Chapter Two—The Death of Rob Conners

     It wasn’t too long afterwards that Robin got a semi-answer to her wondering about Rob.
     Communication was still relatively slow in many places in the west at that time, but occasionally interesting news could travel very rapidly. And something very interesting—especially to Robin—hit Whitewater.
     It was a Thursday. Robin was having lunch at a local diner with a man she had met the day before whose name was Cameron Collins. Cameron was the foreman for a local ranch, the XQ Limited, or XQL, as it was called, and he was a rugged, outdoors, cowboy type. Yet very poised and polished. He had raven black hair, that had darling curls in it with a little graying at the temples, and his green eyes were deep, intelligent, and yet kind and could laugh at the drop of a hat. His face and hands showed some years of hard outdoor living, but he was still very handsome in his own, rugged, masculine way. Probably early-40s. He’d lost a wife to cholera several years before, but he did have a teen-aged son who worked at the XQL as well. Robin had found him attractive right off, and even though sparks hadn’t flown here, either, the burner had started a little higher than it had with Len.
     “I knew your Uncle Ben well,” Cameron was telling her as they were eating. “Finer man never walked the face of the earth.”
     “Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say so. I thought he was a wonderful uncle.” She made a face. “I’ve always wondered how he got stuck with my Aunt Martha, though.”
     Cameron laughed, a deep, throaty laugh. “Now that’s a naughty thing to say, but honestly, there’s been many of us wonder the same thing, Robin. Love is blind, I suppose. But she does have her good qualities, just a bit of a temper, and she and Ben seemed to have done a good job of raising you.”
     “I suppose so…”
     It was at that moment that an old timer came into the restaurant and sat down at the counter. Robin didn’t pay any notice to him, but his voice was loud and carried, and she and Cameron were sitting at a table nearby.
     “Hey, Rolly,” the old timer said to somebody a couple seats from him. “Did’ja hear ‘bout that shootout between Rip Slade and Rob Conners up to Dry Gulch t’other day? Man, that musta been sumpin’!”
     Robin immediately stiffened and her stomach turned to ice. Rob? In a shootout? Oh, no…
     “Naw, didn’t hear a thang about it. What happened? Slade buried ‘im, I’ll bet. Greased lightenin’ with a gun.”
     Robin had a sick expression on her face and Cameron noticed. “Is something wrong?” he asked her.
     She gave him a wan smile. “No, I just…feel a little queasy at the moment…”
     Cameron said something else, but she wasn’t listening.
     “That’s what I’da figgered, too,” the old timer said. “But word is, he barely cleared leather and Conners drilled him right ‘twixt the eyes. Then, the sheriff tried to arrest ‘im and hold him fer trial, but Conners decked him, then hopped on his horse and high-tailed it outta town ‘fore the sheriff could git up and grab ‘im. Great stuff, I tell ye.”
     Robin sighed with relief. But what is Rob doing getting in a shootout with a killer like Rip Slade?
     Rolly asked pretty much the same question. “How’d all that start?”
     “Rumor is that Slade begun it. Lost some money at poker and was lookin’ t’ take it out on somebody. Slade started a fight, and Conners ended it. I knew Conners was good with a gun, but, man, outdrawin’ Slade…that’s really fast.”
     “An’ Slade hardly cleared leather. That is sumpin’.”
     “Yeah, an’ Slade even grabbed iron first, is what the story says. Conners standin’ there, then alla sudden, gun’s in his hands. Slicker’n snot an’ faster’n a rattler. I’da give a month’s wages to see Slade get it. He was a skunk if’n there ever was one…”
     Robin quit listening because Cameron was asking her something. “I’m sorry,” she said. “What were you asking?”
     “I was just wanted to make sure you were ok. You really did look ill for a moment.”
     “Well, no, to be honest, I was listening to that man at the counter tell about the shootout between Rob Conners and that Slade fellow. Rob…Conners was the man who kidnapped me just outside of Whitewater on my way here.”
     Cameron’s eyebrows went up. “Yeah, I heard something about you being kidnapped, but I didn’t know it was Conners.”
     “Yes. He was really kind of…nice. When I told him about Uncle Ben and how I was coming to live with Aunt Martha, he let me go. Even bought me a horse.”
     Cameron shook his head. “Never can tell what an outlaw will do, although I’ll tell you something, Rob Conners did the world a favor when he put a bullet in Wil Brant. That man was pure poison. Should have given Conners a medal, but made an outlaw out of him instead. What did Judd say, I wasn’t listening.” He was referring to the old timer who had told the story about the shooting in Dry Gulch.
     “He said Slade provoked Conners into a fight and that Conners outdrew him and killed him.”
     Cameron whistled softly. “Slade was mean and almighty fast with a gun. If Conners beat him then he’s fast, plenty fast, because Slade had the reputation of making greased lightening look slow. I don’t even think Ben Thompson or Hardin or Earp would have wanted to tangle with him.” He shook his head again. “Well, maybe Conners can go around and clean this country of sidewinders.” He looked at Robin. “Not very nice kidnapping you, though.”
     “I think he was just lonely and wanted some company. He told me Wilson Brant had killed his wife several months ago.”
     “Yeah, sent Conners over the edge, I reckon. Men have tipped for a lot less of a reason than that.”
     “Did you ever meet him?”
     “No, he was a small rancher. Never heard of him till we got the word he had plugged Brant. Believe me, there were a lot of people wanting to raise a statue of him. And they’ll want to give him a second one for drilling Slade.” He spoke to the old timer. “Hey, Judd. Where’d you hear that story about Conners and Slade?”
