Black Phantom: What’s in a Name? by Mark Holmes

What’s in a Name? A tale of the Black Phantom, in the old west.
by Mark Holmes

 

Prologue

Sheriff Gage and RedMask, of the Rio Grande the Southwest’s masked hero, had left town leading two posses  in opposite directions chasing down the Owlhoot gang which had just daringly robbed the Farmer’s Bank and the local Western Union station late last night. Black Phantom was chasing down a female bandit east of BulletArizona. With the peace officers and a good number of the town’s men folk gone, Bullet was practically unguarded.

 

Chapter 1

Rattlesnake Jake was a cruel little man. His six gun had twelve notches on the handle, one for every man he was paid to kill in a “fair” gunfight. Who knew how many had fallen from his gunfire in “unfair” shootings? It was known throughout the southwest that Rattlesnake Jake was faster than the reptile he got his name from.

He loved the name that eastern dime novelist gave him and wore it proudly. He wore rattlesnake skin boots, belt, vest and hatband. A large diamondback’s rattle hung off his watch chain. A six gun hung low on his leg. Jake had taken over the corner booth of the “Naked Spur” saloon in the town ofBullet,Arizona. There was no law in town to stop him from doing whatever he wanted.

Two dancehall girls with feathers in their hair, painted faces and threadbare fandango dresses sat on either side of him drinking warm champagne. The only difference between the two girls was that Claire had red hair and Flo had brown hair. They both talked while Rattlesnake Jake waited. That was the question running through town, who or what was Rattlesnake Jake waiting for?

 

A clear, piercing voice called out from the street.

“Rattlesnake Jake. I’m calling you out. If you claim to be a man, you will come out and meet me in the street right now.”

All noise in the saloon stopped. All eyes in the saloon turned to Jake.

“What the devil!” Jake looked up from the table and looked out the bat winged doors. “Who’s crazy enough to call me out?”

“Git outta my way girlie.” He roughly pushed the girl sitting to his left off her chair; she crashed into Sam the bartender who had a tray full of beers he was taking to some cowboys at the poker table. The girl, Sam and the beers all wound up in a heap on the floor.

The gunman paid them no mind; he got up and walked swiftly to the door and out into the street.

A figure stood in the middle ofMain Street. It was a woman, hardly more than a girl. She was Mexican.

Rattlesnake Jake could not believe his eyes. A girl called him out? He crossed his arms in front of his chest and sized her up, both as a woman and as an opponent.

She was short, maybe a hair over five feet tall with a classic hour glass figure. She was dressed all in black. Black leather riding boots and a black divided riding skirt with the hem well above the knee. The girl was brazen enough not to wear a blouse but her black gaucho vest was tied together at the front with a thin red ribbon stretched almost to the breaking point. A large sombrero with little furry balls hanging from the brim sat on her head, long dark hair spilled out over her shoulders. However the most interesting feature about her outfit was the black domino mask on her pretty face.

A very fancy Colt revolver hung from full hips.

“Just who do you think you are calling me out girlie?” Jake didn’t even wait for an answer. “Do you know who I am? Do you know why I’m here? I’m the fastest gun hand there is or ever will be. I’m here to shoot it out with RedMask. People say he’s the fastest but I know I’m faster. When I kill him my reputation will be solid. No one will ever come after me and I’ll do whatever I want.”

In perfect English with no accent the woman spoke. “I’m RedMask’s better; you will have to beat me first.”

“And just who the devil are you?”

“La Fantasma Negra.”

“I don’t speak Mex.”

Every witness who was there that day said the same thing. Rattlesnake Jack drew his gun first and had almost cleared his holster before the woman moved. She was inhumanly fast. Her gun appeared in her hand, the shot rang out and Rattlesnake Jake got bit. The bullet hit him dead center in his chest and Jake dropped his gun and fell to his knees. He looked up at the mere girl who had just shot him. Disbelief in his eyes.

“I’m the Black Phantom.”

She shot him again, right between the eyes.

 

Chapter 2

Big Mike O’Shay was a strange name for a woman. She wasn’t tall or husky or fat by any stretch of the imagination, a feature that would earn a man the nickname “Big.” She was abnormally strong for a woman her size; years of farm work back inKansaswould have broken most girls. Not having any sons, her father treated her more like a plow horse than a daughter and he called her Mike. She was called “Big” because she was extremely well endowed. A family trait handed down from mother to daughter. A fact Big Mike hated. They were big, heavy and they got in the way. When she was younger Mike used to bind her chest with a long piece of silk she came across to try and make herself look like other girls. It didn’t work and it hurt anyway.

One day when she was 18, years after her mother had passed away, Mike and her father were in town getting supplies when a lady from the dress shop noticed her. The lady took her away from her father and brought her into her shop. She fitted her with a corset and presented her back to her father who was waiting outside the dress shop. Mike had never been happier; at last she was being treated like a girl!

Mister O’Shay was furious when the lady asked for two dollars for the corset. He tore Mike’s shirt off and cut the corset off with his bowie knife. Mike covered her chest as best she could as Mister O’Shay picked her up and threw her into the buck board. They drove out of town.

The town marshal rode out to the O’Shay farm that night to check on Mike and see about the money for the corset. He had a package from the dress shop addressed to Mike.

