MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Cletus Slocum stole Donley Bannister’s best horse and crippled it. Now Slocum lay facedown in the dirt, as dead as he would ever be.
Bannister was known locally as a horse trader, finding them in faraway places and bringing them to the West Texas hill country for sale. He could recognize a good horse as far as he could see it, and spot a blemish from fifty yards. He loved horses as other men might love a woman. The blue roan, he thought, was one of the best he had ever owned.
The four Slocum brothers—three now that Cletus was gone—also had a reputation for knowing good horses, stealing them when and where they could. They had gone unpunished because law officers had not been able to bring a strong case to court. It was difficult to persuade a witness to testify against one of them, knowing that to do so was to invite an unfriendly visit by the other three.
Bannister did not wait for the law to act. He pursued Cletus across the rockiest ground along the South Llano River. He caught up with him when the roan stumbled and went down, breaking a foreleg. While witness Willy Pegg trembled and begged for his own life, Bannister put an end to Cletus’s dubious career. He felt no remorse over the man, but his heart was heavy with pain when he shot the crippled roan.
Riding back to Junction, he stopped at a modest frame house he shared with his wife Geneva. While he hastily gathered a few necessities for travel, he told her, “I just killed Cletus Slocum. It was a fair fight. You stay put here till I come back. Don’t try to follow me.”
Thoughtfully, he left her some money. Not so thoughtfully, he neglected to kiss her good-bye before he rode away. Afterward, though she often thought about that oversight, he never did.
* * *
Andy Pickard stood in the open boxcar door, feeling through his boots the rumble of steel wheels against the rails. Wisps of coal smoke burned his eyes as he watched West Texas hills roll by at more than thirty miles an hour. He wished he were heading home. Instead, the train was carrying him farther and farther from his new wife.
He sometimes wondered why he had decided to rejoin the Texas Rangers. There were less stressful ways to make a living. He had had more than enough of farming, walking all day behind a plow and a mule, taking verbal abuse from a cranky brother-in-law. He wanted to raise livestock, for that was something he could do on horseback, but a decent start in ranching required money. He did not yet have enough. Rangering seemed his best option for now. He regretted that it often took him too far and kept him too long away from Bethel.
He turned to a stall where his black horse stood tied, feet braced against the pull of the train’s forward motion. He said, “At least you’re gettin’ to ride most of the way. Bannister’s horse had to take it all on foot.”
The Ranger office in Fort Worth had received a wire saying that Donley Bannister was seen in the West Texas railroad town of Colorado City. Andy happened to be in Fort Worth to deliver a prisoner. He had been dispatched to apprehend Bannister and bring him back to stand trial for shooting Cletus Slocum.
At least the disagreement had been about something worthwhile, Andy thought. Too many men had been killed quarreling over such trivial matters as whiskey, cards, or dance hall girls. A horse was a different matter. A good horse might well justify a righteous killing.
Extension of rails across the state had given Ranger efficiency a strong boost in these early 1880s. No matter how fast he traveled, a fugitive could not outrun the telegraph, and now he had to contend with the railroad as well. Rangers could put their horses on a train and cover distances in hours that would otherwise keep them in the saddle for days. They could move ahead of a fleeing suspect and cut him off or at least rush to wherever he had last been seen and shorten his lead. That was Andy’s mission on this trip.
To the best of his knowledge, he had never seen Bannister. He had a physical description of the man, however, in the handwritten fugitive book he carried in his pocket: tall, husky, with pale gray eyes and a small scar on his left cheekbone where a mule had once kicked him. Probably a bit crazy too. A kick in the head could do that to a man, and nothing could kick harder than a mule.
The train chugged to a stop at a siding beside a tower upon which stood a large wooden water tank. Andy climbed down to stretch his aching legs and beheld the largest windmill he had ever seen. He judged its wheel to be twenty feet across, maybe twenty-five. Locomotive boilers required a lot of water to produce steam. The windmill, vital to the railroads, had also done much to open up large areas of West Texas for settlement by farmers and ranchers. They provided water where nature had neglected to do so.
He had recently placed a smaller mill over a hand-dug well on acreage he had bought in the hill country west of San Antonio. Someday, when he had saved enough, he planned to resign from the Rangers again, build a house beside the windmill and move there with Bethel. It was a good grass country for cattle, and several people had brought in sheep. Andy had no prejudice against woolies. They seemed to thrive so long as their owner could fight off the wolves and coyotes and bobcats. These had a strong taste for lambs.
