Against a Common Menace – Extended Epilogue

Joseph Moyer had a score to settle and the law on his side. He had left his lifetime home in Cimarron, New Mexico, to chase after a notorious wanted man. Selected and deputized by the U.S. Marshals, Joseph found himself a little more than a thousand miles north in the lawless Montana Territory in Virginia City.

It was the summer of 1877, almost two years to the day that Joseph had come face to face with a despicable killer named Manuel Cardenas. The deadly man had swept through Joseph’s hometown and was still on the loose. Their history was convoluted in Joseph’s view—Cardenas had sought retribution against Joseph, while Joseph pursued the man for justice. He hunted because Cardenas had come to Cimarron to sabotage two cattle ranches and murder an innocent twenty-five-year-old woman named Hattie Keith. Cardenas was the suspected killer of the local Methodist minister for Cimarron, F.J. Tolby.

Tipped off by a man facing the gallows, Marshals Vincent Howe and Richard Bray learned of Cardenas’ hideout in Montana Territory. The man was wanted for suspected murder in Chicago, the killing of a thirty-year-old woman named Rachel Schneider. He had targeted unsuspecting settler women through the wilds of unlegislated territories, courting them, robbing them, and leaving bodies in his wake. There were many more victims in Cardenas’ wake, and Joseph was the only man who could identify him face to face.

Joseph took on the responsibility because he owed it to his lifelong love, Christine McCarty. Hattie had been her only friend—aside from Joseph. But the reason Cardenas had picked Cimarron to take revenge on Joseph and Christine was something that had eluded Joseph. One of them had a score to settle; the other needed answers and to put an end to his wicked ways. Joseph knew when he eventually faced off with Cardenas, only one of them was walking away.

“Bannack’s a bust,” Marshal Richard Bray announced shortly after they met up outside the township saloon. It was long after sunset, and they were tired men, dead on their feet. “We need to head up to Virginia City again.”

He was a practical man who wore a black cutaway sack coat with easy access to his sidearm. Bray was interested in only legitimate justice and wore the marshal badge with honor. He kept it shiny under the black canvas duster, pinned to the black vest just over his heart.

A banknote tip to a local bartender had brought the three men southwest from Bozeman. It had been a day’s ride with no rewards. They were following phantom rumors and no distinct pattern to Cardenas’ crimes. Bozeman authorities had found a woman strangled in her hotel room two weeks before Joseph and the marshals arrived. They knew Cardenas was responsible, but no one in town had seen the man directly. No one had seen the woman with a man prior to her death.

“I don’t get it,” Marshal Vincent Howe said. “How does he find these women?”

Howe was a man of justice and equally a man of God. He wore the same polished marshal badge as his partner of five years, but he kept a pocket bible in the duster’s breast pocket over the badge and his heart.

Joseph respected the men who had dedicated their lives to the marshal service. He had learned their histories over the two months traveling with them as an appointed deputy. They took on the responsibilities of bringing law and order to a place that had no lawmen. Both men had shaken President Ulysses S. Grant’s hand when they accepted the U.S. Marshal insignia and took their oaths.

They saw only right and wrong. They believed in the order of the law, converted their beliefs to black and white. For the marshals, there were two sides of a coin. Joseph knew the world was gray—nothing fell neatly into one of two categories. People who thrived in lawlessness rarely believed in authority. The marshals overlooked that both sides of that coin had something joining them together—a thin line where people like Cardenas lurked and flourished.

“Hattie Keith wasn’t a beauty like a desert rose,” Joseph said. “She wasn’t a woman who sought the company of men in taverns.”

He wasn’t someone who did a lot of talking. Bray and Howe were lifelong friends, and they bickered and clucked like two old women who had buried husbands but were too stubborn to join them in the ground. They listened to Joseph because they respected him enough to welcome him when he finally had something to say.

“So, in your experience, Cardenas finds women outside the saloons, but where?” Bray asked.

“Church socials,” Howe suggested. He nodded at Joseph and his partner. “I’ll bet he finds them when they’re doing the work of the Lord.”