The marshal found Mister O’Shay in a pool of his own blood, his bowie knife buried to the hilt in his chest.

Big Mike was nowhere to be found.

Years later, stories floated around the west of a hard looking woman who called herself Big Mike who travelled on the wrong side of the law. She robbed and killed men.

 

Big Mike O’Shay had just bent over to pick up the dusty man’s poke. On her command at gunpoint he had just tossed it to her feet. She noticed him gawking as he looked down the front of her dirty, low cut dress.

“Get a good look Saddle Tramp it’ll be the last thing you see.”

The slim drifter was called Uncle Jack, also known throughout the west as the Saddle Tramp, he had left home to fight in the Mexican war back in the 1850’s and never came back. He had a restless foot and could never stay in one place to long. He looked weather beaten and lean. A couple of days beard growth did not cover the scar on his cheek. A shining brass bugle hung from a braided rope on his left hip. Living day to day he traveled from farm to ranch to mining camp to town. Working just enough to get a stake he would then move on. An old lever rifle, saddle and broke Indian pony were his only possessions.

Big Mike cocked her gun, a big Remington cap and ball revolver and leveled it at the saddle tramp. She smiled.

“This’ll teach you to stare.”

From the shadows off the side of the trail a shot rang out and Big Mike’s gun flew out of her hand. Both Big Mike and Uncle Jack spun their heads and looked into the shadows. A figure separated itself from the rock face.

“If ya put your melons on a shelf, don’t you think a starving man’s gonna at least look?”  It was a woman’s voice.

The shooter stepped into the sunlight. Dressed all in black she cut quite a figure. Tight black riding pants were tucked into high heeled Mexican boots; she had neglected to button up her black silk blouse and didn’t seem to mind. A black hat did little to contain long wavy blonde hair. Her gun belt sat on her hips below her wasp waist. The saddle tramp noticed her black domino mask.

“Oh Lord, it’s another pretty lady bandit! What kind of day is this?”

“Relax Mister; I’m on the right side of the law. I ride with RedMask. I’ve been chasing this here trouble maker for two weeks now. Ever since we got word a female bandit was holding up travelers on this here stretch of road.”

Big Mike was massaging her right hand with her left when she spoke up.

“Just who are you.”

“You can call me the Black Phantom.”

Keeping her gun leveled on Big Mike she walked on to the road.

 

 

Chapter 3

La Fantasma Negra had taken over the same booth Rattlesnake Jake had been using. If Jake had been described as cruel, La Fantasma Negra was worse. Waving her gun around her, she chased all the men out of the saloon after firing a shot at a gamblers top hat.

“Not you cowboy;” She singled out a young cowhand.” You are pretty, stay with me.”

“Yes ‘um” was the only thing he could mutter.

The girl cleaned out the cash box behind the bar and shot Sam the bartender high in the left shoulder when he objected.

“What’s your name handsome?”

“Clem.”

“Well Clem, see that painted Jezebel there, she does not stand up straight. Tie a rope around her hands and throw the end over that rafter and pull her up until she stands straight.”

“Yes ’um.” Was all he could say again and he did what he was told. Claire, the red head was pulled up straight until her toes barely touched the floor. Clem tied the loose end to the bar rail.

La Fantasma Negra turned her attention to Flo.

“You go make my supper, and be quick about it or I’ll take my whip to you.”

Flo actually curtsied like she was taught as a little girl back inGeorgia.

“Yes Ma’am, right away.”

 

Chapter 4

The Black Phantom tossed a pair of handcuffs to Uncle Jack.

“Put ‘em on her mister, I got her covered.”

“Name’s Uncle Jack Miss and I’m much obliged for your fancy shooting there.”

Big Mike slowly shifted her position and Uncle Jack unknowingly stepped between the Black Phantom and Big Mike. She held her hands out to be cuffed and then quickly charged Uncle Jack. The unexpected rush knocked Uncle Jack off balance and he fell towards the Black Phantom knocking her gun down. Big Mike pushed the advantage and shoved the off balance drifter into the masked girl. They bumped bodies and Uncle Jack fell hard hitting his head on an exposed rock knocking him senseless. The Phantom landed on her backside, legs in the air. She tried to level her gun at Big Mike but the outlaw hiked up her skirt and kicked the gun out of the Phantom’s hand.

The masked girl kicked out herself and caught the outlaws planted leg in the calf. Big Mike went down.

Both girls crab walked away from each other and regained their feet.

Outlaw and former outlaw now reformed circled each other looking for and opening. Each was unarmed, each ready to strike when the opportunity presented itself.

The Black Phantom did not like to fist fight, she was not very good at it. RedMask had taught her how to punch hard and fast, then back away. The Phantom continued to circle, suddenly a bright  light hit Big Mike in the eyes and she blinked. The Black Phantom punched hard and fast, just like RedMask taught her! Big Mike’s eyes rolled up in her sockets and a stupid smile formed on her face. She dropped to her knees and started to sway. She finally gave up her struggle and went down, laid out flat on her back.

Uncle Jack slowly got up. His shiny bugle, which he had used to reflect the sunlight into Big Mike’s eyes, was in one hand and was rubbing his head with the other.