The thought of Bethel brought both warmth and pain. Stationed in a Ranger camp near a former army post town, Fort McKavett, he had rented a small house at the edge of the settlement. There she was able to grow a garden and raise chickens. He had spent nights with her when he was not away on duty. He realized this was not the customary way for a young couple to begin married life. Too often he had to kiss her good-bye and ride away without knowing when he might return. Looking back, which he always did, he would see her small figure standing there, waving, watching him until he was beyond sight.
He had warned her at the beginning that as a Ranger’s wife she would spend many days and nights alone, waiting, wishing. But he wondered if she had fully understood how often she would have only a flock of chickens and a brown dog for company. He even wondered if he should have put off marriage until he could provide her with a more stable home. But both had waited a long time already, almost beyond endurance.
He hoped he could capture the fugitive quickly and get back to her. A dispatch had indicated that Bannister could probably make a strong case for self-defense if he had stayed in Junction and faced trial. But he had chosen to run, so he was playing hell with Andy’s married life.
The train’s black-uniformed conductor walked down the line after seeing that the boiler was properly filled. Pulling out his pocket watch and checking the time, he said, “We’ll be pullin’ out in a couple of minutes, Ranger. Ought to be in Colorado City in an hour.”
“Good,” Andy said. “The sooner there, the sooner I can get my business done and go home.”
The conductor gave him a quizzical smile. “I’ll bet you’ve got a young wife waitin’ for you. That’d account for your constipated look.”
Andy’s face warmed. “I didn’t know it showed.”
“I know the signs from personal experience. Seems like I’ve been married since I was six years old.”
Andy asked, “How do you handle it, bein’ away from home so much?”
“Home these days is whatever train I happen to be on.”
“You don’t miss bein’ with your wife?”
Thoughtfully the conductor said, “Son, the fire burns hot when you first get married, but then it cools down. There’s times you start feelin’ crowded. You look for a reason to get away for a while, and she’s just as anxious to be shed of you.”
“It won’t be that way for me and Bethel.”
“It will. Nature works it out like that to keep married couples from killin’ one another.” The conductor frowned. “You ain’t told me, but I suspect you’re after a man. Is he dangerous?”
“I just know that he’s charged with murder.”
“Then he’s dangerous. And you’re fixin’ to tackle him by yourself?”
“He’s just one man.”
“If I was you, and I had a young wife waitin’ for me, I’d find a safer way to make a livin’.”
Bethel had not said much directly, but Andy had sensed that she felt as the conductor did. One of these days, when he could afford to buy more land and the livestock to put on it …
The train slowly picked up speed. Andy watched the telephone poles going by. A line had been strung alongside the tracks all the way from Fort Worth. It didn’t seem logical to him that progress could advance much farther. Just about everything conceivable had already been invented.
Colorado City was mostly new, an offspring of the railroad as it had advanced westward. When the boxcar was centered in front of a loading chute, Andy led the black horse down the ramp to a water trough. A little Mexican packmule followed like a faithful dog. After both animals had drunk their fill, Andy rode up the street toward the courthouse. It was customary for a Ranger to call upon local peace officers unless there was a reason not to, such as a suspicion that they were in league with the lawbreakers. That was not the case here.
Andy introduced himself to the sheriff, a middle-aged man with graying hair and an expanding waistline. The sheriff said, “I got a call that you’d be on the train. I thought they’d send an older, more experienced man.”
“I’m old enough. What’s the latest about Donley Bannister?”
“Nothin’ much more than what I wired your captain. I got wind that he’d spent time here playin’ poker and puttin’ away whiskey. Me and my deputy found his tracks and trailed him to the county line. That’s as far as we had jurisdiction. I can take you to where we turned back.”
“I’d be much obliged.”
“I hope you’re a good tracker.”
“Bannister don’t seem to be tryin’ hard to cover his trail. He likely figures he’s already outrun whoever may be after him. I doubt he considered how hard it is to outrun a train.”
Standing at a window, Andy let his gaze drift wishfully to a sign that said Restaurant. Where the elite eat.
He was not sure what elite meant. Schooling had been limited by a tendency toward fighting more than studying when other boys offered offense, which they often did. He had been taken by Indians when he was small and lived with them several years before being thrown back into the white world. Fellow students made fun of his Indian ways and his awkward attempt to relearn the language of his people.
Even yet, a Comanche word occasionally popped out of his mouth. Moreover, he sometimes had a flash of sixth sense about situations and events beyond his sight. To the Indians, these were visions; to Andy, they were a mystery. He had no control over them. They came unbidden. Often when he would have welcomed one, it would not come at all.