“Isn’t that all the time?” Bray asked. “It’s Wednesday; we got a long wait until Sunday to see if that pans out.”

“It might be worth the wait,” Joseph said. He wanted to go home, to return to the loving arms of Christine. But, duty-bound, and with Christine’s blessing, he needed to help put a stop to Cardenas. “If we visit a Sunday sermon, it’s possible we’ll find him.”

“You sure you can pick him out?” Bray asked. “It’s been a long time since you caught him with your woman and sent her packing.”

If they had doubts about Joseph’s abilities to identify the man, he knew they wouldn’t have sought him.

“The only reason you asked me along was to point him out to you,” Joseph said. He knew it came out negatively. But they had been on long rides together, and his nerves had chafed as much as his thighs in the saddle.

“I went to Chicago to find Rachel because Cardenas came to Cimarron to ruin my reputation and my ranch,” Joseph said, amending his snapped statement. “I think Cardenas is scared of men, or at least of confrontations with men. He shot at me in the dark and at a distance. If he faced me in a stand-up fight, he’d lose. He broke into Christine’s house and attacked her unswervingly. She chased him off because she’s not afraid to stand up and fight. He’s a coward who preys on women because they’re easy to find if you know where to look.”

“Okay,” Howe said, nodding. “So, do we wait here in Bannack for Sunday to come, or do we go back to Virginia City?”

“We talked to the law in Virginia City. They’re a strong presence there,” Bray said.

Joseph agreed. “If Cardenas seeks lonely women, maybe he’s hunting in smaller towns. He got lucky, or it started with Rachel in Chicago. But you’ve been tracking him south and west. If the tip you bought from the tavern owner pays out, then we should stick to the outlying towns.”

He removed his hat and rubbed his face, trying to scrub away the exhaustion. “Gentlemen, I am dead on my feet. I need a bath, and I need sleep.” He pointed to the hotel. “I’m checking in for the night.”

They followed Joseph across town to the two-story fifteen-room stately hotel. Since the prospectors and miners had squeezed the gold out of the ground around the small territory town, Bannack’s population had dwindled. The area offered a rich tapestry of other natural resources, like lumber and water. People who made the region their home stayed because they’d found a way of life that didn’t involve digging for gold.

***

One more town, one more time—it was Manuel Cardenas’ promise to himself. Whenever he got the urge to stop running, he sought answers to the difficulties that had clouded his life like a storm roiling inside his skull he couldn’t shake or outrun. He had pursued something into the wilds of the country, but no matter where he went, there was never an answer for what was inside him.

It hadn’t started with Rachel—sweet, beautiful, Rachel—but it didn’t end with her, either. She had wanted a better life. She’d tried to get away from Cimarron and a loveless relationship with the only man she’d ever bedded.

Cardenas had worked as a cattleman for most of his adult life. A striking woman like Rachel was like an angel from Heaven. He had wandered into the local church that faithful Sunday morning and the rest came easy.

They had escaped together, promising love and happiness, running off to Chicago with a ticket bought by Rachel’s man—the same man who had ruined Rachel and recognized Cardenas when he had returned to Cimarron. Rachel had believed in fairytale romances and had spoken passionately about her time with Joseph Moyer. Cardenas could never live up to her expectations.

All Cardenas had ever wanted was happiness. All he’d ever found was darkness and endless longing. When he had promised Rachel a better life, neither expected it to end abruptly. Cardenas had learned he’d never felt so alive until the day he had snatched away his lover’s life with his strong hands around her thin neck.

It had been an accident—a mistake. Cardenas had gotten carried away, and seeing the light leave her eyes had caused him to seek solace elsewhere. When it had happened again, and another woman lay dead in her bed after courting Cardenas, he had run away.

Now, that darkness had pursued Cardenas endlessly as he pursued a way to end the pain. He sought the one woman who could heal him with loving hands.

Nancy Mathews was the daughter of a miner and widow of a confederate soldier. He had run off to protect his way of life while Nancy stayed behind, working her father’s claims. When the war ended, and her husband returned to Bannack as a miserable cripple who hobbled around on one leg, Nancy’s father put the man to work in the mine. Two men went in one day, and only one came out.