“Sorry about that Black Phantom, guess I got stunned for a minute when I went down. Clumsy of me to get in the way like that, I never guessed a woman could be so mean and ornery.”

The Black Phantom was brushing the dust off her backside.

“That’s okay; I had my gun on her and was dumb enough to get close enough for her to get at me. Nice use of the bugle, gave me the opening I needed.” She retrieved her gun and checked it carefully.

The Black Phantom smiled.”Well that’s all in the past, I think we better hog tie this kitty here and you can get her back to town. There is a reward on her and you deserve it Uncle Jack, you helped me catch her. I pack a badge now, I can’t accept a reward, shouldn’t let it go to waste. I’ll get my horse, he’s around the bend.”

Uncle Jack got his rope and tied her hands behind her back. He threw a couple of loops around her body and then tied her ankles together. By the time the Black Phantom returned with her horse Uncle Jack had already laid Big Mike across the saddle of her own horse, legs hanging off one side  and head off the other.

“Looks like you’ve done this before. You might want to use your neckerchief to gag her, when she comes too I’m sure you’ll hear an earful.”

The Black Phantom sized up Uncle Jack’s horse, a black and white Indian pony.

“With your reward money you can buy yourself a better horse.”

“Ol’ Crowbait here might not be as big and fast as your white stallion Black Phantom but she’ll go twenty miles further than your horse before she’ll quit.”

The Phantom tipped her hat.

“My apologies to Crowbait.  Tell the sheriff I’m headed back to BulletArizona, you can look me up if you’re ever in town.” With a quick wave the Black Phantom rode off to the west, towards home.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

A dozen townsfolk greeted the Black Phantom when she rode into Bullet. A dozen times she heard the story of the fast draw shooting of Rattlesnake Jake and the takeover of the saloon.

“….and she called herself ‘the Black Phantom!’”

“Some dark haired hussy took my name once before during the shooting contest awhile back and I let her off easy. I wonder if it’s the same girl. Looks like I’m going to have to teach this one a lesson in manners. “Is she still in the saloon?”

“As far as we know Miss Phantom.” The livery boy replied.

The real Black Phantom put her heels to her horse; she never wore spurs, and charged down the street towards the center of town.

Pulling up in front of the saloon the masked girl lightly jumped off her still moving horse and landed on her feet. Two steps brought her to the sidewalk; two more brought her to the batwing doors. She pushed them apart and boldly strode into the saloon. An unconscious Claire still hung from the rafter, Joe had passed out from blood loss and a beaten Flo lay on the floor sobbing. La Fantasma Negra was nowhere to be seen. The masked blonde had a sister who was a saloon girl and she had a soft spot for other women in that profession. Pulling her knife from her boot the Phantom put one arm around Claire and with one swipe of the razor sharp knife she cut the rope and gently lowered the girl to the floor.  After checking on Sam and Flo she spun around and left the saloon the same way she came in. A small crowd had gathered outside.

The Phantom pointed at a young boy, “Tommy, go get the Doc and bring him here.” A quick nod and the boy ran off. She turned to a group of three women. “If you ladies could take care of Joe and the girls inside until the Doc gets here.” Normally the older women in town had no time for the Black Phantom, however now they rushed into the saloon, eager to help in any way.

“All right where is she?”

The question needed no answer. Across the street, La Fantasma Negra had just stepped out of the dress shop, Clem right behind her carrying an armload of dresses. She called out to the Black Phantom.

“Well, well, well if it isn’t the town hag! The slop buckets need cleaning, why don’t you attend to it.” The Mexican girl had an evil grin on her face.

The Black Phantom wasted no time; she went across the street and walked right up to girl who took her name.

“There is only room in the west for one Black Phantom.”

The two women stared at each other, face to face, chest to chest, toe to toe; right hands over pistol grips.

“The Black Phantom is known throughout the southwest andMexicoas a bandit Queen. That might have been you in the past. Now is the time of La Fantasma Negra, The new Black Phantom!”

The Mexican girl was fast, incredibly fast. Faster than the Black Phantom! Her gun had cleared her holster before the blonde’s was even loose. The Phantom lunged at her dark haired opponent and batted the gun away, in the scuffle her gun was knocked loose also. The two girls wrestled with each other as they fell to the ground and rolled in the dirt ofMain Street. Scratching with fingernails, pulling hair, tearing at clothes, the town’s people on the street just watched the battle in awe and silence. La Fantasma Negra kneed the Phantom in the side. The Phantom countered with a chop to the neck.

They managed to break apart and each girl regained her feet. The bandit pulled herself up a hitching rail, the former bandit stood up by a water trough.

Clem had brought his and La Fantasma Negra’s horses up to the fight.

“Come on honey, let’s get outta here!”

“Just a minute handsome.” She ran over to the Black Phantom and quickly punched her in the gut doubling her over. A quick combination right and left knocked the masked blonde off her feet and into the water trough. Arms and legs akimbo she went under the water for a second or ten. Regaining her senses and half drowned she sat upright and spit a mouthful of water out. Just in time to see La Fantasma Negra kick the Phantom’s gun into a mud puddle and grind it in deep with her boot heel. “If you ever want to shoot it out with someone faster than you come after me old woman. There is a new bandit queen and her name is La Fantasma Negra. The new Black Phantom! You are all washed up.” The masked Mexican mounted her horse and rode out of town laughing all the way. Clem followed close behind.

