A Tucson Kid Western #1
The Tucson Kid is called to the American northwest by the Great Northern Fur Company. The company hires Tucson to go after Rex Normanson, an erstwhile partner of the company who has gone rogue and is inciting Indian tribes to revolt against the American Government. A coalition of the fur company, the U.S. Army, and the Canadian government want Normanson stopped at all costs.
The Tucson Kid takes the job. He will be guided up the Stick River to Normanson's stronghold on Eagle Mountain by the beautiful half-Indian, Sophie Halloway. Tucson will also have Joe Personelli and his crew of gunmen to help fight off the forces they know Rex Normanson will throw against him to prevent him from reaching the mountain.
The action-packed story follows the expedition as it fights its way up the Stick River, chronicles the developing relationship between Tucson and Sophie Halloway, and describes Tucson's growing conflict with Joe Personelli. But once Tucson reaches the top of Eagle Mountain, he is in for the surprise of his life when he meets Rex Normanson.
Leaning back in the saddle, Tucson adjusted easily to the swinging movement of the huge black stallion as he descended the steep slope, finding his own way around lichen covered rocks, fallen trees, and through the underbrush. At his back, snow-capped peaks glowed whitely in the last rays of the setting sun; and purple shadows, like long fingers, crept through the pine forest covering the lower slopes. On either side, swift running streams cut deep paths in the rocky soil as they cascaded down to the valley below.
When he reached the lower level of the incline, where the pines thinned out and tall grass took over, Tucson reined in the stallion and took in the scene. At the foot of the mountain, the various streams came together to form one river that meandered across the valley floor, became a good-sized lake at one point, then flowed on until it disappeared behind a rocky promontory at the western end of the canyon. Next to the lake and south of the valley mouth was a ranch house and a horse corral. The long building had a shingled roof, glass windows, and a covered verandah running along the front. Tucson counted ten horses in the corral, seven of them with army brands on their flanks.
Reaching inside his leather jacket, Tucson pulled out his cigar case and selected a cheroot. He snapped a match into flame with his thumbnail and, shielding it with his palm, lit the cigar. As smoke dribbled from between thin lips, he watched five soldiers with carbines on their shoulders walking around the perimeter of the ranch house. They would account for five of the army mounts in the corral.
The other two men, probably officers, would be inside the house with the owners of the other three horses. Just over a bridge spanning the river was a long, low building that looked like a bunkhouse, and Tucson assumed that more men were billeted there. Another corral filled withvwiry mountain mustangs stood next to the building.
Tucson sat for several minutes, smoking and watching the soldiers walking their posts then made his decision. “I don’t expect any trouble,” he whispered to the stallion, ruffling his thick mane with his fingers, “but there’s no point in taking unnecessary chances. There’ll be nothing lost but a little time if we wait until the sun goes down.”
He backed the stallion up until there was a tree between him and the valley, then rode on until he found a copse of brush large enough to shelter both he and the horse. Dismounting, he loosened the cinch strap so the stallion could graze comfortably, then found a flat rock where he could sit and finish his cheroot and watch the valley floor. He enjoyed the peace as the day drifted into night. Clearing his mind and letting his body relax, he sank into the rock until he felt no separation between himself and the surrounding country. He lay there for about an hour, breathing just enough to finish the cheroot, then roused himself and looked around.
Night had fallen over the valley, a cool breeze ran up the slope, rustling the tall grass and the trees, and a myriad of stars glittered like diamonds across a black velvet sky. Windows were lit in the ranch house, and by their light Tucson could see the sentries still walking their posts. Tightening the cinch strap on the stallion, he led him as far down the slope as he could, then dropped the reins and ground hitched him. Scratching him between the ears, Tucson whispered, “Stay here, big fella. I’ll be back for you as soon as I can.”
Moving forward at a crouch, Tucson approached the ranch house, careful not to rustle the grass or stumble over any rocks. As he reached the edge of the grass, he dropped to his stomach and watched the sentries. They moved with a regular rhythm, and although there were five of them, there was about a fifteen second period when none of them were walking in front of the house. He let them continue for two more rounds to make sure his calculations were correct then he made his move.
