A Tucson Kid Western #9
The Tucson Kid rides into Mexico to battle an evil magician victimizing the Indians and the peasants. Weakened from his wounds and his strength drained by a beautiful vampire, Tucson must fight the magician's army of gunmen before he faces the sorcerer himself in a battle to the death.
Tucson lay on his stomach in a clump of underbrush, sighting along the barrel of his Winchester into a clearing beside a stream. A buck and two does wandered into the clearing and were advancing cautiously toward the water to take a drink. Tucson had been lying in the brush since early morning, waiting for deer to show up. By the size of its rack, Tucson estimated the buck to be about two years old. As the deer bent their heads and dipped their muzzles into the stream, Tucson exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger. The report of the rifle shattered the late morning stillness, a covey of quail scratching in the brush flew off amid a flutter of wings, and the buck, instantly dead, dropped where it stood.
While the two does bounded off down the slope and the sound of the rifle-shot rolled through the trees, Tucson remained hidden in the brush. He was lying on the southern slope of a mountain range in northern Mexico, and there was no telling who might be attracted by the sound of the shot. After about half an hour of lying motionless, with only his grey eyes scanning the terrain, he decided it was safe to move into the clearing. He rose to his feet, levered another round into the chamber as his eyes continued to probe the trees and underbrush, and moved toward the dead buck.
Kneeling beside it, he placed his hand on its shoulder and bent his head. He thanked the deer for its sacrifice, and also thanked the Spirit of the animals for guiding the buck to him. Then he turned, put his fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. Instantly, there was a crashing in the brush as the huge black stallion broke into the clearing, its head shaking and its nostrils flaring.
Tucson stood up and walked to it, placed his hand on its neck to calm it down. “Easy, big fella,” he said affectionately. “I just need you to carry this buck back up to the cabin.”
After thrusting the Winchester into the saddle scabbard, he bent and, with a mighty heave, lifted the buck above his head and threw it over the saddle. Taking a length of rope from the saddlebag, he tied the deer's front and hind legs together beneath the horse's belly. Then he started back through the trees with the stallion ambling along behind like a trained dog. The cabin was an abandoned prospector's shack situated just below the snow line. Built of logs with a pine shingle roof, it had one room with an outhouse off to the side. A few yards to the east, a stream, swollen from melting snow, splashed down the mountainside until it was lost among the trees. Tucson paused within the tree-line and held up his hand for the stallion to halt behind him. While he listened intently for any sound out of the ordinary, he scanned the ground for alien foot or hoof prints, or even freshly brushed leaves that might suggest an intruder attempting to cover his tracks.
Tucson didn't expect trouble, but he had survived as long as he had by never taking unnecessary chances, and never moving before he knew what he was stepping into. Satisfied that the way was clear, he continued on to the cabin. After sliding the buck from the saddle, he spent most of the day skinning it and cutting up the meat. He set some steaks aside, then wrapped the rest of the venison up in squares of hide and carried them a little way up the slope behind the shack and buried them in a snow bank. With the coming of spring, the snow was melting, but it would keep the meat fresh for another week.
* * * *
As the stallion munched on sweet grass beneath the trees, Tucson, sitting on a rickety wooden chair in front of the cabin before an open fire, finished off his meal of venison steak and beans, then set the tin plate aside. Sighing with satisfaction, he took another swallow of fresh, cold water, then reached inside his black leather jacket and pulled out his leather cigar case. He snapped it open, selected a cheroot, clamped it between strong white teeth, then struck a match off the chair leg and applied the flame to the tip. He drew smoke deep into his lungs then let it out, watching it drift on the evening breeze.
The sun had set, and beyond the tops of trees waving in the wind, Tucson watched stars twinkle in an azure sky. He had stumbled across the cabin by chance, and decided it looked like a good place to hole up for a while. He spent much of his time riding the high places, the lonely places. It eased his spirit to be off alone in nature, his only companion the black stallion. He sighed and took another draw on the cheroot. Still, after being at the cabin for about a month, he felt the need to move on. He estimated another week, then he would mosey on down south to see what Mexico had to offer.
* * * *
The jingle of bit chains and the creak of saddle leather drifted up the slope on the night wind. Tucson moved quickly off the chair, grabbed the Winchester where it leaned against a rock, then disappeared into the trees. Motioning for the stallion to keep quiet, he took up his position behind a thick pine. A few minutes later, the black silhouettes of three riders etched themselves against the stars, and their voices reached Tucson.