 

Chapter6

The Black Phantom tried to get out of the trough but slipped and fell back in. Several men rushed over and helped her out. Her silk blouse clung to her body like a second skin leaving little the imagination.

“Thank ya kindly fellas, I’m alright now.”

A slick dude with slicked back hair produced a key.

“My dear lady, may I offer the services of my humble room for you to get out of those wet clothes and dry off properly?”

The soaked girl looked right at him. With her wet hair hanging in her face she had the look of a savage.

“You may offer me your pistol, I don’t have time to dry off, I have to ride after that RANNIE!”

The dude pulled a small derringer from his vest pocket a held it out in his palm.

The Phantom blew the hair away from her face and laughed when she saw the derringer.

“I said a pistol not a pop gun.” She ignored the offering and dismissed the dude. The small crowd parted as a teenage girl in pigtails girl brought the Phantom’s muddy pistol to her.

“Here’s your pistol Miss Phantom. My daddy says its bad business to have a dirty gun.”

The Black Phantom took back her prize nickel plated Colt 45 that RedMask had given her after the Governor paroled her for being a model prisoner. She looked it over carefully.

“You’re Daddy is right Janie.” Settling in Bullet after her parole the Black Phantom tried to get to know all the town’s citizens by name. The young people had accepted her as did most of the men; the young women and ladies resented her very presence more than they did the saloon girls and other “loose” women.

“Not a proper young lady.” Was the phrase most often heard.

“Do me a favor Janie, take my pistol to Mr. Jorgenson’s and ask him to fix it up for me. Tell him I’ll pick it up when I get back.”

“Anything for you Miss Phantom!” The girl smiled and ran off to the Swedish gunsmith’s shop.

A cow poke gave her back her black Stetson lost in the fight. She eyed up his gun belt and his new pistol. She didn’t recognize the guy.

The Black Phantom was not a flirt by nature, not like her identical twin sister Jacinta, however she could turn on the charm when she had to. She slowly shook her head and swept her hair back. She smiled at the stranger.

“Say cowboy, that’s a mighty fine looking shootin’ iron ya got there, Can I borrow it for a little while, I’ll make it worth your while when I get back.” The wet girl winked at him.

Without saying a word the cowboy drew his gun and handed it to her, butt first.

The Phantom took the gun, twirled it twice and dropped it into her holster. It did not fit properly.

“I’m off to get that hussy!” With a swoosh the girl ran across the street and fairly leapt on to her horse. The horse reared back on its hind legs and they took off after the Mexican lady bandit calling herself the Black Phantom.

A dirty miner turned to the weaponless cowboy.

“Howdy! A date with the Black Phantom, you are one lucky sonnofagun.”

“Maybe I should have told her that gun is .41 caliber and it’s only got two shells in it?”

 

Chapter 7

The new so called Queen of the Bandits and her handsome cowboy side kick Clem lit out of Bullet so fast they forgot to get supplies for the trail.

That was their first mistake.

Slowing down to look for a side trail to a nearby farm to raid was their second mistake.

Picking the farm of the Jonah sisters was their third mistake.

The Jonah sisters, Jen and Jan were two of the most beautiful farmer’s daughters a traveling salesman was ever going to meet. They were both beautiful in their own right. Long brown hair, tanned skin, pretty faces, they both liked to wear cap sleeved low cut tops. One might think that in a territory with a ten to one male to female ratio every available bachelor would be beating a trail to the door. You might think that, however the fellahs rarely come to call.

The Jonah sisters were looking to elevate their station, and marriage was the way to do it.  Most men that came calling were cowboys or miners or dirt farmers. In other words, they were poor. The Jonah sisters were looking for a man with money or at least with the prospects to acquire large amounts of money.

So when a regular guy came a courting’ he was usually chased away with shotgun fire.

The Jonah sister’s also liked to shoot.

So when La Fantasma Negra and Clem approached the Jonah’s little farm house and she announced herself; “I am the Black Phantom, come out of the house or I will burn it to the ground.” They were met with a shout of “Go to Hell!” and four blasts from two double barreled shotguns.

Fourth mistake: The Jonah sisters were friends with the real Black Phantom.

One evening about a month ago the Black Phantom chased off a gang of bad hats who had besieged the farm house looking for easy prey. Jen and Jan never forget or forgave a debt.

The masked bandit was not hit by the gun fire but was so startled she fell off her horse ducking to get out of the way. Clem a little further away jumped off his horse and grabbed his partner by the hair and dragged her behind a convenient boulder before the farm girls could reload.

La Fantasma Negra was screaming at Clem and she was just about to slap him when another shot gun blast peppered the boulder.

“Sorry honey, it was the fastest way to get you behind cover.”

“It is alright handsome,” she smiled and tried to fix her hair with her hands. “You did the right thing.” She slapped him right across the face. “Just don’t ever do it again. This place is too hot to handle, how do we get out of here?”

Clem was a tough kid and quickly recovered from that little love tap. He also was not stupid.

“Well honey, if we keep this here boulder between us and the house we can pick up our horses and get right back on the trail and find an easier farm to pluck.”