He had such a hunch now about Bannister. He felt it likely that the man was no longer in a hurry, probably assuming he had traveled far enough to be safe. Otherwise he would not have tarried in this town to seek after pleasure.
The sheriff said, “Why don’t you walk over yonder and grab you some breakfast while I go saddle my horse?”
Andy said, “Suits me fine. There wasn’t anything to eat on the train.”
The sheriff started to turn away, then stopped. “See that dispeptic-lookin’ gent goin’ into the café? That’s Luther Fleet. He’s a tinhorn gambler. I heard that Bannister and him have done business together. He might tell you somethin’.”
Andy said, “Thanks. I’ll go talk to him.”
Fleet sat at a table alone. Andy sized him up at a glance. Restless eyes and slick, long-fingered hands told him this was not a man to whom he would trust his horse or even his dog.
Andy said, “Mind if I sit down with you?”
The answer was a growl. “There’s other tables.”
“But you’re sittin’ at this one, and I want to talk with you.”
“If you’re lookin’ for a game, it’s a little early in the day.”
“I’m a Ranger.” Andy touched the badge on his shirt, handmade from a Mexican silver five-peso coin. “I’m lookin’ for a man named Donley Bannister. I hear you and him are friends.”
The gambler’s eyes flashed a negative reaction. He said, “Friend? Not hardly. Him and me have done a little business together. I always came out on the short end.”
“Do you know where he went when he left here?”
“He didn’t share his plans with me, and I didn’t watch him leave town. He could’ve gone north, south, east, or west. Maybe even straight up. Why don’t you try straight up?”
Andy moved in closer and noticed a small bruise on Fleet’s left cheek. It looked fresh. He asked, “By any chance, was that blue spot a gift from Bannister?”
The gambler involuntarily brought his hand up to the bruise and flinched. “He claimed I’ve been owin’ him money.”
“Go to hell.”
The man’s attitude was enough to sour Andy’s appetite, strong though it was. He moved to another table and sat with his back to Fleet.
* * *
As Andy and the sheriff rode out from town, the lawman asked, “Did you have any luck?”
“I’d’ve learned more talkin’ to a fence post.”
“Fleet’s pretty good at fleecin’ cowboys and railroad hands, but he’s not good enough to go up against the real professionals. He’ll welsh on the wrong one someday and get his lights blown out. I’d volunteer to sing at his funeral.”
“I might be inclined to join you, if I could sing.”
The tracks led north. The sheriff said, “Ain’t a lot in that direction, not for a long ways. Ranches and maybe a mustanger’s camp or two. Hunters killed out the buffalo. Indians stay pretty much to the reservations anymore, where they belong. There’s no way of mixin’ the white race with the red. Too many differences.”
Andy knew the differences all too well, for he had lived in both camps. He said, “The Indians were just fightin’ for their land.”
“But before it was theirs, they took it away from somebody else. This land has been fought over by first one and then another since God finished it and took the seventh day to rest.”
Andy knew the futility of arguing the Indians’ point of view. He understood the white view as well. The dilemma was too much for a man in his late twenties to reconcile. Old men had difficulty with it, too.
After a time the sheriff reined up and made a sweeping motion with his hand. He said, “This is the county line, as near as I can figure it. From here it’s for you to catch up or to give up.”
“Rangers don’t give up easy.”
“I’ve seen some that wished they had. Don’t take it for granted that your outlaw will surrender peaceably. Been many a good rider thrown off by a gentle horse.”
Andy was unsure about his ability to stay on Bannister’s trail to its end. He had known Indians who could follow anything that walked, but the tracking trait had eluded him despite his best intentions. Perhaps the fugitive would become complacent and stop somewhere long enough for Andy to catch up.
Toward dusk he smelled wood smoke and spotted a chuck wagon camp a short distance ahead. He judged that it was about the time for a cowboy crew to be eating supper. He rode warily toward the fire, knowing the cook would object to dust being stirred up near his wagon. The men were scattered about, squatting on their heels or sitting on bedrolls, plates in their hands. They paused in their meal to stare at him with curiosity.
A little man in a frazzled old derby hat walked toward him, a grease-stained sack tied around his soft belly. He gave Andy’s badge a quick study, then gestured toward a line of pots and Dutch ovens near the fire. He said, “Tie up your animals and come get yourself some supper. What’s left, I’ll have to throw out anyhow.”
