This is an excerpt from Rebel's Rock, A Novel by Ray Stewart.
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Rebels Rock Cover

REQUIEM FOR THE SUNSHINE BOYS
by Ray Stewart

           The town of Cordella had quieted considerably following the string of recent deaths, but Corey realized that beneath it all there still existed a potential for violence. In the pages of the Gazette he became a booster, hoping his newspaper could spread the word that Cordella was a town in renaissance.

     "RE-NAIS-'SANCE ('ZAHNSE)," he wrote, "A period of rebirth; revival."

     This was before the "Sunshine Boys" rode in.

     It was on a quiet Wednesday afternoon that the "boys" rode into town. Most of the townsfolk were comfortably relaxed, allowing their noon meal to settle; transacting as little business as possible when the 12 ruffians roared into town, firing their weapons in the air; hooting and yelping like wild Indians. They shot out store windows and terrorized the town before looting the general store and grabbing Pete Webster's eleven year old daughter, Hope.

     When the dust settled and a frightened population staggered into the street, a posse was quickly formed. From the direction of their escape it appeared that yet another group of desperados was heading for Rebel's Rock.

     It was a rag-tag bunch that first left Cordella under the guidance of Marshal Goad. They were ambushed about a mile out of town where the marshal quickly learned that his half-dozen men were no match for the desperados. The Sunshine Boys soon tired of their fun and rode on, leaving a demoralized posse to straggle home with three wounded men and two horses dead.

     Corey had not been in that hastily organized posse, but since the both the marshal and his deputy were among the wounded he organized the second group. Leading a group of 20 well-armed men, Corey set the pace for the rescue of Hope Webster and the capture of her abductors.

     The Sunshine Boys had, indeed, holed up in Rebel's Rock, but instead of finding a hiding place, the posse was confronted by a well-defended fortress and were forced to retreat beyond rifle range.

     A council of war was undertaken as the posse examined their options and considered strategy. If they stormed the stronghold there was a chance that Hope Webster would be injured or killed. If they attempted a rescue operation it would have to be at night and carefully planned. In order to plan intelligently they needed to know exactly how the band was "deployed" inside their rock fortress. Once again Luis Ortega, the Rebel's Rock expert, volunteered. He would sneak in under the cover of darkness and get the layout of the stronghold. That meant, however, that rescue would probably be delayed at least a day.

     Realizing the hazard of any delay, Ortega declared: "If any of those sons-of-bitches have laid a hand on that kid I'll kill the lot of them, no matter what."

     

     Under cover of darkness Ortega crept into the rocks. Corey had placed pickets around the outcropping to prevent escape and the posse kept the stronghold under a siege of rifle fire to cover Ortega's invasion.

     For his part Ortega was determined to free Hope himself, alone, that night. He figured the gang would headquarter in a fairly large level spot near the center of the rocks, with guards posted around the outside perimeter. Avoiding the guards was no problem and as he looked down into the area where he had reckoned they would be, there they were. They had a small, carefully concealed campfire going and Hope was off to the side; trussed up but apparently unharmed.

     Ortega lay quietly in his perch above the outlaws and waited, watching their activity and listening.

     "When we get out of here the colonel's going to give you hell for this, you nincompoop," he heard one man say, "What did you have to grab the kid for?"

     "I didn't know she was just a kid. I just thought we could have a little ... you know ... fun."

     "You must need specs if you didn't see she was just a kid, Stretch. The colonel doesn't like this, not at all."

     "We should have left her back there when we ambushed that posse, then we wouldn't be holding off the whole blamed town like this," said another.

     "Well, we didn't and were holed up here until daylight. The Colonel will know what to do, trust him."

     From his perch Ortega nodded to himself, "And I know just where you can hole up -- twelve holes right out there in the brush, with cactus for your headstone."

     

     At last they began to bed down. Some of them in the open, some of them in the shallow caves. When they moved Hope into a cave Ortega became apprehensive. He couldn't see her, but he knew there were men in there with her.

     As he waited for sleep to settle over the band of outlaws he planned his escape route. He knew where the guards were posted and he knew all the little passageways through the rocks. Utter silence of movement was necessary to the success of his plan. He had removed his spurs and boots before he came in. He was more surefooted and silent in his bare feet.