“Good looking and brains too, sounds like a plan. Let’s go.” The girl took a second to adjust her mask. Then she saw a powerful white stallion charging right at her and Clem. The Black Phantom dove off her horse and tackled the bandit girl. Clem jumped away to keep the stallion from running him over.

The Phantom landed on top of her nemesis and punched her twice. A pistol shot rang out and the blonde girl felt and heard a bullet fly by her ear.

Clem may have been handsome, strong and smart but he was not a good shot. He started to close the gap to get closer so he could shoot the masked woman in black off his masked woman in black.

Another shot gun blast came from the farmhouse and all three fighters scrambled for cover.

The Black Phantom found herself behind a small structure; from the stench she realized it was the outhouse, a “two holer” as a matter of fact.

She saw Clem ducking behind a wood pile; the Phantom quick drew and fired two shots at him just to keep him honest. To her right she caught a glimpse of La Fantasma Negra, still behind the big boulder and taking very careful aim at the farmhouse with her pistol.

“She must be waiting for a shot at one of the Jonah girls.”  The Phantom thought. She swung her pistol around and pulled the trigger, intending to shoot the pistol out of the bandit girl’s hand. CLICK. The hammer fell on an empty chamber.

“How dumb can I be not checking a gun before I use it!” she mumbled while she went through the reloading routine. Hammer back to half cock. Open loading gate. Tilt pistol up and use ejector rod to push out spent cartridges, all six. Slip fresh cartridge from gun belt into cylinder. It doesn’t fit. She realized that this Colt was a .41 caliber.

The Phantom stood up and threw the useless hunk of iron at the bad girl and caught her with a glancing blow on the head. She intended to charge out from behind the outhouse and finish the job with her bare hands.

Clem came up behind her and buffaloed her with his pistol butt. The Black Phantom was knocked out and dropped to the ground like a very pretty sack of potatoes. Clem leveled his gun on the Black Phantom intending to shoot her point blank. A shotgun blast from the farm house hit the top of the outhouse and blew a big chunk off the roof. Clem knew it was time to get out of there. He bent over and ran to the stunned dark haired girl, he picked her up like she weighed nothing and ran towards the trail and their waiting horses.

About a minute later Jen and Jan Jonah came out of the farmhouse cradling their shotguns. They ran up to the Black Phantom who had not stirred.

The Black Phantom came to lying on the mattress of a four poster bed in the bedroom of the farmhouse. She was completely naked under a clean white sheet. Her hands went to her face, her mask was still there.

The Black Phantom once wore a mask to disguise herself during her former career as a bandit. She had made a lot of enemies on both sides of the law. Now as a paroled peace officer she continues to wear the mask to protect her identical twin sister Jacinta from retribution should her identity ever become publicly known.

Jen was in the room finishing up a sewing job on the Phantoms blouse; Jan had just entered with her freshly laundered riding pants.

“It’s good to see you wake up sleepy head! It’s tomorrow morning already.”

The Phantom sat straight up letting the sheet fall.

“What! That hussy got away again. Have I got a score to settle with her and when I catch up with Clem, he better watch his backside.”

“Sorry we couldn’t be more help, our shotguns were accidentally loaded with bird shot or we would have finished off those two before you showed up. Jan finally loaded up some deer shot for that last volley when they ran away.”

“My fault too, what kind of man carries a .41 caliber pistol with only two bullets in it?”

 

Chapter 8

“Hope you catch those two.” The Jonah girls waved as the Black Phantom started to ride off.

“Hope you find those rich husbands you’re looking for.”  The Phantom waved back.

“We only need one, we are Mormons you know!”

The Black Phantom was not an expert tracker like some Indians she knew but she was good at it. It didn’t hurt that Clem’s big bronco had a large cut in one shoe either.

The outlaw pair was heading east towardsTexasfor some reason and she was hot on their trail. More than half a day was wasted in the Jonah sister’s bed but she figured that her prey had to hunker down for the night also and if they had gotten distracted last night or a late start this morning she might be only a couple of hours behind them. Her powerful horse was game and more than willing to gallop and chew up the miles between the hunter and the hunted.

Traveling at a steady clip the Phantom once again had a good Colt six gun in her holster. Jen Jonah had given up her father’s for the cause. This gun had been cleaned and checked thoroughly and was the same caliber as her nickel plated 45. The Black Phantom was confident that their next encounter would be their last.

Late in the afternoon she overtook them.

A large herd of wild mustang ponies was bottled up at a choke point in a tight rock canyon. La Fantasma Negra had a long bull whip out and was using it to clear a path through the herd. Clem was right behind her thinking what a legal fortune he could be making if he and some of the boys he used to ride with rounded up these free range horses and sold them to the army or started a ranch of his own. Oh well, he had thrown in with the Bandit Queen and had decided to go down that road.

The cracking of the whip echoed throughout the small valley making it sound like there was more than one whip being used.

The Black Phantom unlimbered her own whip, a holdover from her cattle rustling days. She enjoyed the tool for its multitude of uses. From handling a team of horses to fending off an angry mob chasing you after you liberated their money from a bank. Just two examples of what a whip was good for. Teaching that brunette hussy a lesson was another.

She waited for the right moment and cracked it high in the air sending a clear message to the outlaw couple, “I’m here!”

