A Tucson Kid Western #4
In Gunman, the Tucson Kid is hired by a businessman to track down and kill a band of outlaws who have kidnapped his daughter and taken her into the Badlands. In the Badlands, Tucson is captured by a tribe of rogue Comanche; it's only by passing a series of ordeals that he can win his freedom. When he finally reaches the lair of the outlaws, Tucson must use all of his fighting skills to defeat them.
It was still dark when Tucson opened his eyes. His first act was to glance at the stallion to see if it was giving signs of anything unusual, but the horse was grazing peacefully on a clump of juniper. Tucson relaxed back into his blankets and stared up at the fading stars in the sky. He enjoyed the period just before dawn when the world for the most part was still asleep, and the countryside was pervaded by a sense of peace. It was early spring and the air was crisp and clean, with a fresh scent of pine riding on the breeze. His ears picked up the faint sound of quail scratching for seeds in the underbrush and the scampering of squirrels in the trees. Slowly, the sky shaded from steel grey to light blue as the sun climbed up the eastern sky. The leaves of the trees overhead and the shrubs surrounding his bedroll became distinct, and the landscape took on life and color.
Reluctant to break the mood, Tucson sighed, rolled out of his blankets and slid his feet into his boots. Standing up, he stretched his tall, lean frame to get the kinks out, then strapped on his Colt .45 and slid the Colt .32 into the shoulder harness. Walking to the ridge, he gazed down into the dry riverbed at the cold fire he had left the night before. When he was on the road, it was his habit not to sleep where he made camp. Leaving a decoy bedroll next to the fire, he had climbed up the embankment and thrown his extra blankets out in the concealment of the bushes just in case any intruders tried to sneak up on him. He studied the terrain carefully but couldn’t see any disturbance in the leaves he had scattered on the ground.
Reassured, he moved off behind a tree to relieve himself.
A few minutes later, the stallion stomped its hoof in warning; Tucson heard the distant nicker of horses and the low whispers of two men approaching his campsite. The morning sunlight glinted off the guns in their hands as they crept stealthily toward his bedroll spread out next to last night’s fire. Evidently, they had been following his trail for some time because they hadn’t had any trouble noting the hoof-marks of the stallion where Tucson had reined it off the road and come down into the dry riverbed.
From the cover of a juniper bush, Tucson watched them halt about five feet from the bedroll, then fire repeatedly into the blankets. The roar of gunfire shattered the morning stillness, and a flock of birds swept up out of the surrounding trees and winged their way south across the cloudless sky.
Tucson rose to his feet, holding his Colt at hip level, then cocked and pulled the trigger so fast that all four shots sounded as one continuous roar. Blood sprayed the air as the bullets ripped into the assassins’ chests, throwing them off their feet to land on their backs on the leafy ground. The trigger-finger of one jerked spasmodically, discharging a shot blindly into the sky, then both men lay still in spreading pools of blood.
Silence, complete and final, descended over the campsite.
Moving carefully, his gun still cocked, Tucson approached the bodies to make sure that each man was dead.
Looking into their faces, he recognized two men he had seen at a roadside trading post that he had stopped at the day before to buy supplies. He hadn’t paid too much attention to them at the time, but they obviously picked him out as a likely prospect for robbery and murder. His thin lips stretched in a grim smile and his gaunt features took on the appearance of a skull.
That miscalculation had cost them their lives.
Rising back to his feet, he thumbed fresh shells into his Colt as he walked up to the road where they had tied their mounts, gathered up the reins and led the horses back to the campsite. Lifting the bodies, he threw them over their saddles, and then used a couple of lengths of rope to tie their boots and hands together so they wouldn’t slip off. Once that was done, he turned and let out a low whistle. There was a crashing in the juniper bushes as the huge black stallion charged into the clearing, its head up and its nostrils flaring.
Tucson grinned affectionately. “Easy, big fella,” he said. “It’s all over now. I just need to get the saddle on you and we’ll be on our way.”
It was still early morning when Tucson guided the two corpse-laden horses out of the central Texas mountains and rode down into the foothills. Tall pines and firs, and steep, rock-girded slopes gradually gave way to rolling foothills covered with oak and cypress trees and thick gamma grass. In the clearings, he passed grazing herds of white-tailed deer and elk, and startled coveys of quail from the thick underbrush. A grey wolf, still gaunt from winter, stood on a distant crag and watched him pass, licking its lips over the smell of fresh meat.
It was with a sense of reluctance that he left the solitude of the mountains and headed back to civilization. He spent much of his time riding the high places, the solitary places. Rugged mountains and harsh, desolate deserts were where he felt most comfortable—most at home. Although he had nothing in particular against people, he had found that he was able to be most himself when he was alone. On the other hand, when he was around people he felt most constrained; when he was around people, trouble followed like echo to sound.
Still, he knew that there was a town out on the prairie, and he felt a responsibility to turn the dead bandits in to the marshal there.