The Woodsman Magazine

To Settle A Score

The Life and Times of Woodsman Boss Stalker
To Settle A Score
By John A. Hallock
To survive in the wilderness a man depends on guts and know-how, but prays
for luck.

The campfire snapped loud against the early morning quiet of the deep woods.
The yellow flame flickered and stretched for the piece of meat speared on a
spit just out of reach. Woodsman Boss Stalker stirred the coals with a thin
popple stick. From time to time he reached over the fire and picked at the
sizzling roast.
The woodsman was camped on a high bank that over looked a dark, swollen
river. The stream was gorged with winter run-off as it moved fast and smooth
over the large gray glacier rocks that were scattered across the stream bed.
The boulders normally jutted up to the surface to form a wild, white water
rapids at least a hundred yards long. They were called Giinoonh Dasoonaagan
Bawitig by the local Ojibwa Indians which translates to Fish Trap Rapids.
The natives use the river to fish or trap fish year around. The high water
temporarily obliterated the rocks and silenced the roar.
"Only Old Man Winter himself is strong enough to silence those rapids," Boss
mumbled under his breath. "Even if it's only for a little while."
The river took a giant dog-leg bend just below the rapids. Boss made camp
among the trees on the bend just below the rapids. It was here in the 1830s
wilderness, in a place the natives called Kitchi Mtigwaki, the big woods,
where Boss made his home. He could think of nowhere else he'd rather live
than in the forest. But on this morning Boss was not at peace with his
wilderness. His stomach grumbled for more than just breakfast. He stared
through the trees and across the water upstream and waited. There were
strangers about.
He'd heard from the natives about a white couple who paddled into the
woods, in a search for the great white woodsman. That would be Boss Stalker.
At first Boss ignored the intruders. They could never find him if he didn't
want them to. But he was a little curious.
The woodsman finally decided to put himself in a position to see the
strangers before they could see him. His friend the warrior Runs With The
Elk had visited his camp the day before and reported the strangers were on
the river and moved downstream at a steady pace. Boss knew it was only a
matter of time before they'd pass this way.
Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead as he stood up and dropped the red
wool blanket that had been draped across his shoulders. He is usually
wrapped in a blanket when sitting before his morning fire. Today the air was
warm. A refreshing scent of springtime rode on the March breeze.
Soon the doe would drop her fawns. And a sow bear would bust from her den,
vexed with a powerful hunger, a cranky attitude and two or three cubs in
tow. It was wondrous time in the wilderness. Besides the warm breeze, birds
of all colors and sizes began to sing for mates and stake out territories.
But most of all the woodsman liked to observe, "there ain't no skeeters."
Boss experienced the seasonal transition with mixed emotions. He liked the
warm weather and long days sure enough, but winter was when he made his
living by hunting and trapping. Winter was a time of great adventure. A time
of spirit cleansing silence throughout the wilderness. Boss admired Old Man
Winter's toughness. He showed no favorites, no mercy. Conquering winter's
frozen wrath was one way a woodsman measured his strength, his resolve, his
own toughness. A man who can look the Old Man in the eye and take his best
shot is a man who could stand up to anything, anyone. In winter there were
no bugs. For Boss winter was truly the season of awakening and he watched
its passing with a heavy heart.
"Yes, Sir," he said out loud to the fire. "Those strangers should be here
before long."
Boss leaned over and cut a large piece of meat from the roast.
"I'll feel better with a full belly and a couple of miles toward home behind
me."
As he spoke, to his surprise, a canoe rounded the up stream bend. It's bow
came around and pointed straight toward the woodsman. Boss stood up and with
a glance he located his 50 caliber Hawken rifle leaning on a tree next to
him.
Only the man in the stern was paddling. The woman up front was turned
sideways. Her head bobbing adamantly back and forth as she spoke to her
companion. Soon the sound of a shrill, whiny voice echoed across the water
surface and bounced off the forest walls on each bank.
That's a woman's voice all right, Boss thought and as they came closer he
realized she wasn't just talking, she was yelling, nagging, complaining. He
couldn't make out the words, but her tone was unmistakable. The man kept
paddling, staring straight ahead and saying nothing.
