith.  Why should I trust and go with you?”
       “Your hands are untied and you are on a horse, aren’t you?  As long as I am alive, I’ll do everything in my power
    to get you home safe.”
       “But why?”
       “Like I said, I can’t abide a woman being harmed.”
       “I thought you couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth about anything.”
       “Yeah, that’s the way it’s been all my life, but with you involved, it suddenly got serious.  There was no room to be
    my old self.”
       Just then, there was a shot from high up and one of the guard’s bullets struck Charlie Smith in the right shoulder
    and knocked him from his horse.  Laying on the ground near a large boulder the size of a cabin, he began to feel
    the pain of the blow that struck him from his mount.  He watched as the rancher’s daughter jumped from her horse.  
    She leaned over him and dragged him and the horses further behind the huge rock.  Instantly, she began tearing
    long white strips from her petticoat, making pads, and then tightly tying and bandaging the wounds of his shoulder.
       “Thank you, ma’am.  Now, if you can help me on my horse, we’ll try to get you out of here.”
       “You can’t,” answered the white-faced young woman as she wiped the crimson from her hands.  “They’ll kill you.”
       “We got to try.”
       There was the sound of pounding hooves.  Gritting his teeth, Charlie managed to struggle to his feet and grab
    the rifle from its scabbard.  Holding the long gun under his wounded shoulder he aimed and knocked an
    approaching outlaw off his horse.  The kick of the rifle caused excruciating pain.  Charlie grimaced, aimed, and fired
    again.  The bullet thumped into the flesh of a horse. The rider flew high over the head of the dead horse, snapping
    his neck as he hit the ground.  The remainder of the charging kidnappers reined hard and turned back away from
    the deadly rifle fire.
       “Feel real bad about that horse.  Now, quick,” commanded Charlie.  “We must get through the pass before they
    come back.”
       “We can’t, the guards on top will kill you.”
       “Then you go, and I’ll hold them off.  The guards won’t dare shoot you or your Pa will wipe out the Roost.”
       “I’m not leaving you behind,” said the girl.  
       “Don’t be a fool!”
       “Get on your horse, Charlie.  I have an idea.”
       Charlie stared at the determined face of the rancher’s daughter and reluctantly mounted his horse.  Stepping on
    a large rock and hoisting her skirts, Annie quickly put her right leg over the cantle of Charlie’s saddle and pulled
    herself aboard.  The young woman put an arm around the chest of the outlaw.
       “You said the guards wouldn’t shoot me so we’ll ride double until we get through the pass.  Quick, go near my
    horse and I’ll grab the reins.”
       Charlie did as she asked and hurried his horse along once she had the reins of the other mount.  They passed
    around the large boulder and into the entrance of the narrow cleft.  Charlie held his breath waiting for a bullet from
    one of the many guards on top.
       “This is not right, ma’am.”
       “You know my name, Charlie Smith.  Use it.”
       “Ms. Annie, you can’t risk your life for me.”
       “You did the same for me, now it’s my turn.  Either we get out of here together, or not at all.”
       “If I had the strength, I wouldn’t let you do this.”
       “Hush, Charlie, you just keep prodding that horse of yours and get us out of here.”
       Charlie was weak and in pain as he hung his head and urged his horse along.  He spurred the animal into the
    open cleft.  At times the passage was narrow and they rode near to one wall, a stirrup scraping against the rock.  All
    along the way, Charlie expected a bullet and worried that it might pass through him and into this strong-willed girl.  
    They rode in silence and Charlie sweated with pain.  He felt the moisture drip down under his arms and along his
    back.  He was embarrassed that she would feel this, and worse, smell him.  
       “Ma’am, I mean Ms. Annie, you shouldn’t ought to have to be near or holding a man like me.”
       “You said you knew who I was.  Then you know why.”
       “Whatever you were, I don’t care.  You saved my father from a great ransom and me from even a worse fate.  
    You took a bullet for me, and risked your life against all those outlaws.  How can I think badly of you, Charlie?”
       “We still aren’t out of it, Ms. Annie.”
       “Yes, I know.  But so far we are free and escaping and I won’t give up if you won’t.”
       “No, Ms. Annie.  As long as I can breathe I’ll help to get you home.”
       “You’re sweating.  You must be in great pain.  Save your breath and get us out of here.”
       They rode in silence.  After a long interval they made their way out of the mountain gorge from Robbers Roost
    and galloped onto a wide open plain.  Out of rifle range, Annie dismounted and got astride the other horse.  They
    began to lope toward the Fletcher Ranch.  They turned their heads back in the direction of the mountain.  From the
    guard’s rifles on the mountaintop they saw the flashes of sunlight on metal.  Then they began to see horses and
    riders spew forth from the entrance of the gorge.  Dust began to rise from the galloping horses.  The outlaws were a
    quarter mile away and coming in hot pursuit.