“Say, Jake,” one of them exclaimed. “There's a fire up yonder.”
“I didn't think anyone but us knew about this cabin,” said another.
Then a third, deeper voice, carrying a ring of authority, spoke. “Get off your horses, now! Let's move in on foot till we know what's up.”
Tucson watched them dismount and come forward on foot, starlight glittering off the guns in their hands. He waited until they were past him and almost near the fire, then he moved soundlessly to the trail and came up behind them.
“You can stop right there, gents,” he muttered, his voice edged with steel. “Before you turn around, slide those hog legs back into their holsters.”
The three men froze, then, at a nod from the leader, put away their guns and turned around slowly. Their eyes widened when they spotted Tucson standing just to the rear of their horses, the Winchester held at hip level and aimed at them.
“Now move backwards, and don't stop until you're at the fire where I can get a good look at you.”
“Easy there, friend,” the leader said in a friendly tone. “We didn't mean no harm. We just didn't know what we was walkin' into, that's all.”
“You walked into a man who'll kill you if you make one false move.”
They stopped at the fire and let the reins of their horses drop.
Tucson came forward to look them over, and his heart sank. They were three of the toughest looking men he had ever seen. They had gunman written all over them. The leader was as tall as Tucson, with heavy shoulders and legs like tree stumps. They were all bearded and dressed in dusty range clothes. The leader had two Colts strapped down his legs, the man on his left carried a .44 Smith & Wesson, and the one on the right had a Colt .38 in a shoulder holster beneath his left arm. A Bowie knife with a ten inch blade hung on his right hip.
As he moved between the horses, Tucson noticed that all the saddlebags were bulging. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked, halting about five feet from them.
“We was gonna ask you the same thing,” the leader replied. He smiled, revealing yellow teeth. “We didn't expect to find no one here.”
“The next time you don't answer my question,” Tucson snarled, “I'll put a slug low down in your belly.”
The smile disappeared from the leader's face. “Ease off, friend. I told you we don't mean you no harm. My name's Jake Cardiff.” He jerked a thumb at the man on his left carrying the .44. “This here's Charlie Kinkaid.” He pointed to the man on his right carrying the .38. “And he's Clyde Mallory. We was just passin' through on our way down into Mexico. We use this cabin sometimes when we're out huntin'. You surprised us 'cause we didn't think no one knew about this old shack.”
“Whatever you had fer supper, sure smells mighty nice,” put in Clyde, licking his lips. “We ain't et since sunup, and we's powerful hongry.”
Tucson lowered the rifle, then smiled. “Okay,” he said. “Sorry I braced you so hard, but a man can't be too careful these days.” Pointing to a few raw venison steaks sitting on a stool next to the fire, he added, “Help yourselves. There's meat enough for all of you.”
With yelps of joy, Clyde and Charlie leaped for the steaks, grabbed a frying pan sitting on the rocks ringing the fire, threw in the meat and positioned it over the flames. Jake held back, his thumbs hooked in his gun-belt, looking Tucson up and down.
“You know who we are, friend,” he grunted. “Now how 'bout tellin' us who you are.”
“My name's Tucson.”
Jake's brown eyes narrowed; Clyde, in the act of sprinkling salt over the steaks, froze; Charlie spun around and stared.
“That wouldn't be, the Tucson Kid, would it?” Jake asked softly.
Tucson stood with the Winchester cradled in his left arm, the thumb of his right hand hooked in the gun-belt next to his Colt. “I've been called that.”
Jake took in a deep breath and let it out through his teeth. “Well, now!” He looked around at the others. “I think we've all heard o' you! Imagine meetin' the Tucson Kid up here all alone in the mountains. If it ain't bein' too forward, are you here hidin' out?”
“No,” Tucson answered shortly. “I just like being alone. I stumbled on the cabin by accident and decided it was a good place to stay for a while.”
Jake nodded. “Well, if it ain't puttin' you out too much, we'd like to rest our horses for a couple o' days before we move down south.”
“Help yourselves,” Tucson replied. “I'll get my gear out of the cabin and you three can sleep in there.”
“No, no...” Jake held up his hands, “we don't want to put you out. It's warm enough now with spring and all; we can sleep out here under the stars.”
Tucson shrugged. “Suit yourselves.”
“Come an' git it, Jake,” Clyde chortled, pulling the pan of steaks off the fire and reaching for his Bowie. “This here supper is served.”
As they started wolfing down the venison, Tucson went on into the cabin.