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Mr. Pliskin and the Maccabee Posse

By Kevin Gonzalez 

Hung-over, broke, and listening to his big brother, Milt, belittle him was not how Lamar Wainwright had intended to start his day, but there he was anyway. Milt had drifted into his gang’s campsite early in the morning, mooching breakfast and mouthing off. He had a captive audience since a groggy Lamar was swaddled in his blankets, empty Green River Whiskey bottle beside him.

            “Concho tells me that you let this sawed-off storekeeper hold onto his Bible and his life? And all you got was a tote bag of silver church ornaments? Seems like slim pickings, if you ask me,” complained a scowling Milt Wainwright. He was not only taller than Lamar, he was wider – and truth be told – a whole lot meaner.

            Nobody ever asks you, but that never stops you from giving your opinion anyway, thought Lamar, squinting at his older brother through red-rimmed eyes. Man has more opinions than a raisin has wrinkles.

“Got yourself a new six-gun, I see,” said Lamar, going for a change of subject.

            “Saw it in a Laredo gunsmith’s shop one day. Went back that night and stole it. It’s Colt’s Army Model in .38 Long Colt,” said Milt, preening a bit. “Double action, so you can shoot it just by pulling the trigger. Holds six cartridges, not just the five you got in that old Peacemaker of yours. Reloads lots faster, too. Looky here.”

 Milt pivoted and drew the revolver, firing six quick shots into the morning air, smiling as his younger brother winced at each explosion. He thumbed the gun’s side latch and flicked the revolver hard to the left. The cylinder snapped out. He flipped the gun up and slammed the ejector rod down with his left palm, spilling empty shells onto the ground. Milt reloaded six more cartridges from his belt and flicked the gun to the right, listening as the cylinder clacked into place. He grinned at the sound of the mechanism, then flicked the cylinder out and back again -- click, then clack.

“Them lead pills look a mite puny compared to a .45,” said Lamar. “Didn’t the Army have man-stopping problems with them in the Philippines? Them Moros they was fighting soaked up a whole bunch of them little bullets and then still lopped body parts off of the soldiers who shot them, didn’t they?”

Milt glared at him. “Tell you what, brother. Why don’t you dig up Arty Ryan and ask him if these puny bullets killed him fast enough? I put three of them in him and he dropped dead right quick.”

“In the front or the back?” asked Lamar, surprising himself with his boldness. Must be the hangover, he thought, muzzling his usual caution around his brother, whose temper even on a good day was about as short as the distance between a Gila monster’s belly and the dirt. And he didn’t have many good days at that.

Milt shrugged. “Well, since Arty was facing away from me, in the back, of course. Threw some insult at me over his shoulder, he did, so I unlimbered this here Colt and plugged him -- pow, pow, pow.” He pantomimed with the revolver, snapping its barrel like a whip three times as he spoke.

“What did he say, exactly?”

“Damned if I can remember. Must have been something real bad, though,” Milt chuckled.

“Anyways, about that Jew couple. Concho says they was ready to lay down their lives for them holy words. Little brother, did you ever think that if they were going to sell their lives for that thing, that they would also pay a lot of money for it? You should have taken it and told them that if they wanted it back, they’d have to pay a lot, savvy?”

Lamar always hated it when his big brother was right. “Too late, though,” he said. “We let them have it and they already took it to Panacea.”

“So we steal it back from them and hold it for ransom, make the whole town pay for it,” answered Milt, holstering his revolver. “Let’s ride. We can make it to Panacea by evening.”

Seeing that Milt was determined, Lamar grunted “OK” as he stood up even though it felt as if the ground was tilting like a ship’s deck in a stormy sea. “Concho!” he bellowed.

Si?” answered the Mexican-Apache outlaw. He was pouring himself a cup of coffee from a blackened pot that he lifted from the campfire.

“Hand me that java, pronto.”

The outlaw took his time walking over to his boss and handing him his tin cup, its handle wrapped with a bandanna for protection against the heat.