     “Stage just come through. Some fancy pants Yankee newspaper fella from back east was all in a huff ‘cuz’n he was up in Dry Gulch and thinks we ain’t civilized out here. Billy Walters, the Jehu, confirmed it. Saw it all, he says. Never seen anybody move as fast as Conners, fact, said he never even saw Conners move. Jest standin’ there with his hand by his gun, then boom, hole in Slade’s head. Given a month’s wages to see that, I would,” he repeated.
     “Yeah, that would have been a good one. Never knew Conners was that fast.”
     “Reckon Slade didn’t, either. From all indication, he didn’t even know who he was dealin’ with.”
     “What did Conners do?”
     “Lit a shuck outta town’s what Billy said. He’s wanted down in these parts and the sheriff up there musta knowed it, though I doubt that buffoon in Dry Gulch’d know his own mother if’n he saw her.” Judd looked at Robin and narrowed his eyes. “Ain’t you the filly that Conners kidnapped?”
     “Yes,” Robin responded. “He is a very nice man, actually. He has no business being an outlaw.”
     “Mebbe not, but he’s still got a hangin’ rope comin’ if’n the law ever catches him.”
     Robin looked at Cameron. “Isn’t there some kind of, oh, I don’t know, extenuating circumstances or something? I mean, Brant killed his wife, and Rob told me that she was expecting their first child.”
     Cameron Collins winced at that. “Hadn’t heard about the child. That’s rough. I don’t really know what could be done, Robin. There’s no real proof that Brant burnt him out.”
     “Is there any real proof that Rob killed Brant?”
     “Well, nobody saw him do it, but they were fixing to railroad Conners into a noose.”
     “Some justice. Brant steals everybody’s land, murders people, but the law won’t do anything about it. Except railroad an innocent man. And then turn him into an outlaw. What other choice did he have?” Robin was incensed.
     Nobody had anything to say to that because there was really nothing to say. And nobody looked at her, either.
     “Well, it’s far from a perfect system we have,” Cameron commented, rather lamely, “but it’s the best we’ve got at the moment.”
     Robin felt despondent. Hearing about Rob tended to arouse the feelings she had developed for him when they were together. She had never totally lost them, but she had become pretty resigned to the idea that she’d never see him again. Now, to hear about this…and the injustice of it all…She tried to put it out of her mind and concentrate on her lunch with Cameron Collins.
     But it was hard. I wonder where he is now…a “wonder” she had frequently…
     Well, she found out soon enough.

     Two days later, Saturday, in the afternoon, an anguished Cameron Collins knocked on Aunt Martha’s front door. Martha answered it, and Cameron asked if Robin was there.
     “Yes, Mr. Collins,” Aunt Martha said. “Come in and I’ll fetch her. She’s out back with her horse.”
     A few moments later Robin came into the room. Cameron was standing there with his hat in his hands. Robin said hi, and smiled, until she saw the look on his face. One of pure angst. “Is something wrong, Cameron?”
     “Well, mebbe, mebbe not, but I don’t really want to be the one to tell you.”
     Robin felt her stomach knot up. It’s about Rob, I know it is…“Tell me what?”
     Cameron sighed. “Another report came from up north. Seems as though yesterday Rob Conners robbed a stagecoach not far from Dry Gulch. Killed a lady passenger. Sheriff got up a posse, chased him, and shot him, and Conners fell over a high cliff. By the time they got down to him, and it took a couple hours, the coyotes and buzzards had gotten to him and he was hardly recognizable. Rocks made a pretty good mess of him, too, when he hit.” Cameron was agonized. “I’m sorry, I know you thought he was a nice feller, but he musta just snapped when his wife was killed.”
     Robin was staggered. It took a moment for it to sink in. Rob? It can’t be. He promised me…and he wouldn’t kill…never…she sat down, a dazed expression on her face. “How…how do they know it was Rob?” she said quietly.
     “He announced it when he robbed the stage. Apparently, he was wearing a mask, but he shot the lady and shouted, ‘I’m better than Rip Slade and nobody can stop me, Rob Conners!’ Or somethin’ like that. Then he took off, laughing like a hyena, witnesses said.” Cameron shook his head. “Everything that’s happened to him lately must have finally driven him over the edge.”
     Robin was still sitting, her eyes open, but not seeing anything. It was so…unreal. That didn’t sound like the Rob she had met, not at all. Then she closed her eyes. Well, I knew him less than 24 hours…but he was so…tender…kind…she dropped her head as another word came to mind…loving…Tears formed in her eyes, but she shook them off. I guess Cameron is right. He was under so much pressure lately. I shouldn’t have left him. Maybe I could have helped. Maybe he was reaching out to me…to somebody…for help…Well, it’s over now…I guess that’s for the best…it could never be between us…
     Still not looking up, she said, “Thank you for coming by and telling me, Cameron. I do appreciate it.”
     Cameron replied, “I’m sorry, Robin.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he turned and left.
     Aunt Martha, who was as nosey as an aardvark, came into the living room after Cameron left and asked, “What was that all about?”
     Robin was still sitting on the couch with her head down. She took a deep breath. “Rob Conners, the man who kidnapped me on the way here, was killed up north yesterday. Robbed another stage, killed somebody, and the sheriff tracked him down and shot him.”
     “Well, good,” Aunt Martha said. “A no-good man like that who would kidnap women and kill people isn’t fit to live on God’s earth.” And she turned and went back to the kitchen, her head up in righteous Puritanism as if she had been the one who had passed the sentence and done the executing.
     “I guess so,” Robin said, looking down at her hands in her lap. Then she got up, went into her bedroom, lay down on her bed, and cried.