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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Hot Iron and The Time It Never Rained

Elmer Kelton

Forge Books

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1


Espy Norwood found Matt Ollinger’s herd just about the way he had figured he would. He put his horse down the gentle slope in an easy trot and rode in toward the railroad shipping pens. His bay horse shied off like a raw bronc and rolled its nose excitedly at the steaming locomotive which waited there, a tendril of coal smoke spiraling up from its high smokestack into the open Kansas sky. A long string of stock cars stretched out behind it on the cinder-stained spur track.

Norwood edged his horse through the shadow of the tall water tower and circled around the sprawling railroad pens. Five years under the blazing sun had bleached the raw color from the rough-sawed lumber and left it a leaden gray.

Spring grass inside the pens had made its full growth and now was curing under the summer sky, undisturbed by trampling hoofs. These out-of-the-way pens were not used much, Norwood observed. That would be Ollinger’s reason for bringing the cattle here.

Beyond the corrals Norwood saw what he had expected, a dusty veil hovering brown over a bunched-up herd of rangy cattle. There was little bawling. Had there been, the easy drift of the earth-warm breeze would have carried it to him. No, this was a quiet bunch, a steer herd.

Norwood stood in his stirrups, squinting his gray eyes to count the men who ringed the cattle. Dressed in saddle-worn, brush-ripped range clothes with the dust and grime rubbed deep into the fabric, he was a medium-tall man with back as straight as the barrel of a Winchester. His unshaven chin set rigid and grave. His uncompromising gray eyes right now were blunt as bullet ends. He looked his thirty-five years and more, a man on whom the years had burned a deep brand.

With one quick glance behind him, he reached down and pulled the saddle gun out of its scabbard. He loaded it, placed it across the pommel in front of him, and gently touched spurs to the bay’s grain-swelled sides. Out yonder, on the near side of the herd, he saw the man he wanted.

Warily watching the riders who held the herd, Norwood nevertheless let his eyes search over the gathering of steers. They were stockman’s eyes, appraising the cattle out of long habit and the knowledge accumulated through years on horseback. These were Texas stock, not what the settlers called “American cattle.” They were long of leg and horn, and sprinkled with every color a beef animal could have. Likely they had come up the trail from Texas the year before and spent the winter on a northern range. They didn’t carry the flesh that a full summer would give them. But they were fat enough to do.

Norwood’s gaze searched over the brands he saw on the rangy hips and stretchy sides. He pulled up short at the sight of one. It was meant to be a cloverleaf. For the time it takes to draw a deep breath, Norwood’s gray eyes narrowed with the promise of anger.

Burnt cattle, he thought.

Then he edged away again, eyes leveling on the man who rode out to meet him.

Matt Ollinger reined up so that his horse and Norwood’s were touching heads. Ollinger was a heavy-shouldered man with a bristly black beard sprinkled gray by dust, and with washed-out eyes that seemed to look through a man. His hostile gaze dropped to Norwood’s saddle gun.

Its muzzle pointed at his stomach.

His expression never altered. He cupped huge hands over the high horn of his saddle.

“We’re grown men, Norwood,” he said evenly. “There’s no reason for us to pretend anything to each other. I don’t like you and you don’t like me. I’m working cattle here. I’d be much obliged if you just kept a-riding.”

Espy Norwood leaned forward, his hand tight on the saddle gun. “I figure on doing a little cattle work myself. With these cattle.”

Ollinger’s eyes were bottomless pools. His hands eased backward on the saddle horn. He bore a hard name, and he knew it better than anyone. The name Matt Ollinger brought a quiver of fear to many men. There were five notches on his gun, some said. Others declared it was more.

Ollinger said, “There’s no call for trouble between us, Norwood.”

Norwood gave him a brittle smile. “There needn’t be any, Matt. But somebody stole a bunch of Colonel Judkins’s steers up north. I’m checking this herd for them.”

Ollinger’s hand edged back toward the six-shooter that rested in a greasy holster at his hip. It lifted quickly again as Norwood’s knuckles whitened against his saddle gun.

“You’ll find no Judkins cattle here,” Ollinger gritted.

“Maybe not. But we’re going to look.”

Color squeezed into Ollinger’s face. “Nobody’s cutting this herd. I got six men here, besides myself. You can’t buck seven of us, Norwood. Not alone.”

Norwood said, “I’m not alone.” He pointed his chin northward.

Ollinger turned in the saddle, then stiffened. Down from a low ridge eight men came riding. Eight men, riding abreast. Even through the restless dust, it was easy to tell that they were well-armed.

Yes, Matt Ollinger had a reputation. Man with nerves like rawhide, they said. Fearless. A killer.

But Espy Norwood could smell the fear that rose in the man, that rippled just beneath the skin. And he knew the reputation for what it was—a hoax.

Norwood said, “Four hundred and fifty head, maybe five hundred, the colonel lost off of his winter range in Wyoming. You took them, Matt. You didn’t know it, but we’ve watched you. We let you winter them, let you drive them down here.

“You were afraid to risk loading them at Dodge, where somebody might take too close a look. So you picked this place.”

Ollinger shook his head. “You’re wrong, Norwood. All wrong.”

Norwood’s eight men had reached the herd. They scattered, one man reining up beside each of Ollinger’s men. Espy could see the guns drop. The two extra riders jogged around to Norwood. One of them pointed his long jaw toward the cattle.

“That cloverleaf or whatever it is—looks to me like somebody took a running iron to the JB Connected that was on them Texas steers the colonel bought last fall.”