Gracias, amigo,” said Lamar, taking it from him with his left hand and, right-handed, smacking him along the side of his head with his Peacemaker’s barrel. With a look that stunned steers get right after being smacked between the horns, Concho dropped to his knees, cradling his head. Lamar knocked him over with a boot to the ribs.

“Damn, but I just can’t stand a blabbermouth in my gang running me down to my own brother,” Lamar said as he took a sip of the black and bitter brew.

Milt laughed and clapped him on his shoulder. “Now that’s taking care of business, little brother. And didn’t even spill a drop. Hey, Dwight, let’s ride.”

Dwight Tolliver, shotgun cradled in the crook of his right arm, smiled his death’s head grimace. “Sure,” he said.

As the men readied their horses for riding, Tolliver whispered to Lamar, “So what was the real reason you buffaloed Concho?”

“Milt might think I’m going soft, me letting that Jew couple live and all. Smacking Concho around like that was my way of telling him I ain’t.”

Dwight’s eyebrows shot upward. “You think he’d try you if he thought you were soft?”

“Could be. Hard to say what a man won’t do, especially if he’s the one that shot his own daddy. Oh, and Dwight?”


“Keep that shotgun real handy when we’re around Milt, would you? Just in case.”

“Planned on doing it, anyway,” answered Tolliver, rubbing his stubbly cheek with one finger and his thumb. “This here Remington is the one thing in life that ain’t never let me down. Nothing personal, but that means you, too, Lamar.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way, Dwight.”


Arizona Ranger Elijah “Eli” Weiss was busy saddling his horse, Golem, in the stable near the ranger barracks in Douglas, and thinking about the telegram he had received from his friend and mentor Solomon Pliskin. He had asked Captain Tom Rynning for a leave of absence, but his boss had decided that since the theft of the Torah’s decorations was a crime that affected people in two towns, it was a legitimate reason to dispatch Weiss to bring in the perpetrators.

“Putting Lamar Wainwright behind bars would be a favor to all lawmen throughout the territory,” Rynning had said. “And if you could snag his brother, so much the better. Besides, a leave of absence would strip you of your official powers of arrest – and you’ll be needing them when you run into those two bad actors.”

Weiss was making sure he had enough supplies packed into his saddle bags when he heard a voice right behind him. “I can go, too?”

That Cherokee kid can sure ghost up behind you, he thought. He turned around to face a smiling lad by the name of Tom Threepersons. Though only 16, the slim, dark youth was already taller than Weiss’ 5-foot-8. He had worked as a horse handler for some of the local ranches, but had attached himself with the Rangers because of his wish to be a lawman.

He was a fair hand with a gun, too, beating Weiss a couple of times when it came to plinking tomato cans with a revolver. Loser paid for a box of ammo that was soon burned up in practice by Threepersons.

“The captain would take a dim view of me letting you tag along, Tom. The Wainwright brothers won’t be playing pat-a-cake, you know. Besides, I’ve already got help – Marshal Hubbard.”

“Wainwright has more men than you. Captain say maybe his brother join him.”

“Yeah, I heard that, too. Seems like he gunned down Arty Ryan in Valverde. Ryan’s cousin, Frank Pierce, is looking to even things up, and Milt might be looking for help from his brother until things cool off a bit.”

“I can help. Track. Shoot, too.”

“Shooting tin cans off a fence is one thing, Tom. They don’t shoot back. They won’t sneak up behind you either and blast you in the back. Besides, they need you here, tending to the stock.”

Threepersons stalked off, eyes aimed at the ground.

The ranger mounted up and pointed Golem toward Panacea.   If the youth’s pride was the only thing hurt, he could count himself lucky, he thought. Young blood was hot blood and too easy to spill. He didn’t want that on his conscience.