His black sombrero, black leather jacket, dark trousers, and black
gun belt meant that he was a shadow moving among other shadows as he sprinted for the verandah. He reached the steps and glided up onto the verandah just as a sentry came around the corner and walked toward him. He pressed his back against the wall and melted into the shadows as the guard passed by only five feet away. Tucson was careful not to stare straight at the sentry, and the soldier walked on by, not seeing what he didn’t expect to see. Tucson tried the handle of the front door, and found that it turned easily and noiselessly. With a last look around, he slipped through the door and closed it softly behind him.
He found himself in a dark hallway that led to a well-lighted main room where he could hear voices. It was warm inside the house, and Tucson was reminded that he hadn’t eaten all day as he picked up the aroma of cooked food hanging in the air. Inching down the hallway, he paused just beyond the light to listen to the conversation taking place in the main room.
A young, sandy-haired man lounged casually in a wooden chair set sideways to the door, a glass of wine in his pale hand. “Are you certain of this man’s credentials?” he asked in a supercilious voice tinged with a French accent.
A large man, his bald head glistening in the lamplight, sat at a desk to the right of a stone fireplace. “We’ve gone over this subject before,” he answered. “I’ve checked all over the country and no one comes more highly recommended than the Tucson Kid.”
“I must agree with that,” said a man in a captain’s uniform, standing next to the fireplace. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a swirling mustache. “The Tucson Kid made his reputation as a boy, scouting against the Apaches down in Arizona. He seemed to have some intuitive faculty that helped him to sniff out the Indians wherever they were; and they say he’s a genius at fighting.”
“Genius is one way of putting it,” added the bald man. “He shot up the Ames brothers in New Mexico and the McCarthy gang in Wyoming a few years ago. And he out-drew Jeb Hollander in a stand-up gunfight in Abilene that folks’re still talking about. Tucson’s got a reputation for going where other men can’t go and doing what other men can’t do.”
“I’ve heard that Tucson was good friends with Wild Bill Hickok before Hickok got himself shot in Deadwood,” put in a grey-haired officer seated next to the desk, between pulls on a cigar. He had Brigadier General’s stars on the shoulders of his uniform, and his voice had the edge that comes with years of command.
A young woman standing at the fireplace next to the captain turned to face the Frenchman, and Tucson saw that she was beautiful. Large dark eyes sparkled over a straight nose and full red lips. She was tall,
slender, with a high bosom and long legs. “This Tucson Kid sounds very qualified—and very interesting!” Her voice was low and clear. “We’ll just have to see what kind of impression he makes when we finally meet him.” Her mouth turned down in a frown. “So often, people don’t live up to their reputations.”
“And that is another point,” the Frenchman replied petulantly. “Where is this Tucson Kid? His telegram said that he would be here today.” He glanced pointedly around at the others. “A good sign of dependability is arriving at an appointment on time.”
Tucson chose that moment to step into the doorway, his thumbs hooked in his gun belt. “I understand you folks want to speak to me,” he said in a deep, resonant voice.
With cries of astonishment, the bald man leaped to his feet and the general gagged on his cigar. The tall captain and the woman spun around to stare at him; and the Frenchman practically jumped out of his chair, spilling wine down his shirtfront.
In profound silence, they all gaped at Tucson in amazement.
“Where did you come from?” sputtered the bald man.
“How did you get past the sentries?” the general demanded.
Tucson’s cold grey eyes swept over everyone in the room then came to rest on the bald man. “You mentioned that I can go where others can’t go,” he stated flatly. ”Your message indicated that you may have a job for me. Well, here I am and I’m ready to listen.”
* * * *
Regaining his composure, the bald man looked triumphantly around at the others. “Well,” he said, “I guess we can dispense with any questions about the Kid’s qualifications.” Bringing his attention back to Tucson, he came around the desk and extended his hand. “I’m Tom Cartwright,” he said cordially. He pointed to the general. “This is General Hastings,” he gestured to the captain, “He’s Captain Lewis,” he pointed to the Frenchman, “this is…”
“We do not need to mention my name,” the Frenchman inserted hastily, raising his hand. Addressing Tucson, he added, “Suffice it to say, monsieur, that I represent the Canadian government.”
