The Saga of Miles Forrest

I turned off at Mancos to head on up toward Telluride.  There was snow all around, but the main roads were well traveled with supply wagons and stagecoach.  It wasn’t until I headed out of Dolores that the road had only been traveled by horse or mule.  
    There was no real concern in my mind about Charlie and why he was delayed.  Why, there were a number of reasons a sheriff could be delayed, including this winter weather.  Charlie knew how to take care of himself, but that doesn’t mean accidents can’t or don’t happen.
    I decided to stay the second night in Rico instead of sleeping out in the cold.  It was my plan to get up early and get on over Lizard Head Pass.  It was about ten miles to the summit.  I had talked to some of the locals and they said a person could make it over, but it was not open for wagon traffic yet, another couple of days if the storms held off.
    The clouds began to creep in and I didn’t like the look of it.  I surely didn’t want to get caught up on the Pass when the storm hit.  Just as that thought came to my mind, the snow began to fall.  Large, fluffy flakes began falling slowly at first, but before long it was hard to see up to the next bend.  About what I figured was two-thirds of the way I saw a man staggering in my direction.  He took a couple of steps, fell, then picked himself up and leaned against a boulder next to the edge of the road.
    Upon seeing him, I gave Hawk a nudge with the heel of my boot to hurry him just a bit faster.  The snow was coming down harder now and soon would cover the trail broken by previous riders.  As I approached I could see the man was hurt, blood was on the shoulder of his coat.
    “Miles!  Miles, it that you?” exclaimed the man.  “Thank the Lord, Miles!” he began to stumble in my direction.  It was Charlie.
    Hawk must have sensed the urgency for he picked up his gait.  In seconds I was next to Charlie and I quickly dismounted.
    “Charlie!  What in the world happened?” I asked looking at his arm.
    “Ambushed,” he murmured, “about a mile on up the trail.”
    “Can you ride?”
    He nodded.  I went to the pack mule, throwing off some items that were not essential; took some to pack on Hawk, then Charlie mounted.  “Are you sure?”
    There was no answer, he just gave the mule a kick and turned him back down the trail toward Rico.  I looked up and saw nothing but snow coming down.  We needed to hurry.
    A couple hours later, Charlie was barely hanging on, but we came into the camp of Rico.  He was almost unconscious as I helped him off the mule where he then fell into my arms.  I have carried, half drug him into the small hotel.  There was a fireplace blazing so I didn’t bother taking him to a room, but laid him on the floor in front of the fire.
    “Hey there,” came the voice of the clerk.  “You can’t leave him there!”
    I glared at him.  “Get his coat off, heat some water.  I’m goin’ to care for the animals, and will be back.”  I rushed on out, mounted Hawk, grabbed the reins from the mule and took off toward the livery.  I could barely make out the outline of the building and it was all closed up.  Dismounting I began to bang on the door.  After several minutes the door opened and not waiting for an invitation I took Hawk and the mule inside.
    “Look after the mule while I unsaddle my horse.  I’d be obliged if you’d rub him dry and get him some oats, I’ve got a wounded man to look after back at the hotel.”
    The warmth of the fire must have helped revive Charlie some for his eyes were open by the time I got back.  The clerk had his coat off as well as his shirt.  He was washing the wound when I approached him.
    “He’s fortunate.  Another hour out there and he would have been done in,” the clerk informed me.  “We don’t have a doctor here in Rico, but I’ve cleaned the wound.  Here, lift him a little so I can get a bandage on him.  I had to cut him some as the bullet was just protruding from the skin.”
    From what I figured, the heavy coat must have slowed the bullet from going all the way through.  It was better than for me or the clerk having to dig around in his shoulder for it.
    We got him patched up; he still hadn’t said anything, but his eyes were open and he was breathing normally.  “Say, friend,” I addressed the clerk, “do yuh have any coffee?”
    “I’ll get some directly,” he replied, “just help me make him as comfortable as possible.”  He stood going over to a small stove by the counter.
    Soon his was back with a cup of hot coffee.  I lifted it to my lips.  “Hey!  I thought that was for me!” came the raspy voice of Charlie.  I finally had his attention.
    “I needed to check it out first.  Make sure it was too hot,” I responded lowering the cup to his lips.  He reached with his right hand, taking the cup from me.
    He took several small sips, for it was hot.  Handing me the cup, he asked, “What in the world are you doing up here?”
    “Marta was gettin’ worried, so I told her I’d go look for you.”
    “Thank the good Lord, and Marta, that you showed up when you did.”
    I gave the cup to the clerk, nodding at him.  He took the clue then headed back to refill the cup.  “Any idea who shot you, Charlie?” I questioned.
    Groaning a little, he moved to relieve the pressure on his shoulder.  “I could guess, but that’s all it would be.  I had some trouble with a group while in Telluride.  Shot one, put another man in jail…they had some friends,” he uttered, then licked his lips when the clerk returned with the freshly filled up.  “What day is it?”
    He took a deep swallow this time.  “If we leave tomorrow morning we can make it back by Christmas Eve.”
    “Yur crazy!  We can’t travel in this storm.”
    He gave a little smile.  “It’ll stop sometime tonight.  Plus I promised Marta I’d be back before Christmas…”