La Fantasma Negra turned in her saddle when she heard the other whip and its echo. A cruel smile formed on her face. She turned her horse back towards and facing her pursuer. The two masked women started making their way towards each other, their whips cracking and echoing and cracking again.  They were just within striking range when a wild mustang cut between them forcing the two apart. The two whips lashed out and cracked at the same time.

The herd of horses had had enough and scattered to the four winds taking Clem along with it. Both women had some trouble with their own horses until the stampede had cleared away all the wild ponies.

When the path was clear the whip wielding girls charged at each other; each one leaning forward to try to get the first lick in. It didn’t happen. Whips don’t work at close range. The horses collided with each other. The dark haired girl used her whip handle to strike a blow at the Phantom. The blonde popped her foot out of her stirrup and jabbed her heel into the other’s exposed thigh. They broke apart, both fighters started to wind up for a shot at the other. They both lashed out. The Phantom ducked just in time as La Fantasma Negra’s whip took her hat off her head. The bandit had no need to duck, the Phantom deliberately struck at the other horse’s rump. Feeling the whip bite the big black charger reared up and threw it’s rider to the ground. The girl hit and rolled and quickly regained her feet. Her horse had run off. It was now the Black Phantom’s turn to smile.

She brought her horse around and lashed out at La Fantasma Negra. From horseback the Phantom had the advantage; however the girl on the ground could counter with two strikes for every one the Phantom dished out. The whips cracked again and again. The Bandit Queen had maneuvered to the rocks and slipped between two boulders. On horseback the Phantom could not get to her. She leapt off her horse and landed on her feet and pursued her on foot. The rocky ground proved to be no hindrance to the high heeled girl. She was normally light on her feet and well balanced. The blonde chased the raven hair into a small clearing. Both women struck at each other. The whips danced with each other as each girl was stung several times. Wrist, arm, thigh, and belly the mutual whipping was beginning to take its toll on the opponents. La Fantasma Negra caught the Black Phantom sideways and landed a shot on her backside causing the girl to yelp. The Phantom responded by flicking her whip at the other woman’s torso. La Fantasma Negra leaned back and watched as the whip severed the ribbon that held her vest together.

The Phantom took a moment and laughed out loud at the other girl’s state of undress. Her skirt was now no better than a rag and her vest would never cover her charms again. The Phantom’s blouse and pants were in no better shape but she didn’t care.

The two women stared at each other. La Fantasma Negra shifted her whip to her left hand and let her right hover over her gun butt. The Phantom did the same. They both fully intended to finish it right there.

Several gunshots came from an opening in the boulder field as a small group of the herd of wild mustangs charged at the two women. Clem had been busy; he had used his skill as a cowboy to gather a bunch of horses together and forced them into the ravine. He had fired five shots into the air to get them running and tossed a shot at the Phantom. The bullet caught her in the left arm; she spun around and dropped to the ground. Clem rode up to La Fantasma Negra and he pulled her up onto his saddle. They turned around and rode off the way he came in.

The Black Phantom got up and drew her gun, it would be a long shot against a moving target but she was incredibly accurate.

There was a time when the Black Phantom would have shot La Fantasma Negra in the back and killed her. She was not that person anymore.

“I’ll get you next time.”

 

Chapter 9

.

The Black Phantom was hot on the trail of La Fantasma Negra and Clem. She smelled the smoke long before she came up on the campsite. She lightly slipped off her horse and drew her pistol. Moving slowly she approached the camp ready for anything.

She saw Crowbait tethered to a tree and two more steps brought Uncle Jack, sitting against another tree with his blanket by his side into view.

“Hello the camp.  Uncle Jack, it’s me, the Black Phantom.”

Uncle Jack took the surprise of a masked girl wearing a little more than rags walking into his camp quite well.

“Well, howdy Black Phantom. Fancy meeting a pretty thing like you out here in the middle of nowhere. Sit down and have some left over rabbit and coffee. It’s just me, Crowbait and Winnie here anyway.”

“Winnie? Have you got a girl out here somewhere?”

Uncle Jack flipped a fold of the blanket over revealing hisWinchesterrifle.

“May I introduce Winnie?”

The girl took her black duster out of her saddle bag and slipped it on over her shoulders, ignoring the sleeves. She also retrieved her coffee cup and helped herself to a strong black brew.

The man and girl ate and talked, the Phantom told of her encounters with her nemesis, the girl who was bold enough to take her name. The older man talked about turning Big Mike in, he had kept her Remington as a souvenir and now wore it in a cross draw rig whenever he was in a town. He also spoke of his reward money and how for the first time in his life he was thinking of going to find a wife and settling down.

“Well don’t even look at me,” The Phantom flashed a smile, “I’m not ready to settle down. Besides I have my eye on another fellah already.”

“You’ve been favoring that left arm that feller shot, let me look at it.”

The Phantom slid over to Uncle Jack’s side and slipped the duster off her left shoulder,

“It’s a pretty bad crease. Lucky that jasper can’t shoot straight. I’ll wrap it up anyway, don’t want it to get dirty.” Uncle Jack pulled a dry neckerchief out of his pocket. The girl noticed something else fall out of his pocket and snatched it up.

“What’s this?”

“It’s nothing.” Uncle Jack said.

She held the medal up to the fire light and read the inscription.