“As you like,” Cartwright replied, then indicated the woman. “And this beautiful young lady is Sophie Halloway.”
Tucson nodded to each man as he was introduced, but his gaze
lingered on Sophie. Although very pretty, she had the long, straight black hair and the dark complexion that suggested Indian blood. He stared at her for so long her cheeks turned red; then she raised her head in defiance. “Is there a problem?” she asked archly.
Tucson shook his head. “No problem.” He turned his attention to Tom Cartwright. “Suppose you tell me what’s going on.”
“Right,” Cartwright replied, going back behind his desk and sitting down. General Hastings re-seated himself, took a match from a holder on the desk, and re-lit his cigar. “Have you heard of Rex Normanson?” Cartwright asked.
“Only vague rumors,” Tucson responded. “He has something to do with the Indians in the north as I understand.”
Cartwright pointed to a couch along the wall. “Why don’t you sit down and take a load off, Kid?” he said. “How about some supper—have you eaten yet?”
“I could certainly eat,” Tucson answered coolly, dropping onto the couch and stretching his legs. He removed his sombrero and a long strand of black hair fell across his forehead.
“Maria!” Cartwright called, and an old Indian woman came in from another room. “Cook up a steak with potatoes and biscuits and bring it in to the Kid, here,” he told her.
The old woman nodded then shot a malevolent glance at Tucson as she left the room.
“Now to business,” Cartwright said, rubbing his palms together. He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts then said, “Rex Normanson, John Halloway, and myself created the Great Northern Fur Company about ten years ago. We got most of our furs from the northern Indian tribes and a little less from the plains Indians. Normanson and Halloway dealt with the Indians and the shipping of the furs, and I took care of the business end of things—sales, distribution and what not.”
He broke off when Maria came into the room carrying a platter heaped with beef steak, potatoes, onions, and biscuits. As she handed the food to Tucson, the hatred in her eyes was unmistakable. She paused at the door as Cartwright asked, “Would you like some whiskey with that, or some wine?”
“Just a glass of water, please,” Tucson replied, already cutting into the steak.
Cartwright nodded to Maria, and she left the room.
Cartwright picked up a bottle of whiskey sitting on his desk and looked at the officers. “Gentlemen...?” Both Hastings and Lewis got re-fills, then Cartwright continued, “The operation went well for about eight years—Halloway and Normanson were a good team, and they both got along well with the Indians.” He shook his head. “Well, maybe Normanson got along a little too well with them.”
“What do you mean?” Tucson asked around a mouthful of potatoes.
“He means that the damn blackguard went rogue!” put in General Hastings, puffing furiously on his cigar.
Cartwright chuckled. “I suppose that about sums it up. You see, Rex had some kind of rapport with the native spiritual traditions, or whatever you call it, and he started buying into their beliefs. John Halloway married an Indian woman, but he never went so far as to adopt her religion. Anyway,” he went on, “the more Rex sympathized with the Indians, the fewer furs made their way down the river to my holding depots.” He shrugged. “I finally sent word up to Rex, telling him that he had to get his mind back on business. He just sent a message back saying that there wouldn’t be any more furs coming in, and that he was dissolving the partnership.”
“Didn’t Halloway have something to say about that?” Tucson asked, sopping up the last of the steak juice with a biscuit.
“Well, that’s the thing...” Cartwright began.
“Rex Normanson murdered Halloway!” cut in General Hastings, jabbing at Tucson with his cigar. “Along with everything else, the man’s become a murderer.”
“Everything else...?” prompted Tucson.
“Rex Normanson has become a renegade,” Captain Lewis said disgustedly. “He’s thrown in with the Indians and is starting an uprising.”
“I haven’t heard anything about an Indian uprising,” Tucson observed.
