Chet Hargraves walked to the woodpile with the intent to collect several logs for the fire he had started inside. Even though winter had only just started to drop snow on the ground, Chet knew it was never early enough to get ahead of the impending blizzard. As he rummaged through the pile he saw the man. He was not a friend; some might have even described him as an enemy, but to Chet he was neither. The man ran as if something or someone was chasing him, his breath coming in gasps. "Slow down there, the fire's inside," Chet called out. "What's the hurry?"
The man nearly tumbled as he came to a halt, his eyes bloodshot and wide, holding back in such fear that it made Chet even colder than he already was.
"They're coming!" he gasped. "Jessup's men."
"Why are they after you, boy? Don't you work for Jessup?"
"I wanted out ... they told me there's only one way out ... and then they beat me..." He twisted in all sorts of directions as if those who were after him were now invisible. His shirt was torn and his arms had deep lacerations on them. Chet had just found something he had worked years to avoid--trouble.
"Get inside before we both freeze to death," he said. "I'll fix up those cuts before they get infected."
"I must go!" The man had nearly turned himself inside out with terror. "If they catch me, I'm dead. That Johnny Annette is with 'em."
The name Johnny Annette struck a nerve with Chet. It was a name from the past and one that Chet had hoped to never hear again. "Don't you worry about Jessup's men. I'll talk with them and we'll get this whole mess straightened out. Now let's get those cuts tended to. Besides how far do you think you're going to get in these conditions without a horse or gun?"
The man relented and followed Chet into the quaint line cabin. The fire was just starting to heat the one room building, the smell of coffee and soup hung in the air. "Go wash up; the basin's over there ... take that shirt off and we'll get those wounds patched up."
He was a small man, of medium build, and as he took his shirt off Chet noticed the dark line around his neck; it was bruising from a rope. They had tried to hang this man. Chet now was sure that trouble had indeed once more found him.
It wasn't even ten minutes later when the sounds of horses and screaming men came from outside. The man shrieked in terror. Chet had only seen one or two men more frightened in his life. Those men were just about to lose their lives and after crying, begging, pleading and relieving themselves in their britches did they finally succumb to meet their death. A man dying is hard to watch, especially when it comes by way of gun, as those men had.
Chet picked up his rifle and placed it next to the door. He motioned for his visitor to keep quiet and to remain indoors. He then opened the door and stood to meet his new guests, all the while keeping one hand on the rifle. The riders, four in all, were waiting for Chet. The man closest to him was small, yet as deadly as a rattlesnake and--Chet knew his face all to well. As the man spoke he swung his horse, buckskin in color, quarter beauty, which was, small like Johnny, but had a broad forehead, broadside to the door where Chet stood.
"Well if this isn't a small world. Thought you'd be dead by now." Johnny Annette sneered, looking directly at Chet.
"Thought or hoped?"
"Doesn't really matter, does it? I don't like to live in the past." Johnny laughed.
"Johnny, can we get to the task at hand? It's cold as a wagon wheel out here," a cowboy three horses to Johnny's left complained. Johnny never looked away from Chet, a gunfighter knew better.
"Right, so to the point. There was a man; skinny acting all crazy, like someone was out to kill him, running this way. Did you happen to see him?"
"Yep, he's inside."
"Great, you just saved us more hours freezing to our saddles. Zeke, since you're so anxious to get going, go inside and bring our friend out."
Before Zeke, a slender man with pale hair, could climb down off his horse Chet spoke up. "Zeke, might as well stay on that horse. The man stays with me; he's in no condition to be moved right now--looks like he had a bad accident or something."
"Accident, right." Johnny's smile could only be described as sinister--his eyes too on a level and hard look. The man was a cold-blooded killer, and he was used to getting what he wanted.
"Be gone before we all freeze to death." Chet's grip on his rifle tightened, his knuckles turning white with anticipation.
"Why would a man like you want to cause trouble around these parts?" Johnny held his hand up to keep the other men from butting in.
"Ain't looking for trouble; just helping a fellow in need, he may go if he wishes. He's not a prisoner here."
"Perhaps you're too new to these parts to understand the situation. That man works for me and I work for Jed Jessup who's the biggest cattle rancher in Montana. That said, whatever Jessup wants, Jessup gets. I'm not one to disappoint Mr. Jessup. Now be a good boy and let us have the man."