That was how Nancy explained the tale of how she’d become a widow. Cardenas had patiently listened to her story, realizing that their lives intertwined with past troubles and a few deaths. Nancy never named her father as her husband’s killer. But it was there, twinkling just below the surface. Cardenas had confessed that he was a widower. His wife had betrayed herself and his love when she took her own life by hanging.

The half-truths in the parable helped ensure the union between Nancy and Cardenas. It was a story that women listened to with heartfelt earnestness. It wasn’t the first time he’d reminisced about his unfortunate past. It had worked before when it came to befriending women. They responded favorably to a widower who needed guidance and a helping hand in finding his way. Nancy was an exception. She saw something in Cardenas that other women failed to notice. She saw through his pain. She was the light in the rumbling thunderstorm in his skull.

When they spent that Sunday morning sitting together in the little church on the hillside, Cardenas felt a love that he didn’t expect to find in the undomesticated part of the country. Nancy had held his hand in the pew, and they had made a promise together to announce their intentions to wed.

Nancy’s father had grown fat and wealthy from his gold mine, and he had stayed in Bannack because it had brought him good fortune. Nancy stayed out of obligation to her father. He was a no-nonsense man who watched over his daughter and her inheritance like a shrewd businessman.

They had decided that was the day to tell her father of their intent. Then Cardenas saw a man in the Baptist church whom he recognized and never thought he’d see again. The man stood in the back right corner of the church during the sermon. He had removed his hat out of respect, but his eyes remained on Cardenas during the holy discourse.

“Where are you going?” Nancy whispered.

“I need to address some personal business,” Cardenas said, leaning close to Nancy’s ear. It was their friendly way of saying they needed to visit the outhouse.

He had stood, caught Nancy’s father glaring at him, and smiled kindly on the old man. Cardenas stepped out of the row of pews and strolled down the central aisle. The man from his past remained quietly observing, unmoving and respectful. Cardenas moved toward the vestibule, putting on his hat. It gave him time to see two strangers in matching long coats closing in on the exit. One moved away from standing next to the man from the past. The other had occupied the left rear corner of the church. He had remained unnoticed by Cardenas because he didn’t think anyone could find him.

Outside, the cloudless day made Cardenas squint under the brim of his hat. The interior of the church had a constant gloom about it, since it lacked windows. Only the preacher on ambo facing the sanctum and his worshipers had light shining on him from the altar’s stained-glass.

“Manuel Cardenas,” one of the strangers called.

Cardenas felt the chill of recognition but continued to walk away, leaving the men at his back. Sometimes people mistook others they thought they recognized. If he walked away, they might think he was a lookalike, but not the man they hunted.

Cardenas had grown out his hair, had a beard that turned prematurely gray. He wasn’t the same man he was when he had met and fallen in love with Rachel. Confidence waned, because seeing Joseph Moyer staring at him from the church had caused his blood to run cold. Even in the heat of summer, Cardenas shivered.

“Manuel Cardenas,” the other stranger shouted.

He fought the urge to turn around. Cardenas’s body shook, and he blanched upon hearing his name again. His pace quickened.

“Manuel Cardenas, U.S. Marshals,” the first stranger yelled. “Stop where you are.”

He flinched like someone had taken a shot at him. Unable to cover the mistake, Cardenas glanced over his shoulder.

No hablo English,” he said quickly.

They were ten to twelve yards behind him, walking five yards apart from each other. It was a tactical range that covered him from wide angles and made it impossible for Cardenas to shoot both men efficiently if he drew on them.

“Manuel Cardenas, we are U.S. Marshals. We are here to arrest you for the murder of Hattie Keith, Viola Flynn, Freda Day, and the suspected murder of Reverend Franklin Tolby,” the second man said. His voice had a raw tint to it, irritated.