Boss watched from the forest shadows. When the craft was still 50 yards away
his eyes widened in surprised, in disbelief. He reached for his rifle and
threw it to his shoulder. His jaw was set hard as he aimed down the barrel.
His bead landed on the paddler's chest.
"Joe Briggs," Boss uttered under his breath as his finger caressed the
trigger. "You dirty, double crossin' thief. I thought I'd seen the last of
you more than a year ago."
Boss waited for a closer shot.
Briggs kept paddling toward the unseen woodsman, his gaze shifting back and
forth from one bank to the other. He was nervous.
"Hey, woman," Briggs finally shouted. "Why don't you give that yapin' a
rest. I need to listen. I know that woodsman is out there, somewhere."
The woman pulled the blanket up tighter around her neck and sneered over her
shoulder at Briggs.
"You just know he's out there," she whined in a bitter tone. "I don't think
you know nothin'."
The woman sent a stream of tobacco juice over the side into the water.
"Why you're about as worthless as a cub bear caught in a smoke house," she
continued. "Why if I'd had any sense ...."
Her angry tone and hateful words went on and on. She sure is something, Boss
thought, as he aimed at the boat.
A second later Boss's rifle shot exploded amongst the trees. A cloud of
billowy gray smoke marked the area as the lead ball smashed through the
birch bark gunwales and through the canoe bottom directly between Briggs'
feet. Water bubbled up into the craft.
"That's far enough Joe," Boss shouted as the woman struggled to get out of
the canoe and into the shallow water.
Briggs was frozen in his place but looked about wildly trying to locate the
woodsman. The woman pulled a rifle from under her blanket.
"No!" Briggs shouted.
She hadn't yet put the butt to her shoulder when another blast erupted from
the trees. The wooden stock of her rifle exploded under her chin. The steel
barrel and workings were launched unfired into the flowing water. She, too,
froze.
"I reckon I can make a trade for your hair too, Ma'am," Boss shouted. "Now
get up outa' that boat, Joe."
The woman spun around and faced Briggs who stepped into the water.
"I told you this was a stupid idea," she growled. "Now you've gone and got
us into a real fix. Chasin' after this half-wild woodsman and trying to stay
two strokes ahead of two mad men chasin' us."
Briggs ignored her and stepped over the canoe's side into the water and
tried to pull the sinking canoe to the bank.
"Why if I'd the courage of a half-whelped pup I'd of cut your throat long
ago," she screeched. "I knew I shoulda' run for St. Louis with the riverboat
cook last year when I had the chance."
Boss listened with amusement as the woman continued the tongue lashing
directed at Briggs. But then, finally, she fell silent and pulled her shirt
sleeve across her runny nose.
Briggs stood in the cold water and stared up at the camp. Only the fire was
visible. He still hadn't seen the woodsman he knew was hidden somewhere in
the shadows.
"I ... I, been lookin' for you, Boss," Briggs shouted. "... I'd be obligin'
if we could talk ... friendly like, that is."
Boss looked up when he heard ravens over-head. He couldn't help but notice
the bird's raucous chatter was a near perfect impersonation of the woman's
voice.
"You ain't been obligin' for nothin' your whole life, Joe," Boss shouted as
he looked away from the birds and moved quietly through the woods. "What
could you possibly want of me? And what makes you think I won't kill you as
soon as spit in your eye?"
Briggs stepped toward the bank.
"Well, I might not know much, but I do know people and I guess I never
figured you for a cold blooded murderer," Briggs shouted as he pulled the
canoe up onto dry land. "Guess I figured maybe you'd help me for old times
sake."
That's when Boss appeared out of the woods just a few yards from Briggs. He
held his rifle tight in one hand, his other hand balled into a tight fist.
It had been a little while since he'd seen the woodsman and Briggs was a
little taken back at how large the woodsman appeared as he stood tall on the
river bank. Briggs noticed the large antler handle skinning knife on one of
the woodsman's hip and a wicked looking steel head hatchet hanging from the
other. The woodsman wore buckskin leggings, a gray wool shirt and knew high
Ojibwa moccasins. He held the large bore 50 caliber rifle pointed at the
intruder's chest.
