The men in Sam’s posse considered themselves ‘cowboys’, although they rarely used the word. Three of these men were new hires. They’d worked under Sam’s categorically strong leadership for the prior two weeks. Their ages ranged from somewheres around 20 to 25, so they were still pliable, and easily influenced. The other three men, aged 25 to 30, had been with Sam for a little over a year. They knew him, and Sam’s antics fairly well. Every one of these ‘cowboys’ were brave and adventurous, or so Sam thought of them. Elsewise, he wouldn’t have hired them in the first place. For the men’s part, they had thought of themselves as being free and independent when they first moved westwards, but they learned real quick just how much they depended upon Sam’s generosity, especially when it came to daily bread, and “Drinks on the house!” They were willing and able to give up a large percentage of their freedom in exchange for Sam’s patriarchal pony show, where it’s ‘all you can eat’ each and every night supper is served.
That morning, when they had all gathered together back at the Deputy’s office, Sam had wanted Luke, his men, and the Deputy to learn and understand that he meant business; that he stood firm in his resolve; that he was a force to be reckoned with. Seriously, folks, Sam’s whole charade had found it’s perfect setting when he took to the stage in the house of law. Sam needed to know exactly what these men were made of. He wished to know if he could count on them. He longed to know if he could use them, or if any single one of them needed to be discarded. He had wanted to install ‘the fear of Sam’ into these ‘new boys’, as he was wont to call them. Luke was also a ‘new boy’, the newest. Everyone involved had gotten this idea into their heads — Sam could, would, and just might kill anyone who fiercely dared to oppose him. That made Sam somewhat unpredictable in their eyes. Sam wanted these cowboys to perceive him as such. Sam fascinated himself over his ability to manipulate others from a distance. He had these men right where he wanted them. They were like unto putty in the hands of a master potter. The way Sam looked at it, he was doing them a favor. These boys didn’t know what was good for them. Sam was teaching them a lesson…the hard way.
Sam didn’t want them to think that joining a posse was an easy game, for he knew better. He wanted them to think they’d witness and participate in a hanging, and possibly that very night. That’s why Sam dropped the rope under the oak tree’s lowest limb. He wanted to keep them guessing. As far as Sam was concerned, his action was entirely reasonable, and he gave them his why. That was where the rope belonged. That’s where it was supposed to go. To Sam, it was practically the most logical place to leave it. So, not only were these men afraid of Sam, but now they were also afraid of the unknown — the immediate future. This was Sam’s power trip. If it were to be his last, he wanted to make the most of it. He desperately needed this final conquest to validate his own fleeting manhood.
Thus were the moods that had oozed their way into all these men as they departed Bedlam. The wind at their backs from the north had been increasing in intensity, and the mercury was steadily plummeting. A very fine mist was following the posse southwards. The sun had already set in the west, and soon they’d be riding through the darkness. The full moon rose early that night. It could still faintly be seen once in awhile through the grey and overcast skies. The wild, exciting adventures Sam had envisioned for these men, along with their high spirits, were to be dampened by a seasonable cold front. The river they had to cross on the way to the robber’s cave was 7 or 8 miles further on down the dustless dirt road. The cave was another 5 miles off to the west after that. Because of the ‘shitty weather’, Sam decided to step things up a bit. He picked up his pace and the men followed suit, as misery drew ever closer. Sam had many things on his mind, and he allowed those thoughts to enter his constitution.
You see, Sam did not daydream. To him that was a frivolous activity. To be exact, Sam was immersing himself in the act of contemplating the practical. As in…what they could do, and how, and when, and why they could do it. That sort of thing. Simultaneously, Sam was being distracted by aching bones and sore muscles. Sam was out of shape compared to these young men. They were in great physical condition. Sam was just…well, out of practice, you might say. They hadn’t departed more than 5 minutes earlier when Sam was forced to face his own miserable thoughts. “Damn! I’m getting too old for this.” I never said Sam was an original thinker. He was just being honest with himself for a change. He’d never been a quitter, and he wasn’t about to start now.