A Pivotal Encounter
…Twenty-five yards down the trail a familiar massive twelve-foot high ancient igneous boulder they remembered when coming up the trail confirmed they were on the correct trail. The boulder marked where the trail ahead would jog sharply to the right for a more or less straight, downhill shot back to the stream they had forded two hours earlier.
Kevin had taken the lead. He was about twenty feet ahead of Curt. Suddenly, Kevin heard shuffling and clinking sounds on the trail ahead. What in the world…?
But the source of the sounds was hidden behind the massive boulder that he was approaching.
Someone else is on the trail and close!
No sooner had that thought struck Kevin when he rounded the boulder and a huge horse immediately in front of him reared up in surprise, but not any more surprised than was Kevin who jumped back quickly to avoid an errant hoof.
The rider of the horse commanded, "Steady! Steady!" and his horse settled down, wild-eyed, quivering, and snorting.
In the next instant, Curt rounded the boulder and came to an abrupt halt at the sight of Kevin not more than five feet away standing in front of a large horse with a rider clad in a dark blue uniform with a single narrow, red bar outlined in gold stitching on each shoulder of his gold-trimmed-high- collared waistcoat.
In addition, the rider wore a black, cowboy-style, narrow brimmed felt hat set at a rakish angle on his head of shoulder-length black hair. The hat had a string band in gold braid with two gold tassels, and a theatrical long, white feather plume attached to the left side.
In that same instant of steadying his horse, the uniformed rider drew a long-barreled pearl-handle revolver from his holster and leveled it first at Kevin and then at Curt and then back to Kevin.
"Who in the blazes are y'all? What're y'all doin' on this here trail? Speak!" commanded the rider, his demeanor all the more intimidating because of his fiery dark eyes, black pointed goatee, and black handlebar mustache.
Before Kevin or Curt could answer, the rider bellowed, "First Sergeant O'Malley! Get up here! Now!"
As the command rippled down the column of blue-clad riders on the trail, Kevin noted that the eyes of the rider in front of him never broke contact with him or Curt.
Neither did the rider's pistol…