"Yeah," Boss yelled to a surprised Briggs. "And I never figured you for
double crossin' me ... takin' my share of profits and leavin' me alone in
the woods with a broke leg and no food, or powder, or lead."
Boss stepped down the bank and his fist flashed with a quick move to connect
solidly under Briggs' chin. The blow lifted Joe off his feet and knocked him
backward into the water where he lay face down and motionless. When it
became apparent he wasn't going to wake up Boss stepped into the river and
grabbed Briggs by the collar. With little effort he dragged the unconscious
man from the river and tossed him into the melting snow along the bank. Boss
used his foot to flip Briggs onto his back. The intruders face was bloodied
where his teeth had bitten through his lip. His breathing was shallow.
Two years worth of anger bordering on madness toward Briggs had just come
boiling out of Boss. They had partnered for the season way north on the St.
Croix River running a long trap line and hunting bears, wolves and big bucks
for their sinks. Boss kept the deer antlers to hang on his cabin wall. He'd
collected antlers all of his life and hand many.
It was early spring, like now Boss noted when he thought back. They had just
finished picking up the traps and equipment and planned to head south down
river to the traders near the Yellow River. Boss was crossing the creek in
front of their camp when he stepped into a hole and broke his leg. It was a
clear break but it hurt badly and he couldn't walk on it. He crawled to
camp.
The next morning when Briggs realized Boss could not stop him and certainly
not follow him he packed up his gear, all of the gun powder and lead and the
winter's worth of hides, loaded them into his canoe and left Boss to fend
for himself. But not before he took an ax to the bottom of Boss' canoe. The
woodsman spent the spring and summer healing and living on frogs and bugs
most of that time. Now, like then, all he could think of was revenge.
Boss reached down and took a pistol and skinning knife out of Briggs' belt.
He ignored woman who stood silent and a little frightened near the water's
edge. She'd pulled her blanket up over her head and peeked out from under as
if scared. Boss stepped to the canoe and retrieved Briggs' rifle. Then Boss
looked right at the woman.
"I don't reckon I have to worry much about your rifle," Boss said with a
smirk.
She wasn't old, he noticed. Her skin was brown and appeared weather beaten,
there was a silver tint in her long black hair, and the wide creases in her
face revealed she been around longer then she carried to admit. She appeared
thin in the hips but carried a heavy bosom. Her eyes were steely gray and
wild, filled with hate and she probably hadn't cracked a smile in years.
Survival in the wilderness wasn't easy and had taken a toll on her. But
still, in spite of her sour disposition and sharp, nagging tongue Boss
figured Briggs probably didn't even deserve her. Briggs moaned and began to
stir.
"Joe," Boss said, looking away from the woman and down at him. "You got one
minute to tell me why I shouldn't take your hair, then take up with your
woman."
Briggs raised a hand in front of him and to Boss' surprise the woman smiled.
"Please, please listen," Briggs pleaded. "I've come to warn you. I figured I
owed it to you. It's the Decorah brothers, Jed and Zeb. They're trackin' me
this very minute, they're trackin' you too, Woodsman."
Briggs spit blood from his mouth and raised up to lean on his elbow.
"Like I said. I figure I owed it to you."
"Warn me? Trackin' me? OWED me!" Boss' voice echoed through the forest. "You
owe me all right you double crossin' skunk."
Boss turned and spit.
"You owe me for sure," he growled. "And I aim to get it back . . . one way
or the other."
Boss stepped over to Briggs and looked down at the man who'd cheated him and
left him to struggle injured and alone through the woods.
"But I suppose, before I start carvin' on you, I better hear this about the
Decorah brothers lookin' for me." Boss couldn't imagine why they wanted him.
"I settled up with them before the season two years ago."
Briggs moaned and touched bleeding lip.
"Well ... well, I sorta' ..." Briggs was short of breath. "Well, I sorta
borrowed and bought from them using your name. I mean, who's gonna refuse
Boss Stalker's partner."
"Partner?" Boss said. "I've never had a partner."