Solomon and Hannah Pliskin had been busy packing, too. They had stored the twin scrolls of the Torah in a stout canvas bag in preparation for the return trip to Tucson. The Pliskins also were taking back a down payment for the Torah’s sterling silver decorations – the crown, the breastplate and the pointer.

“All things considered, the Simchat Torah went well enough,” said Solomon.

“Maybe there was just a little … something else under the surface.”


“Yes, people being sad because of the robbery and our lives being threatened,” he said. “And knowing that they would have to pay for our mistake.”

“We did not know that we would be robbed by outlaws. It was not our fault,” insisted Hannah.

“Still …”

A knock at the door of their cottage interrupted their conversation.

“Maybe somebody wishes to contribute more money,” said Hannah, opening the door.

She gasped as a leering Concho shoved her aside, showing her his knife.

“Remember us?” said Lamar. “We came back for that Torah thing.”

“But you already took the silver ornaments,” sputtered Solomon, reeling from the shock of the outlaw’s reappearance in his life.

“My big brother, Milt, had this idea that we could hold it for ransom. So here we are.”

“Hand it over,” snarled Milt, Colt revolver aimed at the Pliskins.

“But …” As Solomon began to protest, the barrel of Milt’s revolver crashed into his head. The Jewish shopkeeper crumpled to the floor.

“Solly!” screamed Hannah, struggling in Concho’s embrace. “You cowards!”

Milt tucked the scrolls holding the five books of Moses under his arm. “Heavy thing. Maybe we should make ‘em pay by the pound.”

Lamar glanced down at the fallen Solomon. “Ma’am? We’re leaving, but we want you to tell the people here that if they want this Torah back in one piece, they better come up with a thousand bucks.”

“A thousand dollars! But that’s too much! Where could we possibly find that much money in this town?” asked Hannah.

“Tell them Jews in Tucson, too. It’s their’s also, ain’t it?” said Milt. “Between the two towns, they should be able to find the money. And fast, too. We don’t see anything in three days, we use this thing for target practice and then burn it up.”

“But how can we find you, even if we could raise that much money so quickly?” she asked.

“Miller’s Mount is where we’ll be,” answered Lamar. “We’ll be able to see for miles in every direction. You and your husband can bring the money to us there. Nobody else. We see anything we don’t like, the deal’s off.”  

“Concho, let her go,” he added. “She won’t be doing anything else but taking care of her husband while we leave.”

He turned back to Hannah. “Raise the alarm, and we’ll torch this place with you and him in it, OK?”

Hannah nodded her understanding and knelt to her fallen husband, whose blood was staining their carpet. Tearing off a strip of petticoat, she started to bandage his head. She tried hard not to cry, concentrating on helping Solomon.

“Time to go,” urged Milt.

The men left. Tolliver had been holding their horses, on the lookout for curious neighbors, shotgun at the ready. The outlaws grabbed for the reins of their mounts.

“Went smooth enough,” grunted Milt as he swung into the saddle.

“Didn’t have to conk her husband,” muttered Lamar. “All we had to do was scare them.”

“People scare better when they’re bleeding.”

 They stopped talking as they galloped out of Panacea.

Hannah tried to control her sobbing as she worked to stem the bleeding from her husband’s wound. She concentrated on her task so much that she did not notice when another stranger entered her home that evening.

Looking up, she almost shrieked in surprise. The man was short like Solomon, but thinner and burned dark by the desert sun. He carried a gun in his right hand, but it was not pointed at her. She was struck by the look in his eyes –  the gaze of a predator seeking prey.

“Them that was here, they were the Wainwright brothers, right?”

She nodded.

“Uh-huh. Missed my chance, but maybe that’s for the best. Don’t want no bystanders catching any stray lead.”

“Who, who are you?”

“Name’s not important, ma’am. I’m just a man seeking to right a wrong. To do that, I need to put Milt Wainwright six feet under. Here, let me help you with your man.”

The two of them picked up Solomon and trundled him into his bed.

“You are not the law,” said Hannah.