“Why this is a Congressional Medal of Honor! Did you win this in the war?”

“I’d rather not talk about it, Can I have it back please.” It was more of an order than a question. The awe struck girl handed the medal back to the man known as the Saddle Tramp.

He cut away what was left of her ragged sleeve and washed the wound out with some water from his canteen. He then loosely wrapped the neckerchief around her arm.

“What do you say about getting some shut eye and the two of us chase down that pair of bad hats tomorrow, I’ll bet they are heading to Dry Bean.”

The Black Phantom slipped her duster back on over her shoulder.

“Dry Bean?”

The Saddle Tramp was already asleep.

 

Chapter 10

The ghost town of Dry Bean sat in the dry hills on the border ofTexas. It only took a year for a rumor of silver in the nearby hills to bring prospectors and miners to the area. A small town quickly was built to service the mines. About a dozen buildings lined the one street. A general store was at one end and a livery stable at the other. A hotel, assay office, hardware store, gambling house and a few other buildings were also quickly built. The silver turned out to be a rumor and the town went bust. Now it was empty save for the outlaw group that was hiding out in the town.

After robbing the bank and telegraph office back in Bullet, the OwlHoot gang split up and went in different directions. Traveling fast and light, Lou the brains of the gang, Frank the pistolero, and Sally; known as Lou’s girl, lost the posse led by Sherriff Ben Gage and headed for Dry Bean. When in a couple of days they hoped to rendezvous with the other half of the gang, which had taken a longer route, and split the money.

Having a saddle bag of full bank money kept their spirits high. They were fully confident they were going to get away scot free.

The three bank robbers set up housekeeping in the Dance Hall Saloon and Theatre, right in the center of town. Sally, a pretty gal who liked wearing off the shoulder Mexican style dresses, was upstairs sitting on the terrace when she first saw the figures.

As a girl she dreamed of going west toCalifornia, finding gold and becoming rich. She made it as far asTexaswhen she met Lou and Frank. Lou was a handsome devil and had charmed Sally with slick talk and lots of cash. It didn’t bother her one bit that Lou led a gang of bandits and that his best friend Frank was a cold blooded killer.

A moment later she saw it was a man and a woman riding into town. The man looked like any other fellah you might meet on the trail, however the woman was different. Dressed in black rags and a black hat and wearing a black mask. Sally knew who had just ridden into town.

“Lou! Frank! We’re in trouble.” She called out as she ran out of her room and ran down the stairs.”The Black Phantom just rode into town.”

“Is RedMask with her?” Lou looked up from his game of solitaire.

“No, just some regular fellah.”

“I ain’t afraid of no girl.” Frank came out from behind the curtain of the deceptively large stage, his pistol already out of his holster. “I’m going to meet her in the street and put another notch on my gun butt.”

Sally picked up her sawed off shotgun from the bar.

“Don’t be a fool Frank! Let ‘em ride through town.” Lou said.

“Listen to Lou, Frank. No need to borrow trouble with all this bank money we have.” Sally added.

La Fantazma Negra and Clem had found the town ofDry Beanand were hoping for some rest. They had spent a cold, sleepless night with no fire thinking the real Black Phantom would come charging into their camp and make another attempt to get her revenge.

Not having encountered any trouble last night they quietly assumed they had lost their pursuer in the dark.

The outlaw pair rode into town, down the deserted street and dismounted in front of the saloon.

La Fantazma Negra, adjusted her vest for the tenth time this morning. She was in a bad mood. The rawhide thong she was using to replace her pretty red ribbon the Black Phantom had cut with her whip yesterday was irritating her sensitive flesh. They went inside. The first floor was large and mostly empty, a couple of tables here and there. A long bar hugged the left side and a elevated stage was in the far corner. Two opera style balconies looked out over either side of the stage.

“Why that ain’t the Black Phantom. Everybody knows the Black Phantom has yellow colored hair. This is just some gal wearing a mask.”

The masked girl spun about, Clem turned also. She sized up the two men and the girl with the shotgun. The three had come out from behind the curtain.

“I am the Black Phantom and I know who you three are also. You are part of the OwlHoot gang that raided Bullet the other day. You beat me to the bank money and I was forced to amuse myself in other ways.”

“Like I said you ain’t the Black Phantom.” Frank called out again.

“Yeah, who are you really; we’ll put it on your tombstone.” Lou spoke up.

“La Fantazma Negra!” She drew her gun, almost faster than the eye could follow. One bullet caught Frank high in the chest; he spun around and fell down dead. Fanning her gun, she put two bullets into Lou who doubled over and dropped dead also. Neither man had cleared his gun from his holster.

The masked female gunslinger slowly walked across the floor, up the three steps and right on to the stage. She circled around Sally who just stood there dumbfounded. “That is a pretty blouse you are wearing, drop the scatter gun and give it to me.”

Sally did what she was told then covered her chest with her hands.  La Fantazma Negra untied the rawhide thong and took off her vest and slipped on Sally’s blouse.

“Your skirt is to long; can you find me a shorter one?”

Sally nodded.

“Get it and bring it to me and then show Clem where the bank money is.”

“Yes Ma’am.” Sally turned away to leave the stage.

The bandit queen grabbed Sally by the hair and jerked her back.