"Well, they knew I helped you out on that one line a few years back," Briggs
said. "But it don't really matter if they do or don't have a legal claim
against you. They think you and me did them wrong and they're a comin' after
us right now."
"But that don't make a lot of sense," Boss said. "They live almost two
hundred miles from here. It couldn't have been that much money to make it
worth comin' all the way over here."
Briggs looked away, afraid to meet Boss's stare. The woodsman dropped to one
knee and cocked back his fist again.
"There's more, ain't there, Joe?" Boss shouted. "You tell me why them boys
would leave their business and high tail it all this way up here to collect
a few dollars from the likes of you, or me for that matter."
Briggs' eyes darted toward the woman. She looked up and scowled at her
partner, but then smiled wide at Boss again.
"It's Janey here," Briggs finally said in a weak voice. "She's sorta',
sorta..."
"Married!" Janey shouted. "I'm married to Jed Decorah. I run off with this
half brain before I knew how worthless he was. And now ... well, I could
hardly go back to Jed."
She spit down into the creek.
"I guess I'm stuck with this one," she said and glared at Briggs. "At least
'til something better happens along."
She looked up at Boss and snickered.
"Look woodsman we're probably only a half day ahead of them," Briggs said,
trembling. "We ain't never gonna out run them. Thank heavens I found you
afore' they found me. We have to fight it out with them. We'll do it
together. I told Janey here, ol' Boss Stalker would sure even the odds for
us."
He grinned sheepishly.
"Actually," Janey said. "They're probably just a bend or two behind us."
Boss growled and shook a fist at Briggs and stepped away. He had no desire
to tangle with the Decorah brothers. They were mean, merciless men. They
carried a powerful hate for most everyone.
The Decorah's ran a run down trading post a couple hundred miles southwest.
They extracted high, unreasonable payments for staking a man to the trapping
business. Sometimes it cost more to repay the brothers than the line could
produce in furs the whole season. When a man couldn't pay up in full, the
brothers set an example for others by collecting their balance in blood.
Boss had blocked the memory of these vicious people by putting two years and
all those miles between them. Now, he hated Briggs even more for bringing
this upon him.
"You know, Joe, I always fight my own battles," Boss said, looking down at
Briggs still sprawled on the river bank. Janey sat silent and sullen near
him. "So should you.
"What if I met with the brothers," Boss continued. "I could tell them it was
all your doing, all your lies, and theivin'."
Boss looked at the woman. Her eyes darted from the woodsman to Briggs and
back to Boss.
"Hey," Boss shouted turning back to Briggs. "I could even turn you both over
to them."
Briggs raised up to his elbow and motioned to the woman. She retrieved a
brown jug from the canoe and carried it to Briggs.
"I don't think that would satisfy those boys," Briggs said after pouring
whisky into his mouth. "They let it be known they was bringing all three of
our scalps back with them. They don't rightly care if you stole from them or
not. They're caught up in the chase and they lust for revenge."
Briggs handed Janey the jug and accepted a rag from her. He filled the
tattered piece of cloth with snow and placed it on his bloody lip.
"Besides ..." Briggs winced as he spoke. "... they'd count big coupe among
friends, and enemies, if they took down the great woodsman, Boss Stalker."
Briggs sucked water from the rag.
"No, Sir, Woodsman," Briggs said with a satisfied twinkle in his eye.
"You're gonna have to kill them boys and you know it. Or they're gonna kill
you."
Boss took a deep breath and faced Briggs.
"I can see your still carryin' that big stag handled buck stabber," Briggs
said pointing to the large, custom made hunting knife hanging in a sheath
from Boss's waist. "Can you still throw it like you used to?"
The woodsman wasn't really listening.
"I don't know about me killin' the Decorahs, or them killin' me," Boss said
through clenched a few seconds later as he reached down and took hold of
Briggs' shirt collar.
"But I can promise you this, Joe," Boss said. "Before this is over, I'm
gonna' kill you!"
Boss' fist came down hard and smashed into Briggs bloodied ice pack. The
snow exploded across Briggs' face but the fist didn't connect. It was only
a warning from the angry woodsman.
Boss straightened and turned to the woman. For the first time he read fear
in her eyes.