       “Will we make it, Charlie?”
       “I don’t know, Annie, but we can try.”
       “Maybe father and his men will be looking for me.”
       “Let’s hope so.”
       Charlie spurred his horse and the animal went into a gallop.  Annie followed close behind.  They raced like this
    across the desert prairie, traveling along the open trail.  Two dust clouds rose, one from their galloping horses, and
    a larger one from the many horses in pursuit.  There must have been more than a dozen of them and they were
    slowly, inexorably gaining.  Sweat dripped from Charlie’s forehead and body, soaking his shirt.  The horses, too,
    were wet with sweat.  The dust rising from the pounding hoofs began to cake all of their wet bodies.  The horses
    were laboring and white foam began to form and then fleck off the withers and onto both the wounded man and the
       “Father’s ranch is so far away!” called the girl.  “I don’t see how we can make it!”
       “We’ll stop at the rocks up ahead.  We’ll hold them off, give a chance for the horses to rest, and then continue
       Charlie brought the horses to a galloping halt behind a large group of rocks and gave the reins to the girl to
    hold.  Taking his rifle, he climbed up until he had height and cover.  He quickly aimed and, holding the rifle under his
    wounded shoulder despite the awkward position, managed to hit a horse thus disabling a rider.  He unloaded the
    rifle by firing steadily, shooting several more outlaws, and to his great dismay, because of the wound in his
    shoulder, two more horses.   Charlie kept firing as the outlaws separated.  Under the steady fire they turned back
    for cover.  Up on the rocks, Charlie reloaded and kept aiming and firing until his rifle was empty.  He caused no
    further damage but noted the men riding back and out of rifle range.
       Charlie took .44-40 rounds from his belt and loaded his Winchester and once ready, he laid the rifle down and
    waited.  He would pick it up and fire again if any of the kidnappers came into range.  The outlaws were out on the
    open plain and there was no cover and no way for them to come forward.  The girl and Charlie Smith waited.  When
    the horses stopped their labored breathing, Charlie took aim at the closest outlaw, fired several shots, and then
    climbed down and remounted.  In this manner the girl and her savior managed to make the long ride across the
    prairie and nearer to the Fletcher Ranch.
       After a third firing confrontation and when Charlie Smith was nearly out of bullets and weak from loss of blood and
    pain, the two heard horses hoofs pounding up from their rear.  Charlie turned and watched as the girl waved her
    arms and shouted out.
       “It’s Father!  Charlie, you saved us both!”
       Fletcher and his cowboys came riding up in a flurry of dust.  A steely-eyed, gray haired man in a high crowned
    gray hat, removed it and waved at his daughter as he rode up.
       “Annie!” he yelled.  “Daughter, are you all right?”
       “Yes, Father, thanks to Charlie Smith.  He saved my life.”
       “Well?” shouted the older man to ten of his cowboys.  “Don’t you stop here!  Get going and chase those
    kidnapping hombre’s down!”
       The cowboys heeded the order and galloped away in pursuit of the now disappearing outlaws.   Rancher Fletcher
    turned back to his daughter, ran up to her and took her by the shoulders with both his strong arms, and alternately
    shook and hugged her.  
       “Daughter, if anything would have happened to you, I would never have forgiven myself.”
       “I was kidnapped on the way to church, Father.  They still have the buggy at Robbers Roost.  It was Charlie Smith
    who pulled his guns and took me away from nearly twenty men.  He risked his life for me, and they shot him.”
       “Charlie Smith, I heard of you.  They say you’re a real bad hombre.”
       “That’s what they say, sir, and it’s true.”
       “Well, I don’t know what prompted you to save my daughter, but whatever the reason I am eternally grateful.  
    Shake my hand, son.”
       Charlie reached over with his left hand and awkwardly shook the hand of rancher Fletcher.
       “Both of you mount up and we’ll head home.  I have all the cowboys out looking for you.  I’ll need to call them off.  
    When we get back, I’ll send for a doctor.”
       “No need, sir,” said Charlie.  “Your daughter bandaged me up.  I need to get on my way now.”
       “Nothing doing, Charlie Smith.  You get a doctor whether you like it or not.  You’re a wanted man, and as long as
    you stay on my ranch you’ll be protected.  Nothing too good for the man who saved my Annie.”
       “I don’t want to cause trouble.”
       “Trouble, nothing.  On the way back I want to hear the entire story, and then we’ll see about getting you fixed up.”
       Rancher Fletcher rode in the middle, side by side with the outlaw and his daughter and listened to their story.  
