A Tucson Kid Western #6
The Tucson Kid is called to the west Texas town of Howling Wolf by the Comanche chief, Soaring Eagle. Gold has been found on the Comanche reservation and the major banker in Howling Wolf, Charles Durant, is trying to steal the gold from the Indians. Four Comanche have already been murdered, but white man's law doesn't work for the Indians. Soaring Eagle asks Tucson to intercede for them, and he agrees to see what he can do.
While in Howling Wolf, Tucson finds romance with Catherine Murry, the pretty owner of the boarding house where he is staying.
As Tucson delves deeper into the case, he has to face the killers of the town gambler, Prince; the crew of gunmen of the rancher Ed Thompson; and finally engage in a death duel with Charles Durant himself. The book is fast paced with non-stop action as the Tucson Kid fights to protect the Comanche Gold.
Josh Talbot stood in the double doors of the Talbot Livery Stable and Blacksmith, mopping the sweat from his brow as he watched Curly Reeves put new shoes on a horse. The burly blacksmith was hunched over with a hoof held between his knees in his leather apron as he filed the rough edges off the shoe. Glancing away from Curly, Josh looked down Main Street of the west Texas town of Howling Wolf. The tall, alkali-covered buildings on each side of the road seemed to hunch piteously beneath the driving heat of the sun as it rolled like an orange ball across the pale blue sky. Squinting against the dust devil spinning down the street, he noticed a horseman just entering town from the west.
An expert judge of horses, Josh noticed the rider’s mount first.
It was a massive black stallion, with long legs, an arching neck and a thick flowing mane. Spirit and power burst from the animal, and the long smooth muscles under its glossy coat rippled and rolled like molten iron. It was a high stepper for such a huge animal, with an almost dainty way of placing its hooves down into the dust.
Josh dragged his eyes reluctantly away from the horse and studied the rider who controlled it with effortless ease.
A black, flat-crowned, wide brimmed sombrero shaded a bronzed face that at first glance gave the impression of an axe blade. Cold grey eyes ceaselessly studied both sides of the street, checking buildings, alleys, windows, and the pedestrians moving along or standing on the wooden sidewalks. Prominent cheekbones framed a high-bridged nose, and a wide, thin-lipped mouth was set like granite above a craggy chin.
Josh took note of the black leather jacket, cut short at the waist, encasing the rider’s broad shoulders and deep chest. A black gun-belt encircled his lean waist, and a Colt .45 with blued steel and rosewood grips rested in the black holster tied down to his right leg. Dark serge trousers covered his long, horseman’s legs. As the rider moved inexorably up the street, he radiated danger like a crouching panther or a coiled rattler, ready to strike at the slightest provocation.
Glancing up at the sky, Josh was startled to see the black, spectral shapes of vultures circling ominously above the slaughterhouse and stockyards at the edge of town. From his angle of vision, they gave the illusion of swarming directly over the rider, forming a dark and grisly nimbus around his head.
Looking around, Josh noticed Mel Kippers, busily sweeping the sidewalk outside his general store, pause to stare curiously at the stranger. Two cattlemen, who had been deep in conversation outside the Elkhorn Saloon, stopped in mid-sentence and gaped at the rider as he passed. A couple of women in low-cut dresses, who were hanging out of a second floor window above the saloon, craned their necks to see him, their flashing eyes following him with calculated interest.
Josh gulped nervously as the stranger turned his level gaze toward the livery stable, studied him for a moment, read the sign on the wall above his head then reined the stallion toward him.
“Howdy, mister,” Josh called out in a thin voice, feeling uncomfortable under the steady stare of the rider. At close range, the dark aura of danger and menace emanating from the man was almost overpowering. As hard as he tried, Josh couldn't keep his voice steady. “Can I help y'all?” he quavered.
The stranger glanced at Curly, who had stopped shoeing the horse and was looking up to see what was going on, then his eyes swung back to Josh. “Do you own this stable?” he asked, in a deep, resonant voice.
“I surely do!” Josh replied, gaining confidence. “I'm Josh Talbot. You're welcome to stable your hoss here while you're in town, if you've a mind.”
The stranger nodded. “What do you charge?”
“Dollar a day—oats is two bits extra.”
“That'll do.” The rider looped the reins loosely around the saddle horn, swung his leg over the cantle and stepped down into the dust of the street. “I'd like to see that stall now, if you don't mind,” he said. “My horse needs to get some rest.”
“No problem a-tall,” Josh responded good-naturedly, finally beginning to relax. He reached out for the horse's bridle chains then jerked his hand back as the stranger spoke again.
“Leave it be. It'll follow us alright. Just lead the way.”
Josh shrugged and walked inside the stable. The stranger followed, with the stallion ambling along behind.
The stable was a large, dark, barn-like building, extending back through the block to another street in the rear. There were several rows of stalls, most of them occupied, with a deep loft all along the back where hay was stored. In front on the left was the blacksmith area, with an anvil, a hearth and bellows, and tools hung in an orderly manner on the wall.
They stopped at an empty stall towards the rear and Josh opened the gate. It was raked clean, with plenty of room for the horse to turn around.
Without speaking, the stranger pointed into the stall, and the stallion walked in.
“That's a mighty tame cayoose you got there, stranger,” Josh commented. “You sure wouldn't know it to look at it.”
“It's only tame with me,” the rider said quietly. “I've seen it rip the arm off a man it didn't know who made the mistake of putting his hand on it.”
Josh stepped hastily back. “Well, now!” he yelped. “I don't know as I want an animal that mean around here.”
“Don't worry,” the stranger replied reassuringly. “I'll come around every morning to feed it, and check back in the afternoon. All you have to provide is a roof and plenty of feed.”
Josh scratched his grizzled chin dubiously with a gnarled finger, then shrugged and let it go. “By the way,” he said, squinting hard at the other. “If'n you're gonna stable your hoss here, I reckon it ain't impolite to ask if y’all got a name.”
The rider paused as he fished in his jacket pocket and pulled out a ten-dollar gold piece. “Call me Tucson,” he answered, almost reluctantly. He flipped the coin at Josh, who plucked it nimbly from the air and tested it with yellow teeth. “Here's a week in advance,” he added. “If I decide to stay longer I'll give you another week in advance.”
Josh nodded and deposited the coin in his vest pocket. Then, his homely face twisted with curiosity, he asked, “That’s it? Your name’s just Tucson...?”
The sense of a crouching panther returned as Tucson stared into Josh's eyes. “Yes,” he said softly. “That's it.”
Josh gulped as he tried to force words out of a suddenly constricted throat. “Hey!” he cried. “That's good enough for me, Mr. Tucson. No problem here.” He started backing down the corridor. “I'll just let you and your hoss be an’ I’ll get on about my business.” He waved an arm as he walked quickly away. “You need anythin’, just holler.”
“Thanks,” Tucson said, then turned and walked into the stall.