“Thanks.” Walking in, Andy gave each upturned face a glance. He tried to picture Bannister from the brief description that had been given him. He had been told more about the dun horse than about the man who rode it. He saw no one who unmistakably fitted his preconception, but he remained uneasy. A couple of men quietly arose and walked away from camp.
“You’re in luck,” the cook said. “Boss brought us some dried apples. Got cobbler pie for you to finish off with. Help yourself.”
Andy held the tin plate in his left hand, leaving his right hand free in case of a challenge. None came, and he loosened up. He said, “That coffee sure smells good.” The cook poured a cupful for him. Andy seated himself on a tarp-covered bedroll and attacked the supper. Rangers on a trail missed many meals. They seldom passed up an opportunity to eat.
He could feel the men’s gaze fastened upon him, a few with suspicion, one with open hostility. Likely as not, some were wanted by the law for one thing or another. He decided the best course was to lay his cards on the table. He said, “I’m lookin’ for a large man ridin’ a big dun horse with a TR brand on its left hip.”
No one spoke at first. The cook broke the silence. “May I make so bold as to ask what he’s wanted for?”
“Seems like there was a disagreement over a horse. The other man lost the argument.”
The cook shook his head. “I always said there’s three things it’s dangerous to argue over: politics, religion, and horses. Women would make four.”
Andy asked, “Has anybody here seen such a man?” He looked from one face to another but saw no sign that anyone would answer. Cowboys as a rule were slow to give a man away unless outraged by what he had done. Especially if they had done the same thing themselves, or had been tempted to.
The cook ventured, “Maybe the other man was a son of a bitch that needed killin’.”
Andy said, “Just the same, I’ve been assigned to bring Donley Bannister in. The rest is up to the court.”
The cook frowned. “Last time I was in court, the judge gave me ten days just for singin’ too loud on Sunday mornin’. He counted the money I had in my pocket and fined me all of it. Ain’t trusted any court since.”
Andy recognized that he would not get help here, even if the men in camp had seen Bannister. He said, “I’m much obliged for the supper.”
The cook said, “It’ll soon be too dark to ride. You’re welcome to stay all night. You can start off in the mornin’ with a good breakfast in your belly.”
Andy nodded his thanks. He wondered if the offer was made to allow Bannister more time to travel.
The cook said, “Look, Ranger, we’ve got nothin’ against you. You seem like a nice young feller, but we’ve got nothin’ against the man you’re after, either. We don’t poke our nose in when we’ve got no dog in the fight.”
Andy understood the reticence. He said, “A man’s got to follow his own leanin’s.”
He had no specific reason to distrust the cowboys, though it was possible that one wanted by the law might fear Andy had come for him and do something drastic.
He slept fitfully, hearing everything that moved. When the cook arose to begin preparing breakfast, Andy rolled up his blanket and packed the compliant little mule. He was waiting with a cup of water when the coffee began to boil. He poured the water in to sink the grounds, then dipped into the pot. He could barely see first light in the east.
Shortly the cook shouted, “Chuck!” and the cowboys began rolling out of their blankets. Andy took a plate from the chuck box and filled it with fried steak, water-and-flour gravy, and steaming high-rise sourdough biscuits that burned his fingers. He still sensed the men watching him in silence, looking away if he glanced toward them. He could probably find one or two in his fugitive book, but he considered it an abuse of hospitality to eat at a man’s wagon and then take him into custody.
He spent more than an hour finding what he thought were probably Bannister’s tracks. The roundup crew and their horses had compromised everything within a mile or more of camp. But he finally came across the print of an iron shoe that seemed to be the same one he had followed yesterday. He lost it a while, then found it again. He wished he had Choctaw John with him. A half-breed, John seemed able to track a hawk in flight. But his home was far away. Besides, the state in its frugality disliked paying for outside help. It assumed the Rangers it hired should be able to do anything the situation called for. Sometimes they fell short, however. Andy had, several times. He had already found some of his limitations and knew there must be others yet undiscovered.
* * *
He almost overlooked the dugout. It appeared to be some ranch’s line camp, cut into an embankment and roofed with cottonwood limbs covered by a deep layer of dirt. Only the chimney showed above the surface. He saw the smoke first, then several log pens, one with three horses in it. In the last glow of the late-afternoon sun he rode close enough to examine the animals. His nerves tightened as he saw that one was a big dun with a TR brand on its left hip. Exactly the description he had been given.
