THE ROUNDUP

His hat sat low on his forehead. He preferred it that way; kept the sun out of his eyes. His red plaid shirt was tucked tightly into faded dungarees. A length of stout rope, double knotted, served as a belt around his narrow waist. He wore a shiny silver star on his left chest which he chose to keep covered by a brown leather vest. His boots were scuffed and the heels slightly worn down, but they were sturdy. He made a point of never wearing spurs. Too noisy. Made it harder to sneak up on outlaws. His sidearm was tucked into the waistband of his pants and his rifle supported in both hands. He even had a handsome thick, black handlebar mustache. He had a reputation for being one tough hombre. A crack shot, he never missed.

He was up against a new gang. He reckoned there were five or maybe even six of them. It was the largest bunch he had ever faced. He had been watching them for days. He learned that they usually traveled in pairs, once even three together, but if the conditions were right they would move alone. He could tell they were all related just by looking at them. He also knew he'd have trouble rounding them up. They were quick and quiet and good at hiding. Right now he was watching one who was hiding behind a rain barrel. He was one of the smaller members and fit in the space perfectly. A person could walk by and never know.

They had been stealing feed, water, and even small animals. Until now. Yesterday he had seen two of them lying low along the fence line watching a herd of cattle. He had tried to sneak up on them but, at the last minute, they heard him coming. Both turned tail and ran in separate directions. He chased one of them but he just wasn't fast enough.

He had spent most of the afternoon spying on them. They had chosen a small homestead on which lived a beautiful woman and her little boy. There were no men around. They were gathered there now. Maybe he could use this to his advantage. Right now two were hiding behind the horses' water trough, one behind some hay bales, one by the outhouse and at least one – maybe two – in the barn. He found himself literally surrounded. Slowly and silently he crept over to the well and crouched down behind the safety of its stone wall. He should have been shaking in his boots but remained calm. It would take some skill and planning, but he was confident in his ability.

Suddenly someone shouted. It startled the whole lot and they ran in all directions. He would have to start all over again in the morning. Standing, rifle in hand, he pushed his hat back on his head and looked in the direction from which the voice had come. It was a woman and she was waving at him. "Johnny, supper's ready. Wipe that black shoe polish off your top lip and leave those kittens alone!"