Each of those names drummed up images in Cardenas’ mind. He’d had all those women under him at some point in his past, had felt his hands around their necks. The preacher had seen through Cardenas. He had called out Cardenas on the road leaving Cimarron—Tolby had seen Hattie with Cardenas in church the Sunday before she died. It was a calculated risk to put bullets in the man’s back and run away again.

They continued at a robust pace, following him away from the church. Sunday in Bannack, the limited townsfolk congregated, none of the shops opened until after the service. They were the only three men on the broad street at the center of town. Cardenas felt the icy blood work through his limbs, stiffening his legs, making it harder for him to get away.

“Stop, now,” one shouted.

No, no hablo English, señor,” he said.

Then, as if manifesting before him like an angel of death seeking out Cardenas, Joseph Moyer stepped into view from the corner of the building at the end of the street. His face reddened and sweaty from the run behind the false-front buildings, he cut off access to the community stable where Cardenas had left his stolen horse.

“Manuel, you murdered Rachel Schneider,” Joseph said.

Cardenas stopped dead in his tracks. Rachel was a woman who had been above all the others. He had truly loved that woman. But her love had been for another man.

That man now stood between Cardenas and freedom while the lawmen closed in on him from behind.

“You need to answer for what you did,” Joseph said.

Cardenas didn’t respond. Behind him, the marshals had Cardenas in a close shooting range. If Joseph stood at Cardenas’ ten o’clock, the lawmen covered his eight and four o’clock. There was no way out.

“Cardenas, put down your weapon and get your hands up.”

Joseph hadn’t pulled his pistol. Cardenas suspected both marshals had already drawn on him. Where would he go? If he tried to run, would they shoot him in the back? Cardenas knew he wouldn’t hesitate to get a clean shot at someone, front or back. It didn’t matter.

Reaching for the six-shooter on his right hip took a lot of motion and effort. But Cardenas had liberated a sleeve gun from a gambler in Bozeman. It rewarded him an honest winning poker hand, and Cardenas felt righteous by the score.

When he turned away from Joseph, Cardenas kept his right hand away from the pistol in the holster. His left arm stretched high and wide. But when he turned to activate the sleeve gun’s mechanism, he heard the thunderous shot immediately following the explosive and searing pain in his right leg. Cardenas toppled sideways to the ground. The sleeve gun popped out of the coat arm. Before he pointed it, fighting blinding rage, someone’s boot stomped down on his wrist, pinning it to the gravel.

He had landed hard on his right side. The holster wasn’t accessible. His body twisted with the left arm stretched and trapped, Cardenas screamed.

“How did you know he had the derringer?” one asked as Joseph walked toward the group.

“You two weren’t paying attention to the bartender. He mentioned seeing Manuel winning a wrist gun in the poker pot the last night he saw him,” Joseph said.

Cardenas turned his head to look at Joseph. He had things to say to the man. If the bone-shattering agony subsided enough, Cardenas had his time. But Joseph wasn’t there anymore. It hurt too much to focus. Cardenas felt lightheaded and had to drop his skull against the dirt. Nausea rose within him, and his heart fluttered. Before he lost consciousness, he heard one of the marshals speaking to Joseph.

“Where are you going?” the marshal asked.

“Home,” Joseph said. “I’m going back home to Cimarron and Christine. You don’t need me anymore. He’s all yours.”

“Does he get the bounty on Cardenas if he leaves?” one asked.

“Of course, he does. We’ll make sure he gets it,” the other said.

A shadow cast over Cardenas as he treaded consciousness like it was deep water ready to drown him. He saw the face of one of the marshals staring down at him.

“If you live, you’ll hang,” he said.

THE END


58 thoughts on “Against a Common Menace – Extended Epilogue”

    1. Hi Derek, You have written a very interesting story which seems to focus on some of the ‘dark ‘ problems of the times, early death causing broken families, relationships and hardships, absent law men, greed for land and unscrupulous business men. I think the whole tone is a bit somber for my taste.

      1. Derick, the writing was outstanding and the story kept you wanting to read the next page, no super hero’s just strong people with a sense of right and wrong. Thanks for a great adventure.