“Then put on a pretty dress, Clem likes girls in pretty dresses. Don’t you honey?”

“You bet cha!”

 

From the right balcony, hunkered down, the Black Phantom and Uncle Jack had watched everything.

“Let’s go downstairs Uncle Jack, shows over anyway.”

“That’s the fastest draw I’ve ever seen in my life.” Uncle Jack muttered quietly.

 

Chapter 11

After talking with Uncle Jack early in the morning, the Black Phantom had changed her strategy. She had tried the direct approach the last few encounters with La Fantazma Negra and had almost lost her life a couple of times. This time she had gambled and struck out on a short cut to Dry Bean that Uncle Jack knew about. They had scouted out the town and discovered the OwlHoots early. They entered the saloon via the back stairs and hid in the balcony to keep watch over the desperados. Slipping out the way they came in they made their way around front and practiced a little horse thievery. The Saddle Tramp shushed Clem’s horse and led him away from the hitching rail. The Black Phantom had a little more trouble with the Bandit Queen’s more feisty horse.

The black Mexican charger snorted, neighed and kicked around as the Phantom tried to calm him. The horse, unfamiliar with this new woman finally reared up on his hind legs and tried to stomp the blonde girl.

The Black Phantom backed off but held on to the reins.

Clem and Sally, now wearing a saloon gal’s dress, came outside to see what the fuss was about.

“Honey! The Black Phantom is trying to steal our horses.” He drew his pistol and fired a couple of shots at the girl struggling with the half wild horse.

The Phantom let go of the reigns of the bucking horse and drew her own pistol. She was completely without cover in the middle of the street. Firing a couple of shots high just to keep Clem honest, she started running and zig zagging across the street.

From behind a water barrel, Clem was taking careful aim when he caught a bullet in the chest!

Uncle Jack lowered his smoking rifle which he had named Winnie. He quickly ran across the street and followed the Black Phantom as a hail of bullets from La Fantazma Negra chased them into the Assay office.

The Black Phantom was slumped against a cold pot bellied stove.

“Are you hit?”

“No, but I think my arm wound opened up again.”

“Take off your duster and let me look at it.”

The Phantom slipped off her duster. Uncle Jack refitted the blood soaked bandanna.

“Hey Blondie! I’m calling you out. Come out side and meet me in the street and we’ll finish this once and for all.”

“Give me a minute to reload my pistol and I’ll oblige you.” The Phantom called back.

Uncle Jack took the pistol out of the bleeding girl’s hand and reloaded for her.

“That spitfire is faster than the devil, do you think you can take her?”

The girl shrugged her shoulders and winced with the pain.

“Hang my duster over my left shoulder; I don’t want her to see my bloody bandage.”

From outside: “Send your boyfriend out first without his rifle. I have no hard feelings about him shooting Clem. He was about to throw me over for this painted Jezebel anyway. I’ll be on the west side of the street.”

“Go ahead Uncle Jack; she’s always fought me fair. Clem was the one that bushwhacked me all those times.”

“She’ll have the sun at her back.”

“Big deal.”

The Saddle Tramp stepped outside a surveyed the street. Sally was across the way in front of the saloon, La Fantazma Negra was down the road apiece, maybe 50 yards. He relayed this information inside.

The Black Phantom stepped out into the street. Her entire left side of her body was covered by her duster. Her right thumb was hooked on her belt buckle. Her pistol hung on her hip. She walked to the middle of the street and turned west. The setting sun silhouetted the other girl. Uncle Jack was right, she was about 50 yards away, too far for an accurate pistol shot.

“Once we get in range let’s start shooting.” The dark haired girl called out.

“I’m already in range.” The Black Phantom shrugged off her duster. She brought Uncle Jack’s rifle up to her shoulder, sighted and fired. The bullet hit La Fantasma Negra right in the holster ricocheting off her pistol. The Phantom worked the lever and shot again. This time the pistol went flying out of the torn holster.  Taking aim, she shot again. The bandit queen’s sombrero flew off her head. The Phantom shot it again before it hit the ground. She tossed the rifle to Uncle Jack who caught it with one hand.

The Black Phantom covered the ground between the two girls quickly. To her credit the outlaw girl had stood her ground. Ten feet now separated them. The Phantom quick drew and fired. She shot off the other girl’s boot heel. The bandit was off balance. The Phantom spun twirled her pistol and holstered it. She quick drew again and shot the other boot heel off. La Fantama Negra fell backwards and landed on her rump. Sally and Uncle Jack had walked up and stood on either side of the girl on the ground.

“What’s my name?”

“The Black Phantom.”

“And what’s yours?”

“Delores Bustamonte.”

“You know Uncle Jack, when you turn in these two gals and get the reward money from the bank you’ll be a rich man.”

“Maybe I will find a wife and settle down.”

The Black Phantom smiled.

“I know a pair of sisters you might want to meet.”

 

 

Epilogue:

The Black Phantom had returned to BulletArizonaand was walking downMain Streetwhen a cowboy approached her, hat in hand.

“Miss Phantom, do you remember me? I lent you my pistol when you went after that bad girl back when.”

“Hold on their partner, with an empty gun, you don’t have a shot with me.”

She had just noticed RedMask singlehandedly bringing in the rest of the OwlHoot gang.