Author's Note: I don't own anything from Wanted: Dead or Alive or Little House on the Prairie. I just wanted to see what happens if you put Josh Randall in a tiny place like Walnut Grove. Also, Michael Landon had a couple of bit parts on Wanted: Dead or Alive. Once as a villain, and once as one of Josh's clients. And if you're wondering…Yes, Josh will recognize certain "familiarities" in Charles. Keep a look out for Dabs Greer as well (Rev. Alden), because he's done a few parts on WDoA too.
Warning: Will be rated M due to language and the really graphic nature of the criminal Josh is tracking.
Tremory Peak, California
Josh Randall bolted from cover, firing as he ran. Times like this, he wondered what made him ever decide to quit the banking business. Return fire tore chunks from the ground behind him. The squat building only three or four yards ahead looked like a good spot for a shelter.
After quickly barring the door shut, he leaned against the wall, panting hard. Carefully leaning to the side, aiming at the closest target, he let loose a quick shot. The chamber in his cut down Winchester clicked empty, so he reached to his belt for reloads. Ten rounds left. Shit.
"Randall, we ain't runnin' outta ammunitions any time soon, so you may as well give up an' come out!" Earland Granger hollered. "Maybe we might even let ya go! Alls you gotta do is toss out that mule kicker of your's an' start walkin' with your hands up!"
Josh rolled his eyes. Granger had robbed twelve passenger trains in the past three months and never left survivors, not even when there were children present. "Don't like my odds on that!" he shouted.
"Don't matter to us either way! You can sit in there an' freeze all you want. We can wait ya out!"
The young bounty hunter looked around the structure. Sure enough, he was surrounded by blocks of ice covered in sawdust. He had an idea.
Half an hour later, the door of the sunken shack creaked open. "I'm comin' out, don't shoot!" Josh yelled.
A volley of gunfire ripped holes in the rickety wood for almost three minutes. A figure just inside the door crumpled backward.
Josh crouched behind the furthest block, shivering in his pants. There had been a small enough chunk to cover up in his coat and shirt, luckily, so he made use of it as a decoy. He kept his mouth shut. If Granger had any doubts, he wouldn't show his face.
As he figured, some other man came poking around.
Josh crept up behind him, rested his gun at the base of the other man's skull and took away his pistol. "Yell out that I'm hit, or you're gonna get a headache and I'll have a shield."
Thankfully, the gunman wasn't stupid. "We got 'im, Earland! He's tore up bad!"
Six other sets of footsteps came rushing into the icehouse. Josh was outside shoving a derelict old wagon against the door before anyone realized they'd been duped.
He heard shots and ran for the closest stand of trees. A streak of fire went ripping across his left shoulder, so he went to his belly. It took Josh a few seconds to realize that they were all firing at each other, not out at him.
The guns went quiet after a while, so Josh carefully walked out. "Granger?"
Still nothing. Josh went up to a blasted section of the building and peeked in. He backed away, feeling sick to his stomach. After retching up a good portion of his breakfast, he sank against the outside of the icehouse, completely exhausted.
When Marshall Tom Wade heard that Josh Randall had run Earland Granger and his gang to ground, he rode out of Las Tunas like a wildcat in a prarie fire. Tom had been friends with Randall ever since the latter had brought in the two men who'd shot the last marshall.
The bounty hunter had a bad habit of getting himself caught up in situations that went too far over his head, and Tom didn't want to be the one to find the young man gunned down one day.
"JOSH," he yelled, nearing the mostly abandoned shantytown. "IT'S MARSHALL WADE."
A figure slowly walked out of the shadow of the old blacksmith's shop. "I got 'em, Tom."
Tom leapt out of the saddle and ran over. "You hurt bad?"
Josh had his right hand clamped over a slight graze on his left shoulder. He glanced at it and shook his head. "Mostly just cold; got stuck in that icehouse for a while."
"Where's your shirt and…"
Josh weakly held up the tattered, damp remains of his hat, coat and shirt. It hurt to raise his left arm too high.
Tom gave loud sigh of relief. "Boy, you have got some kinda luck."
He shuddered."Right, luck."
Tom realized that Josh was taking the end of this case a little harder than usual, and he looked pretty green around the gills. "What happened?"
"I tricked 'em into the ice house and blocked it up once I snuck out." he paused to take a breath to steady himself; his shoulder was throbbing something fierce. "They started firin' at each other and…..I've seen dead men before, even killed 'em when I had to, but that's….Shouldn't have happened like that."
"That ain't your fault, Josh."
"They're all dead, Tom. Only Granger and one other's the ones with the posters."
"You expectin' me to cry about a bunch of outlaws who ain't got paper on 'em yet?"
Josh didn't say anything; mostly, he didn't want to wind up showing Tom what he'd had for supper the night before.
"I know how you got your morals and pride and all that, but, those men in there brought it on themselves. You were just trying to get out alive."
"I'll be in town," Josh muttered.
"Yeah, I know where to find ya."
Josh spent two weeks in Las Tunas and he'd made seven hundred dollars on the Granger and Hawthorne posters. A bulk of it was spent on trail food, a new hat, a coat, two shirts, a canteen, new shoes for his horse, a new pair of boots for himself, hotel and meal costs, and replacements for a couple frayed cinches. He got his shoulder stitched, and then remembered he needed to stock up on bullets.
A day before he was ready to leave, Josh got word from the livery stable that Doc had fallen sick with colic or some other damn complaint. The time it took to cure the horse wound up jacking the final bill on the hotel and food higher. Not to mention the already steep livery charges and the price of the veterinarian. Keeping company with a friendly saloon girl he'd taken a shine to hadn't exactly been cheap either. Buggy rentals for "midnight rides" turned out to cost more, as he had to pay the liveryman under the table to keep him from blabbing.
When it finally came time to head back out, Josh was down to five hundred or so.
Of course, a fair sized chunk of that five hundred went toward an anonymous contribution to the local undertaker to bury the dead men. Josh figured he at least owed the price of a coffin to the ones who weren't technically wanted by the law, since the massacre was partially his fault.
"Come on in," Josh said when someone knocked on the door, carelessly folding up the hotel's towel and a couple little fancy shaving soaps into his bedroll. It wasn't often he got to smell of anything other than horse, gunpowder and sweat.
Tom stepped in from the hall, ignoring the petty thievery. "Telegram for ya. Some sheriff asking your help out in Nevada."
He looked up. "He say what the trouble is?"
"Nope. Just says he needs your trackin' skills and that it's urgent."
"What's the name on it?"
The marshall scanned the telegraph paper. "Jason Nicols, out of Virginia City."
"You know, he had me arrested once." Josh snorted a laugh. "Had me in jail overnight for stealin' my own horse just because he wanted to partner up on a bounty."
"You didn't shoot 'im in anything important, did you?" Tom asked, not really sure he wanted to know which direction this particular story was going to go.
"I sent him all around Dodge City asking about a man callin' himself Mark Twain. Said he was wanted for killing two boys by the names of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn."
Tom's eyes went wide, not entirely sure if this was one of the younger man's tall stories. "You did what?"
"He didn't know I got the whole thing off a book, 'til he went to ask the local printer to see the back copies of the paper," Josh said, laughing.
If it had been anyone other than Josh Randall doing a damn fool thing like that, Tom would've bet ten gold dollars it would've ended in somebody getting gut shot and left for the buzzards. "Son, did you knock your head on somethin' a little too hard and rattle somethin' loose up there?"
Hefting his bedroll and saddlebags onto his right shoulder, Josh patted Tom on the gut and swiped the telegraph from him. "Might've," he said, walking out the door.