    2. I liked the story and you are a good writer but some of it is hard to believe we i have read western s for over 60 years and yours are the first that called a ten acre plot of land a thriving ranch with 15 head of cattle and employed three hands and four others to feed it just couldn’t happen back in those days. The westerns i have read by Johnstone and LaMour the ranches reestablished of acres to make a living.

    3. I found the book had adventure love of family and how bad people are brought to justice. Thank you.

    4. Great story enjoyed the characters. I really enjoyed the strong character of the woman. I really like the extended epilogue. Thanks again keep writing. Looking for your next book.

    5. The story was exciting but was sad when Clay killed Dewey.
      I enjoyed the twist & turns of the story. I can relate to the grief that Christen had, losing my husband 14 1/2 years ago.

    6. It was an interesting story. I am glad Joseph assisted the two marshals capture the bad guy. He deserved to be hanged or killed for killing so many women.

      I enjoyed reading the story. Thank you Derek.

    7. Hi, Derek. You have hooked me as an avid reader of your books. I thought this one started off slower paced than usual, but picked up midway through as
      your wonderful word imagery of the characters actions and mindsets picked up their pace as always. Thanks for this book, too. Your books please me. I always leave feeling better.

      -Bob Simpson-

  1. An engaging no nonsense novel about a Rancher living and loving in 1870’s New Mexico. An enjoyable read.

  2. A very interesting plot with some complex characters. The relationship between the male and female leads grew steadily throughout the story. The brother/sister connection was also crucial to the plot. In all I very much enjoyed the story. The plot flowed well and was well written. I look forward to more stories in the future.

  3. Darn…did Christine get her baby? Did they live happily ever after? Great Action. Emotional and ended in justice for all.

  4. Enjoyed the extended epilogue better than the story itself,not that I didn’t like the main part but it moved a little slow at times.I would rate it 4stars.

  5. It was refreshingly different and enjoyable. I agree with another commenter that a sequel or several would be welcome. This the first of your books that I have read and would like to read more.
    I do find it somewhat irritating that you and other authors have migrated to this extended epilogue method. I would much prefer it be continuous at the end of the book.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Archie. Really glad you enjoyed the story.
      I’ll have a think about the extended epilogue method, thank you for flagging this up to me.

    2. Very well written book, excellent character development. One suggestion would have been to bring the book to a close without the sequel or better yet built the sequel into another entire book with the adventures of Joseph and the Marshals as they hunted the suspect. You are a talented writer, thanks for a great story.

  6. The epilogue for A Rancher’s Matter of Honor can’t be found. Please send it to me Mr. Levine. I read on Kindle.

  7. I really enjoyed all the twists and turns the story took, as well as the resolution in the extended dialogue.

  8. I simply love these stories. It proves a novel can be written without slander and sex. The story is full of assault on a person’s freedom and fighting for justice. Learning about true love and sharing life together is a wonderful thing. Our life can be filled with treachery but you keep on fighting foe what is right.

  9. Another great story by a great writer. I agree on the extended epilogue it should be with the story or another follow up in a new book. Always loved reading your stories

  10. Loved you book! Couldn’t put it down! Wish the epilogue had been the end of the book! First of your books I have read but hope read more!

  11. Derek, thank you for sharing this well executed story. So very happy Christine broke asshole’s leg. Most people that are as evil as he was do not get their just rewards. I felt horrible for Dewey knowing he did nothing wrong and be scared to death as he is being put down without mercy. Looking forward to my next read.

  12. Enjoyed the characters and all the plot. So glad the wicked got their just desserts. Good read and I would highly recommend.

  13. Hi enjoyed reading The soldier and the Bandit. I could not put it down till I finished reading each page. Well done and very good story. I was so disappointed was not able to get the extended version. Would be very thankful if you could send me the right link.

    Thanks
    Marie

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and support, Nancy. I truly appreciate it!

      So glad you enjoyed the story! Make sure to stay tuned because I have more coming!

  14. Derek, I love a good western, and you sir have delivered. Your stories are well thought out and the characters are likeable. I will continue to download books that you author.

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