"He had it comin," she said with a scowl. "Joe Briggs is about as stupid a
man as to ever pull off a pair of britches."
She rose from her squatting position and took a step backward.
"I told him we ought to leave you alone," she said. "But no, he claimed to
have a better way. Ha, he probably ain't had an original idea in his whole
life. Why I'd a punched him myself, long before now if'n I had the nerve,
that is."
Boss looked down at the silent Briggs.
"There's some roast rabbit and a pot of coffee at my camp," he said to both
of them. "I'll hold on to your weapons while you best go over and get a
bite."
Boss turned and moved into the woods.
"I'm going to scout for the Decorahs," he shouted over his shoulder. "Don't
go anywhere or I'll figure you are against me and I'll hunt you down and
shoot you like a deer chasin' mongrels you are."
They moved their canoe up into the camp and unloaded all of their gear --
their clothes and belongings hung drying from every tree branch around camp
-- then the intruders ate heartily. Afterwards she bathed in the cold
river.
Briggs and Janey spent the rest of the day watching the river and sharing
the jug until Joe was drunk and groggy.
It was dark before Boss appeared out of the woods again. Briggs was wrapped
in a blanket and snored in the shadows just outside the dome of light around
the campfire. Janey sat cross-legged and flipped twigs into the flames. Boss
sat down in the shadow a few feet away from the fire. He produced a pipe
from his pocket. It was a travel, everyday pipe with a deer antler bowl and
smooth sumac stem about six inches long. It was decorated accordingly with
colorful feathers, bear, deer and wolverine teeth and ermine tails. He
puffed a special blend of trade tobacco, dried maple leaves and local herbs
while around them the stillness of the night forest hung heavy over the
camp. Boss finally broke the silence.
"In spite of your wicked tongue and hateful eyes," he said around a puff of
smoke. "There's obvious intelligence about you. Why, I bet you can even
read."
She didn't answer but Boss read the affirmation in her expression.
"So if you're all that smart." Boss pulled the pipe stem from his mouth.
"Smart enough to get away from Jed Decorah. Why ain't you smart enough to
know ..."
Boss pointed at Briggs
"... to know the fire ain't no better than the fryin' pan?"
Janey shifted uncomfortably in her place.
"Well, your right about that, Woodsman," she said without looking up from
the fire. "I never should have taken up with the likes of him in the first
place. But it's too late now. Though he is two licks better than my husband.
Dumb is still dumb and Joe Briggs is dumb. But he was also available. And he
did risk his neck sneakin' me out the back door when Jed left our bed for
his tradin' post bar."
Janey spit into the fire. Briggs snored loud and turned over. That's when
she picked up a charred log that had rolled away from the flames and had
cooled. She purposely blackened her fingers.
"I had no future with Jed Decorah and I don't have much of one with Joe
here," she said. "But livin' out here alone ain't too smart for most folks,
let alone a woman. Leastwise not a white woman. Besides the work is too
hard. I guess that's why I'd rather lay down with the likes of Joe here,
than cut and haul my own firewood."
Janey stirred in her place again, then straightened up and let the blanket
fall away from her shoulders revealing the full round shape of her breast,
straining to bust the buttons on her cotton shirt.
"But I'm willing to take on new company any time," she purred. Her eyes
softened. "Of course then, Joe is a lot like Jed in that way. He ain't the
kind of man a woman can just walk away from."
She reached over and with her blackened finger marked a large X on Briggs'
forehead.
"That was some mighty fine shootin' this morning, Woodsman," she said,
looking back at Boss. "But do you think you can hit this mark with your
Hawken?"
She waited while Boss puffed his pipe in silence.
"If you can hit this mark, half of our troubles are over." She looked to
make sure Briggs was still asleep. "And if I know Jed, he don't really want
me back. Maybe if they found Joe's body here, the scalpin' all done and hair
hangin' on a branch all ready for them, they'd be satisfied and leave us
alone."
She smiled and winked, then pushed her breast out enticingly.
"Then after you bring in the firewood," she cooed. "I could be real cozy,
Woodsman."
Boss smiled. He was surprised he'd misjudged her so badly earlier. Joe
Briggs did, indeed, deserve her ... every double crossing, back stabbing
part of her.