Dismounting, he drew his rifle from its scabbard and checked his pistol. He looked about but saw no one outside. Because the dugout was essentially a roofed-over hole in the ground, it was unlikely to have a back door through which a fugitive might escape. He saw one small window beside the wooden door. He circled around so he could approach the door without exposing himself to the window. The glass was so encrusted with smoke and dirt that he doubted anyone could see much through it anyway.
He gripped the rifle firmly, put his shoulder against the door, and pushed hard. He stepped through the opening and shouted, “Hands up!”
Two men sat at a small table, cards spread before them. Andy recognized Bannister from his description. The fugitive froze in surprise, his gray eyes wide. The other man made a grab for a pistol in its holster hanging from a peg in the earthen wall. Andrew tickled the back of the man’s neck with the muzzle of the rifle. He said, “You heard me. Raise your hands.”
The big man had not moved. He demanded, “What is this? If you’ve come to rob us, you’ve picked a damned poor place.”
“I’m a Ranger. I’ve been trailin’ you, Donley Bannister.”
“Bannister? My name is Smith. John Smith.”
“Half the men I ever arrested called themselves John Smith.” Andy addressed the other man, who had a face full of brown freckles. “And what’s your name?”
“It’s John Smith too.”
“I’ll bet I can find your real name on my fugitive list, and it won’t be Smith. I’m takin’ you in on general principles till we find out for sure who you are.”
“What am I bein’ arrested for?”
“Playin’ cards on Sunday will be enough to hold you a while.”
“This ain’t Sunday.”
“How do you know? I don’t see a calendar in here.”
Andy flinched as cold steel touched the back of his neck. He heard a pistol hammer cock back. A gruff voice said, “Ease that rifle to the floor real slow, or we’ll be scrubbin’ your brains off of the wall.”
Andy felt a paralyzing chill. What a damnfool thing to do, he thought. Stepped into a trap with my eyes wide open.
The man behind him said, “Lucky thing I went out to pee. I kept low when I seen this feller snoopin’ around. Now that we got him, what’ll we do with him?”
The freckled one said, “Ain’t but one safe thing, Ches. Shoot him and bury him deep enough that he won’t even raise up on Judgment Day.”
Bannister shook his head. “Now, boys, killin’ a Ranger is about the worst thing you can do. The rest of them will trail you plumb to China, if they have to. They’ll hang you or shoot you down like a yeller dog.”
“Not if they never know what happened to him,” the freckled one said.
Bannister argued, “I already got one killin’ against me, Speck. He had it comin’, but I don’t want to answer for another one.”
“You don’t have to be a part of it. You can ride off and pretend you never seen us.”
Bannister looked regretfully at Andy. “Sorry, young feller, but you ought to’ve rode on by.”
Andy knew the other two were serious. He said, “The sheriff knows I came this way, lookin’ for you.”
Speck said, “But there’s nothin’ to connect us with this camp. It’s been deserted for a while. We just decided to stop here and rest our horses.”
Sweat broke out on Andy’s forehead. He saw no help in Bannister’s face and no mercy in the other two men. They were going to kill him if he didn’t do something.
He grasped the edge of the table and quickly tipped it toward Speck, spilling the cards, sending a bottle of whiskey rolling off. In the confusion, he dropped to one knee and grabbed the rifle. He did not get to fire it. A pistol shot reverberated in the small confines of the dugout. His ears felt as if they had exploded. The bullet struck his shoulder and spun him around. The rifle fell to the dirt floor. The heavy smell of burned powder stung his nose.
His shoulder afire, he heard Speck say, “Shoot him again, Ches. You didn’t kill him the first time.”
Bannister stepped in front of the pair, holding a pistol. “I told you what happens when you kill a Ranger. Be damned if you’re goin’ to make me a party to it.”
Red-faced, Speck glared at him with an air of defiance. Through a haze, however, Andy saw that the larger man had him cowed. Bannister said, “If I was you two, I’d gather up whatever belongs to me and scat. You can put a lot of miles behind you before daylight. I’ll find you if I need you.”
Ches argued, “He came here to take you in. He could still do it.”
“I ain’t doin’ this for him, I’m doin’ it for me. They’ll follow me to hell and back if I let you kill him. I already shot one man. You-all don’t want to make it three.”
Speck grumbled, “That’s what thanks we get for splittin’ our grub with you.” He started to pick up Andy’s fallen rifle.
Bannister said, “That ain’t yours, Speck. Leave it.”
Ches said, “You’re makin’ a big fuss for nothin’. Look at the way he’s bleedin’. He’s fixin’ to die anyway.”
“Maybe, but it won’t be none of my doin’.”