“No, ma’am far from it. Milt Wainwright killed my cousin and I aim to do the same for him. Been tracking him ever since I got word. He’s joined up with his brother’s gang for protection.”

“Maybe you can help us. Those men, they stole something very valuable and precious from us. They say they will not return it unless we pay them a lot of money.”

“Ma’am, I can’t help you. Hell, I’ve done much the same, stealing from decent folks. And worse, too. Like I said, all I want is a clear shot at Milt. Any one of them gets in the way, that’s their fault and no one, believe me, no one will weep for them if they fall with my lead in them.”

“Others are trying to help us like the town marshal and even an Arizona Ranger. You could join forces,” suggested Hannah.

“Me riding for the law? No thanks,” he scoffed. “They’re just as likely to put me in the hoosegow first and then go looking for whatever those yahoos stole from you. I ride alone.”

Hannah reached out and touched his sleeve. “They want to arrest the Wainwrights, not you. Together, you all stand a better chance of catching them.”

He hesitated, thinking it over. “Tell you what. We meet up on the trail, being as how we are all after the same thing, then maybe we’ll talk. But I’m not waiting for anyone tonight. I’m hitting the trail and looking for my chance to settle up with Milt.”

He left with the same stealth with which he had arrived.

After making sure that her husband was comfortable, Hannah went to find Ari Abramowitz, the new town doctor, and to notify the marshal about the theft of the Torah.


“Miller’s Mount?” said Marshal Verdell Hubbard at the war council being held in his office with Weiss. They had met with Abramowitz and Hannah for an update on Solomon’s condition and knew about the theft of the Torah.

“It’s not listed that way on any map, but I know about it,” he continued. “It’s a plateau. Got its name from when the Miller family, a group of settlers who fought off a horde of Apache there years ago. They grabbed the high ground and that’s what saved them. You can see for quite a distance, the better part of a mile. Makes ambushing hard work for attackers, and a frontal assault like the Army prefers is plumb out of the question. Too much open ground to cover with folks shooting at you from covered positions. We rush them, they got plenty of time to destroy the Torah and hightail it.”

“They picked a defensible site well,” agreed Weiss. “And they’re expecting payment in three days? Likely that they’re camped out there already, waiting for the delivery. Sneaking up on them would be impossible.”

“Not for me.”

Hubbard almost jumped out of his chair at the sound of the tall Cherokee youth who appeared in the jail’s doorway without notice.

            “And who would you be?” he asked, irked to have been taken by surprise by someone so young.

Weiss smiled. “Let me introduce you to Tom Threepersons. Works for the rangers as a stable hand. Wants to wear a badge one day. My guess is that he trailed me from Douglas despite me telling him to stay behind.”

“You need me,” insisted Threepersons.

“You may be right. What I do need is someone who can sneak across a mile or so of open ground without being seen and help us catch those hombres in a cross fire.”

“I can do. Take me all night, moving slow and quiet.”

Someone knocked on the door. A question in his eyes, Hubbard opened it and saw the small stranger who had helped Hannah.

“Changed my mind. Maybe we could join up after all.” The man’s hand hovered close to his Colt, just in case anyone disagreed.

“That would make you Frank Pierce,” said Weiss, keeping his hands in plain sight. “Thanks for helping Hannah and Sol.”

“I’m here because of Arty Ryan. Being so short and skinny, I was always picked on when I was a kid. Arty, my cousin, he’d always be picking bullies off my back. Until I learned how to use a Colt, that is. We partnered up later.”

“Criminals,” said Hubbard.

“No apologies for my choices, lawman. Right now, my guess is that you’ll look past that for the time being. We’re after the same thing, sort of. I’ve got something to settle with Milt Wainwright and you need someone who won’t wilt like a daisy when the shooting starts.”

“I want to make arrests. You want to kill. No, we are not after the same thing at all,” said Weiss.

“I’m not trying to kill the whole gang. Just one man. And Milt boasted that he’ll go out fighting, not swinging at the end of a rope or looking at sunsets through the bars of a cell. He’s mean enough to make it stick, back-shooter that he is.”