     In years past, as a youngster, he had met friends here and played hide-and-go-seek among the rocks. Now his life and perhaps the life of Hope Webster depended upon the skills he learned in those days long passed.

     In the wee hours of the morning, as the camp fire had burned down to dull red coals, Luis Ortega dropped his rope over the side of the rocks and slid quietly to the ground inside the kidnapper's encampment. He crept in beside the girl, still trussed as before, and, placing his hand over her mouth to stifle an outcry, he spoke into her ear: "Don't be afraid, I'm here to rescue you. I'll have to lift you onto my shoulder, but please -- I'm your friend. Don't make a sound."

     An observer might have seen a fleeting shadow below, but would have heard not a sound as Ortega carried the girl away. This way and that, Ortega turned, twisting through narrow passages, shifting his burden from shoulder to shoulder as he crept through the maze to freedom.

     By a stroke of good fortune it was a moonless night. Under the shelter of an overhanging rock Ortega untied Hope before they struck out across the open desert into the security of the posse.

     Since a rescue such as Ortega had accomplished had not been foreseen, the two shadowy figures were challenged by a picket as they approached the line established by the posse.

     Despite the hour of the night, word went up and down the line and jubilation erupted. Suddenly, as dawn began to brighten the horizon, without a word or command being spoken the posse, which already surrounded the outcropping of rocks, converged on the stronghold from all directions. Being of a single mind and ignoring Corey's urgings of restraint, the raging posse assaulted and killed every man of the so-called Sunshine Boys.

     "Where did that name come from?" Corey asked after the posse had regrouped after the massacre.

     "They were named that for the grins on their faces as they robbed and pillaged, like they were playing a game," came the answer, "they were organized after the war by a renegade Southern colonel called Wild Horse Blackie. No one knew they were in this area, or why; much less why they would kidnap a child."

     Corey looked around at the exhausted group and said: "I certainly hope Rebel's Rock loses its attraction for outlaws. This is our third assault on the place. Word ought to get around that it's not a safe hideout anymore."

     

     The incident became a legend in the Southwest, with the Gazette account becoming the bible. Corey and Maggie reprinted that issue of the Gazette repeatedly, shipping copies east, west and north as the tale spread.

     A writer for Harper's Weekly out of New York showed up, gathering facts about the fray -- at least that's what Corey was told.

     He allowed his curiosity to spill over into questioning Maggie: "I wonder why this fellow doesn't come around to see me?"

     "Maybe he thinks you said all you had to say in the paper."

     "Still -- common courtesy. Reporter to reporter, that sort of thing."

     Armstrong Cruett showed up, finally. Upon seeing the dandy Corey wondered how he could have missed him around town -- city clothes and all.

     "Armstrong Cruett of Harper's Weekly," the reporter announced, "Are you Corey Knight, sir?"

     "The same."

     "I apologize for not calling on you earlier. I'm gathering a story on what you folks call the Sunshine Boys fracas. I understand you played a major part in that."

     "I was a part of it, yes."

     "According to the folks around here you were the leader."

     "The marshal and his deputy were injured when the first posse was ambushed. I guess you could say I took over. I organized a larger posse."

     "You didn't give yourself credit in your paper."

     "Maybe not. Why this special interest by a New York paper?"

     "It's a good story, Mr. Knight. We're always looking for a good story. Then, too, I have a special interest."

     "Is that right?"

     "The man you called 'Wild Horse Blackie' was my father."

     This disclosure left Corey speechless. Suddenly the interview took an ominous turn.

     "He was my father," Cruett repeated, "does that give you any message?"

     Corey spread his hands in a gesture of self-absolution, "Forgive me, Mr. Cruett, but your father was a vicious outlaw who shot up our town and kidnapped a child."

     "An outlaw, you say? What about the men of this town who slaughtered without mercy? What happened to law there?"

     "That was none of my doing. The others were consumed by a passion for revenge."

     "You were in the army, sir, you know that the leader is responsible for the conduct of his men. You say they were bent upon revenge. The same can be said of me."

     In a totally unexpected move Cruett drew a small two shot Derringer and fired point-blank at Corey. When Corey glimpsed the gun he had instinctively gone for his own. He wasn't wearing it.