When the two were gone, Bannister set a wooden bar into place to prevent them from coming back through the door. He hung a coat over the window. “I don’t know why I have to deal with yahoos like that. I wouldn’t put it past them to try to shoot you through the glass. Now let’s take a look at what they done to you.”
Unable to remain on his feet, Andy slumped into a chair. He had trouble holding his head up or focusing his eyes. Bannister unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it down from the shoulder. “You’re bleedin’ like a stuck hog. Serves you right, stumblin’ in here, all guts and no brains.” He pinched the shoulder. “I’ll bet that hurts.”
“Damn right it does,” Andy wheezed, his teeth clenched. Sick at his stomach, he felt the tickling sensation of blood running down his arm.
Bannister said, “If you die, it’ll be your own fault.” He looked into a crude wooden cabinet near the small cast-iron stove and found a flour sack somebody had used to wipe dishes. He said, “You spilled most of the whiskey. Don’t reckon you brought any more with you?”
Andy shook his aching head. He rarely drank whiskey. He wondered whether Bannister wanted it for the wound or for himself.
Bannister roughly felt around the wound, causing Andy to cry out in pain. “I don’t think the bullet’s still in there, but you need a doctor. Nearest one I know of is back in Colorado City. The way you’ve been bleedin’, you might not get that far.”
Andy struggled to keep his eyes open. “I’m not dyin’, not if I can help it.”
Bannister seemed torn by indecision. “You won’t make it by yourself, but if I take you, the law is liable to grab me.” His voice was angry. “I don’t see why they won’t leave me alone. The man I shot stole a good horse from me. Crippled him so that I had to shoot the horse too.” He picked up the bottle from the floor and held it high. It was nearly empty.
Andy was too weak and nauseated to walk on his own. He clenched his teeth as Bannister helped him to a cot. Bannister said, “You ain’t goin’ to enjoy this, but try to hold still.” He took a swig from the bottle and poured the rest of it into the wound.
Andy heard himself cry out just before he sank into a deep well of pain. Consciousness left him.
When he struggled back out of the darkness, the pain returned with a vengeance. Through a haze he saw Bannister tear the empty flour sack into three pieces. He used one to wipe away the blood. Another he folded and placed over the wound to stanch the bleeding. The third he used to bind Andy’s shoulder as tightly as he could.
Bannister said, “I got shot in the leg once. Had to take care of it myself. They said I was lucky not to die of blood poisonin’. If you don’t get to a doctor, you’re liable to take blood poisonin’ yourself.”
Andy measured his words, for each required an effort. “It’s a long way … back to town.”
“You need to go, though. Otherwise you’ll be startin’ a brand-new cemetery here.”
Andy tried to raise up, but vertigo gripped him. He dropped heavily onto the cot. His head felt as if it were being forcibly pushed through the thin cotton mattress.
Bannister grumbled, “You haven’t got a chance in hell of reachin’ there by yourself.”
“Maybe after I’ve rested some.”
“You ain’t really started to feel that wound yet. Tomorrow you’ll be runnin’ a fever and beggin’ the Lord to let you die. Someday some cow hunter’ll find your bones layin’ on the prairie along with them of the buffalo.”
Andy thought of Bethel, and the pain this could cause her. She might always wonder what ever became of him.
Bannister said, “Dammit, Ranger, you came here hopin’ to take me in. I don’t owe you nothin’, not a thing.” His face flushed with frustration. “This day ain’t brought me nothin’ but bad luck.”
“It hasn’t been lucky for me either.”
Bannister lifted the coat just enough that he could see through the window. “Dark outside. I think the boys are gone.”
“Do you know who they are?”
“Sure, but I ain’t tellin’ you.” Bannister frowned darkly, wrestling with a decision. He demanded, “Are you a married man?”
Bannister said, “I was hopin’ you wasn’t. I don’t want a widow-woman on my conscience. You lay still while I fetch up the horses.”
“We’re fixin’ to travel?”
“We have to. You’re in bad shape now, but you’ll be worse in the mornin’. Once I find somebody who can help you, you’re on your own.”
Andy said, “You’re on the Rangers’ list. There’ll be others come lookin’ for you.”
“You could say you shot me. Then they’d quit huntin’.”
“But one day you’d turn up alive, and I’d be on the list too.”
Bannister grumbled, “Some people have got no gratitude.”
Other Men’s Horses copyright © 2009 by The Estate of Elmer Stephen Kelton
Texas Standoff copyright © 2010 by The Estate of Elmer Stephen Kelton