The room fell silent.

“We might be able to use him at that,” said Hubbard, tugging at his mustache. “I’ve got the glimmer of a plan. Want to hear it?”


Two days later, Lamar Wainwright was sweeping the area surrounding Miller’s Mount with a pair of stolen Army binoculars. He was less than 100 feet above the sandy plains, but the vantage point made it easy to spot intruders at a distance. Got to admit, Milt was thinking right when he decided to make a stand here, he thought.

Each member of the gang had built up fortifications of rock and brush to shoot from cover. Their horses were picketed, saddled and ready to ride. The Torah was in a central location so it could be destroyed by any of them in the case of a double-cross.

Lamar spotted dust on the horizon. “Riders!” he called out and tried to focus the binoculars.

Two people, he thought. Squinting, he made out the lead rider as Pliskin, head down and his body draped over the neck of his mount. A derby perched on his bandaged head. Looks downright woozy, but what do you expect from a man who stood up to Concho with prayer as his only weapon, Lamar thought. Man’s got sand. Even injured, he’s trying his best.

Behind him was Hannah, wearing the same wide-brimmed bonnet that he had first seen when his gang stole the Torah’s decorations. A large purse was attached to the pommel of her saddle. And she’s sticking with her man, seeing it through to the end, he thought. Pliskin’s a lucky man to have her.

He checked the area behind them and saw nothing to indicate there were any other riders.

Lamar heard the click, clack of Milt checking the loads of his new revolver. “Looks like they followed directions,” said the older brother as he approached.

“Yeah, they came alone.”

“And they brought us fresh mounts.”


“Little brother, they are the only witnesses to us taking that scroll thing from them. They give us the money, we make them dead, and take the horses for remounts.”

Lamar turned toward his brother. “I don’t hold for murder. I’ll drop the hammer on any man who’s trying to stop me from being free. But shooting unarmed folks is something else. We can take their horses, leave them afoot. There’s no need for more killing.”

Milt held his hands out, palms facing forward. “OK, OK, no need to get your feathers flying. I’m just saying, is all.”

“We were wanted men long before we stole from them, with posters on us throughout the southwest. This don’t hold a patch on what we’ve done. They can’t harm us by telling the law about us.”

Lamar went back to scanning the riders as they began their slow ride uphill, but made sure that Milt did not get behind him.

The riders were just yards away when Concho stepped forward. “Hold it, right there!”

The rest of the gang came closer, greed flaring as their payday approached.

“Well, missy, you got the loot?” asked Milt, trying to peer beneath the bonnet’s brim as the rider’s hand reached into the purse.

“No, but I got you,” answered Pierce, firing his Colt from the inside of Hannah’s handbag. Driven back a step by the shock of the bullet, Milt leveled his revolver at Pierce, who fired again. Milt fell, his gun flying out of his hand.

“You’re under arrest!” yelled Weiss as he straightened out from his cramped position atop his horse, the derby falling off his head. He drew his Peacemaker from his waistband, covering Lamar and Concho in front of him.

“You’re forgetting me and this shotgun,” said Tolliver from behind them, raising the Remington and thumbing back its twin hammers. Concho took advantage of the surprise, leaped atop his horse, and took off.

An arrow whizzed through the air, striking Tolliver in the side. Screaming in pain, the outlaw dropped the shotgun.

Bounding to his feet, the lanky Threepersons rose from the ground where he had lain concealed after crawling for hours. Bits of brush were tied to his dust-covered body with rawhide thongs. He was ready to let fly with another arrow from his bow at the retreating Concho.

“Not in the back,” cautioned Weiss. “He’s not going far.” Threepersons lowered the bow without question.

Lamar’s only move had been to kneel by his dead brother. “Can’t say I’m all broken up by the way things turned out. Guess I never did forgive you for shooting our daddy. But what the hell, you were still my brother, you ornery cuss.”