“That’s precisely the point!” General Hastings exclaimed. “The army’s been trying to keep this situation as quiet as possible. Can you imagine the feeding frenzy the press would have if they got wind of this?” He broke off to take a long swallow of whiskey.
“Normanson has been calling the Tribes off the reservations,” Captain Lewis added. “He’s giving sanctuary to any tribe that comes to him and is willing to live peacefully with the others.”
“I’m missing something,” Tucson said. “Why don’t you just go up there with enough soldiers and root Normanson out?”
“Because, monsieur,” inserted the Frenchman, “when the soldiers come after him, Normanson and his followers simply jump over the border into Canada.”
“Recently, it’s become a little more complicated,” Cartwright sighed. “Rex has collected quite a few Indians around him, and he’s taken refuge on Eagle Mountain, an almost impregnable mountain peak in the Sierras. He sent word down to me that he and his Indian allies would fight to the death if the army comes up after him.”
“To call Eagle Mountain impregnable is almost an understatement!” General Hastings said. “It would take a major operation to lay siege to it, and it would probably take months before we could make any progress at all.” He chewed vehemently on his cigar. “It would be impossible to keep the whole blasted affair out of the press.” Looking bleakly at Tucson, he added, “You can imagine the scandal that would ensue if it got out that the American Army couldn’t keep the Indians on their reservations.”
Leaning back on the couch, his stomach full and his legs thrown out before him, Tucson thought it over. “Where do I come in?” he asked finally.
Cartwright glanced around at the others, then said, “We want you to go up to Eagle Mountain, find Rex Normanson, and tell him that he has one month to send the Indians back to their reservations. If the natives go back home within that time frame, there will be no reprisals by the army against them.”
“What if the Indians won’t leave?” Tucson asked.
“In that case we’ll have no choice but to mount a full scale operation against them,” General Hastings answered. “If they force that on us, there will be no quarter given—the army can’t afford to look weak.”
“And Normanson himself...?”
“He has to come down from the mountain and turn himself in,” Cartwright replied.
“And what if Normanson won’t come down?” Tucson asked quietly.
“Then you kill him!” Cartwright said.
Tucson’s gaze shifted to Sophie, who had been listening silently throughout the discussion. “What’s your role in all of this?”
Her chin came up. “I will guide you to Eagle Mountain once we leave the Stick River.”
“Sophie grew up in those mountains,” Cartwright put in. “She knows a way up to the top of Eagle Mountain that only the Indians know exist. We’ll get you up the Stick then Sophie will get you to the top of the mountain.”
Sensing that there was more to it, Tucson asked, “Is that all?”
Color flooded Sophie’s cheeks. “John Halloway, who Rex Normanson murdered, was my father. And after he killed my father, he kidnapped and raped my mother.”
Profound silence descended over the room for several minutes, then Cartwright spoke up. “There’s something else I have to tell you, Kid. No one here expects you to go up to Eagle Mountain all alone. Once you start up the river, Rex is going to throw everything he has at you. You’ll have to battle your way through every mile from here to Whipsaw Canyon, where you and Sophie will leave the river. So I’ve hired the best gunman, next to you, that I could find to help get you up there—and he comes with twenty men who he guarantees are the best that can be found.”
“Who is it?” Tucson asked.
With all eyes on him, Tucson pushed himself to his feet and walked to the desk. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out his cigar case and selected a cheroot. As he clamped it between strong white teeth, Cartwright picked up a match and struck it into flame, waved it for a second to disperse the sulphur, then touched it to the tip of Tucson’s cigar. Tucson stared into space for several minutes as he puffed meditatively on the cheroot, then his gaze focused on Cartwright.
“I’ll do the job for twenty thousand dollars.”
“Good god, man!” Cartwright exploded. “That’s a hell of a lot of money!”
“This is a hell of a lot of job,” Tucson responded. “Besides, it’s not so much money if you split it up among all of you. Or maybe Joe Personelli will do it for less. Anyway,” he stated flatly, “that’s my price—take it or leave it.”
Cartwright glanced at General Hastings.