     

     Blinding flashes of light and roaring sounds inside his head ushered Corey into consciousness. As he struggled to focus his eyes on blurred images about him a familiar voice penetrated into recognition. "He's coming around, Doctor," Maggie was saying.

     Corey strained to identify the apparition before him. As his vision cleared he saw Maggie standing over him, a strong back light turning the fringe of her hair into an encircling halo.

     "Can you hear me, Corey?" she called.

     Corey could see tears streaking her face. "You don't have to shout," he muttered.

     Maggie burst into nervous laughter. "He'll live," she said, turning to Doc Sorensen.

     Corey looked around the strange room and asked: "Where am I?"

     "You're in my room," Maggie replied, "and here you'll stay until you're on your feet again."

     "Oh," Corey murmured and drifted back into unconsciousness.

     

     Armstrong Cruett was not a reporter for Harper's Weekly. He had carefully planned the shooting and was never captured.

     Considering the severity of his wound, Corey made a satisfactory recovery but publication of the Gazette was suspended while Maggie lavished personal care on her man.

     It didn't take long for Corey to realize that Maggie had staked an undisputable claim on him. As she cared for her patient she made every effort to appear feminine and seductive.

     Her effort was not lost on Corey. Her nearness as she cared for him often brought on increasing physical warmth and noticeable palpitations. As the pain subsided Corey found himself enjoying the attention and denying his rapid recovery.

     "You're a faker," Maggie declared one day, "You'll lose all your strength if you continue to lay there pretending helplessness. I'm dragging you out of that bed and walking you around. You must build up your strength."

     A few days later Corey was back at his desk. Not fully recovered, but improving steadily. Still being catered to by Maggie.

     Folks around town began to tip their hats as he passed by, treating him with deference. Around the shop he began to interpret Maggie's ministrations as cloying. Frustration began to build as he felt cornered by demonstrations of respect and admiration. "Damn it!" he thundered when he was sure no one could hear, "They've made me a legend. Damn it all, I'm just a man, same as they are."

     One night when the moon was full Corey rode out toward the east. Within the deep confines of Rebel's Rock he found solitude beside a campfire. Solitude and escape. As the campfire died he lay awake searching the sky, trying to create images by drawing lines from star to star as the ancients had done. Ellsworth Banner had taught him the Zodiac when he was a boy in Albuquerque. He could never understand how they got those images from a few stars. He recognized the Big Dipper. It was important because it helped find the North Star, but how it became a bear in the sky he could not understand.

     This activity cleared his mind so he could sleep. During daylight hours he tried to escape his troublesome thoughts by watching activities around ant hills and tracing their supply routes. There is something to be learned from ants, he concluded. He watched birds instinctively using air currents as they soared about. He envied them their grace and freedom. He measured the hours as the sun traveled across the sky, casting a shadow across his space and thought of how man was slowing becoming ensnared by time.

     He watched the sun rise and set three times as he pondered his life; past, present and future.

     In the darkness that followed the third sunset of his isolation, Corey rode back into Cordella. When he rode into town that first time he had all his worldly goods in his saddle and war bags. When he rode out he expected to go the same way. No entanglements, no obligations. He would play the cards he had been dealt, but when the game was over he would move on.

     The next morning when he walked into the Gazette office Maggie demanded to know where he had been. Corey pointed his finger and said, "You are not my keeper."

     Maggie turned away, feelings hurt. Corey went to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "I was being smothered, Maggie. I'm a loner. I came here seeking the killer of my father. I wanted nothing to do with Cordella beyond that. This outpouring of respect and ... love ... has come too fast. I'm just not prepared. When I rode out the other night I meant to keep going, but it's not in my nature to run away. Back off a little, Maggie, leave me some room. Let's be good friends first. If something else is to develop it will, in time. So far as this town is concerned -- well -- in time I hope they will stop their damned kowtowing."

     Maggie smiled through her tears, "That's the nicest rebuff I've ever received. Do you want me to stay?"

     "Of course I do. I want you to call me Corey and I want us to be friends. Just don't ..."

     "Smother you," Maggie added, "I understand, Corey. I'll try."

     

     

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