Milt’s new revolver lay just beyond his outstretched hand. Weiss picked it up and looked at the disguised Pierce. “He had this out when you plugged him, so I guess that could make it a case of self-defense.”

“I saw him tugging the trigger, but nothing happened,” replied a puzzled Pierce. The small man dismounted, stepped out of the dress and removed the bonnet. He wore range clothes underneath.

Weiss examined the gun, while Pierce and Threepersons kept an eye on the prisoners. “I’ve seen this happen in guns with swing-out cylinders. Slamming them back into place bends the cylinder crane. Do that often enough and one day they won’t close all the way. Then the gun won’t fire with the cylinder out of alignment. But Milt didn’t know that. Too bad for him.”   

            Half an hour later, Hubbard, astride his mule, Hannibal, rode up to the outlaw camp with a wounded Concho in tow.

 “I see our plan worked. Tom snuck up on them overnight and our two disguised riders approached them without giving anything away. Me, I got to bring up the rear from a long ways back, and not just because I came up with the idea. Caught up with this here bandito, who bet he was faster with a knife that I was with a gun. He came in second and lost.”

            “Smart generals always stay behind and send the brave troops forward,” said Weiss, rubbing it in. “Good thing Tom showed me that Indian trick of how to pretend to make yourself look smaller while on a horse,” he added, stretching to work out the kinks from riding in a cramped position for so long.

            “Use that to make soldiers think children are riding, not warriors,” said Threepersons. “Until it is too late.”

            Weiss spotted a sack near one of the saddles and shook it open. “Looks like they never did pawn the keter, tas or yad,” he said with a smile. The silver ornaments were still there.

            The posse put their prisoners in handcuffs and then tended to the wounded outlaws, binding their injuries in crude bandages of neckerchiefs. They buried Milt Wainwright under a pile of loose rocks without ceremony or regret.  When those tasks were done, they packed the Torah for its long trip back to its rightful owners.

            “Guess I’ll be taking my leave,” announced Pierce, making it more of a challenge than a statement.

            “There’s a reward for Milt, but they’d arrest you before they’d give it up,” answered Hubbard, making sure he made no sudden moves. Standing off to the side, Threepersons nocked an arrow, but the ranger shook his head, and the Cherokee youth relaxed.

            Pierce shrugged. “Wasn’t in it for the money. That Pliskin fellow has a doctor’s bill to pay. What’s left over, donate to something in your town. Adios.”

Walking toward his horse, he stopped. “Wouldn’t like to be hearing from strangers about the time I was dolled up in women’s clothes, neither,” Pierce warned. “I was just doing my part.”

“Wouldn’t think of spreading that tale,” promised Hubbard, fingers crossed behind his back.

No one made a move to stop him as Pierce rode off.

            “Time for us Maccabees to head back,” said Weiss.

            “Maccabees? Weren’t they Jewish warriors?” said Hubbard.

            “Yup, guerilla fighters who fought the ancient Greeks and took back the temple at Jerusalem, restoring it for their people. I guess we followed their example by restoring the Torah to the good folks of Panacea and Tucson. ‘Maccabee’ in Hebrew means ‘hammer.’ You could say we hammered the bad guys real good today. And if fighting in disguise doesn’t make us guerilla warriors, then I don’t know what does,” Weiss said.

            “You know, Tom,” he continued, “you got a real future in being a lawman. Once you get into the habit of following orders, that is.”

            Threepersons smiled. “You bet,” he said.

            “My next order is for us to return to Douglas with these prisoners. Along the way, we’ll try to think about a way to explain to Captain Rynning just how you turned up at such a fortunate time.”

            “I’ll tell Sol and Hannah the good news. And return their clothes to them, along with the Torah,” said Hubbard. “This time, I’ll escort them to Tucson when they return it.”

            With Weiss reciting the Shema, the Maccabee posse men pointed their mounts homeward.

The End






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