A Tucson Kid Western #3
The Tucson Kid escapes Mexico ahead of a gang of outlaws bent on revenge. He rides west into New Mexico and finds himself in the middle of a range war between a brutal rancher and a beautiful widow. As Tucson takes a stand in favor of the widow, he is caught in the cross-fire between the rancher's hired killers and the Mexican bandits who have finally caught up with him.
The huge black stallion lunged up out of the water, landing on a rocky shelf over-hanging the northern bank of the Rio Grande. Reining him in, Tucson turned to look back over the desolate expanse of burning sands, mesquite and cactus stretching out behind him. It had taken him three days of hard riding through northern Mexico to reach the Rio Grande just west of the Texas line and into New Mexico. Here the Rio turned north for about a half mile then made a gentle sweep back and meandered on its way west. At the bend, the water had eaten away at the southern bank, creating a shallow, slow-moving section that was ideal for making a crossing. Deep ruts cut the southern bank from the countless wagons that had made the crossing, cut in again on the northern shore then swept up the incline to the town of River Bend on the crest. His hand resting on the stallion’s rump, Tucson’s grey eyes ceaselessly searched his back-trail, looking for any sign that he was being followed. Finally satisfied, he turned back, nudged the stallion with his heels, and rode on up the slope.
As he came abreast of the buildings at the edge of town, Tucson reined in again to look things over. Ramshackle structures made of wood, stone and mud lined both sides of a dusty, rutted street running from east to west. There wasn’t much going on at the moment. A Mexican was sweeping the boardwalk in front of a hotel down the street on the left; a few horses were hitched outside a building on the right with a sign on it reading, The Lucky Chance Saloon; and, further down, two dogs were squabbling over a bone in front of a dilapidated, barn-like building that looked like a livery stable. Nodding with satisfaction, Tucson decided that River Bend had everything he needed to rest up for the night. He had been heading for River Bend as he rode up through Mexico. The town had a reputation for being a place where a man on the run from the law could hole up for a while. The town marshal was said to be willing to look the other way for a price. Although Tucson wasn’t wanted in either the States or in Mexico, he was still looking for a place to rest where he wouldn’t have to answer any questions.
He nudged the stallion forward, keeping to the shade on the left side of the street. He hadn’t gone far when a door opened on the right and a big man with a gold star pinned to his chest stepped out onto the boardwalk. Noticing Tucson, he paused, leaned his bulk against a porch support, and watched him as he rode in. The marshal was over six feet tall, with a belly that was just beginning to hang down over the gun belt holding a .44 Smith and Wesson with bone grips. A broad-brimmed grey Stetson shaded pale blue eyes, a jutting nose that had once been powerful but was becoming fleshy, and a once rugged face that was blurring into a sagging jaw line. Looking him over, Tucson had the impression of a rocky crag being worn down by the cruel winds of disappointment and bitterness.
At a touch of the reins, the stallion crossed the street and came to a halt in front of the marshal. The two men stared at each other for a moment then Tucson nodded. “Looks like you’re the law in River Bend,” he observed in a deep, clear voice. Lifting his flat-crowned, broad-brimmed sombrero with one hand, he ran the fingers of the other through his straight black hair then replaced it. “Nice quiet town,” he added pleasantly.
“That’s right—and that’s the way I aim to keep it,” the marshal replied in a gravelly tone. “My name’s Tom McLaughlin.”
Although he kept his face impassive, Tucson couldn’t help a slight widening of his eyes when he heard the name. He knew of Tom McLaughlin. He had a reputation in Wyoming, Missouri, and down into Nevada as a tough, honest and courageous lawman. Tucson never would have expected him to end up as the marshal of River Bend. “I’ve heard of you,” he said quietly.
“You have, huh?” McLaughlin returned. “Well, as long as we’re bein’ all friendly like, s’pose you tell me your name.”
Eyes widening with alarm, McLaughlin took a quick step back while his right hand dropped to his gun-butt. “I’ve heard of you too,” he grated through clenched teeth. “I should’ve recognized you right off, with that black stallion, that blued Colt .45 with rosewood grips, that black leather jacket cut short at the waist so it don’t get in the way o’ your draw. And your face! I heard tell it looks kind’a like a skull in a fight—and I can believe it.”