Boss turned his back on Janey's proposition. Soon the camp fell silent. The
fire died. They slept.
As the sun broke above the pines to the east a gun shot exploded near the
edge of camp. Janey and Joe bolted up out of their blankets to the shouts
and jeers and vulgar threats of the Decorah brothers, who appeared out of
the trees near the river and walked toward them. Boss was gone.
"Well if it ain't the two little love birds themselves," Jed said as he
walked over and grabbed Janey by the arm.
"He made me do it, Jed," she blurted. "He kidnapped me and wouldn't let me
come back to you. I swear it."
Jed spit in her face and threw her to the ground.
"Shuddup woman," he growled. "I'll listen to none of your lies."
Then Jed turned, brought his rifle around, and hit Briggs flush in the face
with the butt. Briggs sprawled backward. Blood once again gushed from his
face.
Zeb grabbed Janey by the hair, pulled her up off the ground and pushed her
down next to Briggs. The horror of having to face the brothers was clearly
etched in both their expressions.
"Did you really think you could escape me, Janey?" Jed asked with mock
concern. "Get away without permission, without . . . punishment?"
He stooped down next to the frightened woman and pulled his knife from its
sheath. He smiled a wicked grin, grabbed her by the hair and held her still
while he pressed the razor sharp point against her pale face. A small
trickle of blood rolled down her cheek. She closed her eyes as the pain
rushed across her face.
"This will feel like a tickle," Jed growled, "before I'm done cuttin' on
you."
Then Jed stood up and faced Briggs.
"And you," he shouted as he lunged toward him. "I'll kill you a dozen times
before I let you die..."
"Hold it right there, Jed." Boss' voice boomed across the camp.
The woodsman appeared out of the forest shadows. He held his Hawken rifle in
his left hand while his right hand hung at his side. Jed wheeled about to
face Boss. Zeb moved close to his brother.
"If there's any killin' in these woods this morning," Boss said in a steady,
calm voice. "I'll be the one doin' it."
Jed smiled and took a step toward Boss.
"Well if it ain't the livin' legend himself," Jed mocked, "the mighty
woodsman, Boss Stalker."
Jed took another step and Zeb followed. Janey and Briggs remained terror
stricken and cowered together on the ground.
"I told an awful lot of people how nice your thievin' scalp was gonna' look
hangin' from my rifle barrel." Jed was also calm as he ventured a half
hearted smile. He was enjoying this.
Boss heard the click of Zeb's rifle being cocked. Jed dropped his knife and
pulled a pistol from his belt.
"Besides, Woodsman," Jed lifted the rifle barrel up in front of him. "What
makes you think you can take us both?"
Boss didn't respond. A circling raven cackled an eerie call.
"His knife," Briggs groaned from behind. "He'll kill one of you with his
knife. I, I seen him do it before."
Jed ignored Briggs but stared at the woodsman's knife hanging harmlessly at
Boss's side. Jed threw his head back and laughed.
"Is that so, Woodsman?" Jed asked. "'Cause the only thing I like better than
plain killin', is killin' with some sport to it."
Boss didn't move. He stared straight at Jed.
"Why don't you boys call this whole thing off and go home while you still
got a chance." Boss' voice was steady.
"No, Sir." A touch of anger twitched the corner of Jed's mouth. "That ain't
the way it works. You stole ..."
"I stole nothin' from you and you know it," Boss interrupted. "It's this
low life Joe Briggs here and your cheatin' wife. But you got no more use for
either of them now. And no score to settle with me. Go home."
Jed stomped his foot and raised the pistol. He held his arm straight out
pointing the gun at Boss's face as he pulled back the hammer.
"Like I said, Woodsman," Jed smirked, his excitement grew. "It don't work
that way. I got a reputation to keep up, a future to think about."
Boss stared at Jed.
"There ain't much of a future after the crows pick your bones clean then
shit you out all over these woods," Boss whispered.
"What?" A look of confusion crossed Jed's face. "What did you say?"
Boss waited. Jed's hand began to tremble.
"I said," Boss shouted, it caught Jed off guard. "There ain't no future ..."