    When it was over, the rancher hung his head and then again told Charlie Smith how grateful he was.  With much
    urging the rancher was able to persuade the outlaw to stay.  They gave him a room in the big ranch house and,
    despite Charlie’s best efforts to stay awake, he finally succumbed to the loss of blood and passed out.  When he
    awoke, the town doctor was standing over him and the smell of alcohol was rising from the clean white bandages.  
    He felt himself naked and washed beneath the clean white sheets.
       “You hard cases are all alike,” said the doctor looking down at the outlaw.  “Would take more than one bullet and
    a pickaxe to kill someone like you.”
       “I’ll live, doctor?” asked the groggy wounded man.
       “Yes, you’ll live.  Your arm might be sore for a long while.  I want you in this bed for two weeks and we’ll see.  I’ll
    be back tomorrow to change the bandages.  Any more loss of blood and you would have cashed in your chips.”
       The doctor packed and closed his black bag and then turned and left the room.  Rancher Fletcher was standing
    near the door.  As he looked down at his daughter, he said goodbye to the doctor.  The red headed girl sat next to
    the bed holding the hand of the notorious outlaw.
       “You’re going to be okay,” said old man Fletcher.  “Daughter, if you don’t mind, I would like to talk to this hombre
    alone for a moment.”
       “Don’t you be hard on him, Father.  And don’t you say anything to drive him away.”
       “I’ll try not to, daughter.”
       Annie Fletcher slowly let go of the left hand of Charlie Smith.  Charlie, still groggy, wasn’t even aware she was
    holding his hand.  The outlaw tried to sit up, and then winced in pain.  Fully awake now, he watched as the girl left
    the room. The rancher closed the bedroom door behind his receding daughter.  He then turned and spoke.
       “How do you feel, cowboy?”
       “Like a horse kicked me---and won.”
       “Well, the doc says you’ll be alright.  That’s great news.”
       “Well, yes.”
       “I suppose you’re wondering what I want to talk about?”
       Charlie just lay there and said nothing.  He looked boldly up into the old man’s face.
       “You’re a wanted outlaw, Charlie Smith, and now you got enemies on both sides of the fence.”
       “Yes, sir.”
       “What you think on doing once you leave here?”
       “Go far and fast.”
       “Your kind will never trust you again.”
       “I’ll change my name.  Been done before.”
       “Is this the kind of life you want to lead?”
       “Never knew no other.  Been on my own for the longest.  Had to be tough to make it.”
       “I like a tough man.  Took a tough man to save my daughter.  It’s the outlawing part I don’t like.”
       “Yeah, well?”
       “You saved my daughter.   I’m obligated and I can help you.”
       “The governor is a friend of mine.  I already wired him and got a reply.”
       “Charlie Smith, you shake my hand and promise to go straight, and take a job on this here ranch, and the
    governor will pardon you, on my word.”
    Charlie Smith just lay there, the pain of his wounds in his shoulder were distinct in his eyes no matter how hard he
    tried to hide it.  His fearless pale blue eyes looked steadily into the steely gray eyes of the rancher.
       “Well?” asked Rancher Fletcher.
       Charlie Smith let out a long slow breath and then began a wide grin.
       “I don’t get it.  Why would you want a man like me around here?”
       “I think you got possibilities, son.”
       “I don’t know.  I don’t know anything anymore.  Not even who or what I am.  I can’t use my rightful name and it has
    been so long I nearly have forgotten it myself.  Because of  what happened to my folks way back and until Ms.
    Annie, I mean, well, until she came along I never thought of nothing but outlawing and lying--a short life and a fast
    death.  What could a feller like me offer a family like yours?”
       “If I have to explain it to you,” growled the rancher, "then you’re not as smart as I figured.  I’m offering you a
    home, son, a second chance, and an opportunity to do something good in this world.  More importantly, to make
    friends, and live among, decent, hard working folk.”
       “I know that.  Just don’t know if I can do it.”
       “It starts with you giving your word.”
       “You’re asking a lot—wanting me to clean up my ways and tell the truth and all.   And, how would you know I was
    telling the truth?   I have quite a reputation, you know.”
       “Annie seems to think you are needed around here and so do I.  Besides, I don’t disappoint Annie.  So, what do
    you say--gonna join us or not?  
       The outlaw held up his hand, “Seems every ranch needs a good storyteller—and I shore can make that claim.”
       Quickly the rancher bounced the hard heels of his cowboy boots across the hardwood floor and heartily took the
    left hand of Charlie Smith, one time bad man of the West.

    Copyright © 2005 by CONDOR PUBLISHING, INC
Member of ReadWest Network
Tie up your hoss, open a cold sarsaparilla, and sit a spell.   
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