“Monsieurs...Monsieurs...!” the Frenchman spoke up. “We have not the time to haggle over money. We have an emergency here! I am authorized to pay one third of the price.”
General Hastings nodded his ascent, and Cartwright shrugged. “All right,” he said resignedly. “Twenty thousand it is.”
“Fine...” Tucson responded. “Now, tell me about the river and how we’ll get up there.”
“I’ve got one of our boats that we use to ship pelts down the Stick, outfitted with a steam engine so it can sail against the current, ready at the river to take you up to Whipsaw Canyon,” Cartwright said. “And don’t worry,” he added, “I know all about that stallion of yours, and I’ve had a stall constructed for it on top of the cabin. The captain of the boat is one of my best men, a Captain Birron. He’ll get you and the men up there all right.”
Tucson nodded. “That just leaves talking to Joe Personelli and his men in the morning.” He turned toward the door. “Now, if you people will excuse me, I need to take care of my horse.”
As Tucson descended the front steps, two of the sentries spotted him and almost ran into each other in surprise. “Where did you come from?” one of them asked.
Tucson took the cheroot from his mouth and gestured toward them with it. “If you soldiers want to live to collect your pensions, you need to learn not to be so regular in your movements.” By then the other three sentries had come up and they stood leaning on their carbines, staring at him in disbelief. “I had no trouble timing you,” Tucson went on, “and so I was able to slip past you easily.” Putting the cheroot back into his mouth, he moved on past them and disappeared into the shadows.
* * * *
Swinging open the gate, Tucson led the stallion into the corral. The other horses snorted and moved aside as they entered. Tucson slid the saddle off and threw it over a corral pole, then removed the bridle and hung it on a post. Stepping into the shed, he picked up a pitch fork and tossed fresh hay into the feeding trough, then threw a couple of handfuls of oats over the top. While the stallion munched contentedly, he took a brush and worked him over, getting the snarls from his long mane and tail, and the travel dirt from his coat. Half an hour later, he dropped the brush on a barrel and scratched the stallion between the ears. “That’ll have to do you, big fella,” he said affectionately. “I’m tired and I want to get some sleep.”
As he approached the ranch house, he saw Sophie Halloway standing on the verandah, leaning against a support post. He mounted the steps, nodded to her as he passed by and reached for the door.
“Mr. Tucson,” she said, turning to face him. “I would like to have a word with you.”
Tucson let go of the door knob and raised his brows inquisitively.
“I get the impression that you are not keen on having a woman going along on this journey,” she said, peering up at him.
“You speak well for an Indian,” he said, not answering her question. “I don’t imagine you learned that spending all of your time up in the mountains.”
She shook her head. “My parents were keen on education. My mother taught me all she could about my Indian heritage, and my father taught me to read and write English. When I was sixteen, they sent me to live with some of my father’s relatives in Chicago, where I attended a college for women.”
“And yet you’re an expert on the mountains,” Tucson observed.
“I love the mountains!” she answered passionately. “Every chance I got I would come back up here to visit my parents.” She gazed off into the distance, then added, “Sometimes I think that coming back here as often as I could is the only thing that kept me sane.” Turning back to Tucson, her voice became business-like. “So I wanted to let you know that I will be able to take care of myself on this journey, and I’ll be perfectly capable of guiding you to Eagle Mountain when we leave the river.”
“Understood...” Tucson replied, and reached for the door again.
Sophie placed her hand on his arm to stop him. “Is that all you have to say? I just told you a lot about myself, but you don’t seem to care.”
“Listen,” Tucson sighed. “My concern is to get this job done. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to be very dangerous. Generally speaking, a woman around a group of men is just asking for disaster. So you’ll need to be very careful on this trip, and do everything you can not to incite the men.”
“Oh...!” she gasped, color rushing to her cheeks. “You are insufferable! I’ll have you know that I am very capable of taking care of myself, and I do not need your advice on how to conduct myself.”
“Beyond getting me to the top of Eagle Mountain, I don’t care about your capabilities,” Tucson answered flatly. “You can be or do whatever you want, just as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the mission.” He touched the brim of his sombrero. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get some sleep.”