Then, as Jed's pistol exploded Boss dropped to one knee. His right hand came
up in a blur as the bullet whizzed harmlessly over Boss' head. But the
woodsman's blade found its target and sunk deep into Jed's chest as the
billowy cloud of smoke from the pistol shot engulfed him.
Surprised, Jed grab helplessly at the knife handle. Then he looked up and
held Boss' stare for but an instant, but long enough to show the terror of
impending death. He pitched forward and lay face down on the ground. Zeb
stood dumb-struck, his mouth gaped wide in disbelief. Then, as the
realization sunk in, he raised his rifle, just as the woodsman's 50 caliber
Hawken exploded from across the camp. The bullet smashed into Zeb's chest
and knocked him backward to sprawl, dead, on top of Janey and Briggs.
"Like I said," Boss repeated, "there ain't no future in dying."
"Grab the gun," Briggs whispered as he and Janey struggled to get up.
Janey looked at Briggs, then at Boss as he walked across camp. She looked
back at Briggs, and snatched up Zeb's unfired rifle. Boss froze in his
tracks and stared at the woman. She pointed the rifle and stared back.
Boss's rejection the night before now angered her more than ever. More even
than Briggs' rough treatment. Without a word she raised the barrel and
fired.
Seconds later when the smoke cleared Boss had disappeared. For a moment
Janey and Briggs stared in disbelief.
"C'mon'." Briggs' voice was filled with panic. "Grab the guns and powder.
We'll take Jed's canoe and hightail it outa' here. The woodsman won't bother
chasin' us far."
"You keep your orders to yourself," Janey shrieked.
She snatched up an empty pack and started shoving their belongings into it.
Briggs spun in circles in a panicked search for the whiskey jug. When he
finally located it, he snatched it up to his lips, and took a long pull.
They heaped all the equipment, including all of Boss' food, into the
Decorah's canoe. Then Janey waded into the shallow water and jumped into the
bow while Briggs pushed the other end away from the bank. He maneuvered the
craft expertly into mid-current and started down stream with barely a glance
over his shoulder. It was the second time Briggs had stolen from Boss.
Meanwhile Boss moved across country, cutting several miles off the snaky
water route. He'd escaped Janey's rifle by dropping off the high river bank
the instant she fired. Now, he was seated on a steep pine ridge over-looking
the river, his rifle resting in the crux of a tree. It would be a long shot
but Joe Briggs would finally get his due.
Boss had been there only a short while before he saw the canoe approaching.
Actually, once again, it was Janey's squeaky voice he heard echoing up off
the water first.
"I told you it was a dumb idea," she scolded over her shoulder to Briggs.
"There ain't no way a stupid, stupid man like you ..."
Boss tried to put the voice out of his mind as the craft rounded a bend and
came into view. He aimed down the barrel at the X still visible on Briggs'
forehead. His gaze wandered to the bow and he stared at the full figured
woman who had tried so hard to tempt him the night before. Then he pictured
himself next year or the year after or sometime with a big black X marked on
his forehead and another man drooling after the woman.
Yes, Sir, they belong to the likes of each other. Boss knew Joe was a slave
to the ladies.
The woodsman's sights moved back to Briggs' forehead.
"Yes, Sir," Boss whispered, "Ol' Joe's sure got it comin'."
"I told you. You shoulda' listened to me in the first place," Janey's
whining voice continued to fill the woods.
Briggs put down his paddle and reached for the jug. Boss could read the
suffering on his face even from the distance. The woman was really paining
him and, Boss supposed, if given enough time she'd eventually drive him
crazy.
Briggs pulled the cork and took a long drink.
"...and if you don't learn to shoot like that woodsman, you're never gonna'
be able to put enough meat on the table next winter and blah, blah, blah..."
Boss watched Joe's face grimace as he took another drink.
"Killin' him," Boss muttered as he lowered his rifle, "might just be the
kindest thing I could do. I think I'll let him live out his years and listen
to that woman the rest of his life. That's far worse than killin'."
With that he felt a great satisfaction inside of him. The score was,
indeed, settled and the woodsman called Boss Stalker turned and disappeared
into the woods.

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