Norwood nodded. “That’s the way I saw it. Rope one out, Tommy. We’ll make sure.”

Tommy Jensen shook down his rope and settled the loop around the horns of a rangy, motley-faced steer. The steer crow-hopped, slinging his head and fighting the rope as the cowboy dragged him away from the other cattle. The second man roped the steer’s heels. They stretched him out.

Kneeling on the steer’s side, Jensen fingered the brand, peering closely at it. He looked up, frowning. “Hard to tell, Espy.”

“If the brand’s been altered, it’ll show under the hide. Shoot him.”

Ollinger exploded. “Them’s my cattle, Norwood. Kill one and I’ll have the marshal on you.”

Norwood said evenly, “If we’re wrong, we’ll pay you for him. If we’re right…”

He let it hang there. Ollinger’s jaw ridged under a dirt-crusted beard.

Tommy Jensen aimed at the base of the steer’s horns. The animal jerked and fell limp. Jensen skinned down a big flap of hide, exposing the back side of the brand. He swore gently, then cut off the piece of hide.

“You don’t owe him a nickel, Espy.”

Norwood’s eyes hardened. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small book. “How many steers in this herd, Matt?”

Ollinger hesitated. “Seven hundred and thirty.”

Norwood handed him the book and a stub pencil, keeping one hand on the saddle gun all the time.

“Write out a bill of sale to the colonel. Seven hundred and thirty steers.”

Ollinger’s eyes crackled. He hurled the book to the ground. “You can’t get away with this. I know you, Espy Norwood. You’re nothing but a sodden, whisky-soaked…”

The butt of Norwood’s saddle gun struck him across the mouth. The sound of it was like the breaking of a dry mesquite stick. Ollinger tumbled from the saddle, landing in a heap. Groggily he struggled to his knees, the blood trickling down his beard in a crooked, dirty line.

“Get up, Matt,” Norwood breathed. Slowly Ollinger got to his feet, his face aflame. He flexed his gun hand, weighing his chances.

But he saw something in Norwood’s eyes, something that stopped him. He saw death pushing hard against a restraining will.

And Ollinger’s counterfeit metal crumbled before the keen steel of Norwood’s stare. His shoulders slumped. He reached down and picked up the book where it had fallen. He took the pencil and began to scrawl.

Norwood reached into his pocket and withdrew two gold pieces. “Make it for ten dollars and considerations,” he said.

In a minute Ollinger handed him the book. Norwood pitched the coins to the ground at his feet.

Futile anger rippling in his face, Ollinger asked, “What about the considerations?”

Norwood stared levelly at him. “The considerations are that we don’t leave you hanging from that water tower yonder. We ought to. Now take your men and get away from here, Matt.”

Ollinger looked at the steers, his shoulders sagging in defeat. Six months he had spent working up to this day. Now he had lost everything in six minutes. Frustration and anger darkened his face. But outweighing them was the realization that he was whipped. “All right, Norwood,” he spoke quietly, rubbing his mouth where blood still trickled, and a deep blue splotch was growing. “But there’ll be another time.”

“There’d better not be,” Norwood told him. “Next time, I’ll kill you.”


2


Colonel Walter Judkins’s outer office was a reflection of the man himself. Expansive and comfortable. Just well enough kept to prevent it from looking disreputable. It was one place in this crazy, sprawling Kansas City where a man just in off the prairie and the smoky cattle trains could stretch out and feel halfway at ease.

Espy Norwood slacked on a well-stuffed divan, waiting, his legs crossed. He was clean-shaven now, and the shave had taken much of the hard look from him. He could still smell the soap from the hotel bath. He wore a new-bought shirt, its clean collar a gleaming white against the walnut brown of his skin.

His gray eyes leisurely roamed over the familiar room. A great man for books, the colonel was. All around the place, broad shelves bulged with them. And between the shelves, framed pictures covered up the walls. The old colonel’s love of livestock showed in most of them. Here was a painting of a Thoroughbred stallion, unlike any real horse that ever lived. Yonder was a glorified version of a Durham bull pawing sand, his huge head lowered in lusty challenge.

And there in the center, over the heavy mahogany desk, hung the framed U.S. Army commission which had carried the colonel through from Shiloh and Gettysburg to the finish at Appomattox, a long time ago. Directly above that yellowing piece of paper were the portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, joined in a single gilded frame.

Time was when such as that would have set the blood aboil in many a Texas man. But Espy Norwood was long since used to it and accepted it in stride. He had been but a gangling boy when the war was fought. His father had ridden off with the men of the gray, leaving Espy to take care of a mother and six little brothers and sisters. Biggest job he had was to burn the Norwood brand on the increase from the cattle herd each year, and to keep the Norwood cattle from scattering all over the coastal country of South Texas, as other war-neglected herds were doing.

He had done a good job of it, for a kid. But by the time his father came riding home with an empty sleeve and an age far beyond his years, the cattle weren’t worth the powder it would take to shoot them. The family’s shack was small, and the larder was smaller. So Espy Norwood rolled his scant belongings into a warbag and set forth to forage for himself. He had become a wandering, homeless kid in a land of wandering, homeless people, a restless people, aggressive, proud in poverty, never admitting defeat.

A loud argument was shaking the thin walls of Colonel Judkins’s inner office. Espy knew it was none of his business, but he couldn’t help hearing it, even through the closed door. He easily recognized the old colonel’s thundering voice.

“You’ve made a profit every year, gentlemen. Not always a big profit, but a profit, at least. The way I see it, you haven’t got any kick coming.”

The answer snapped back in a sharp, piercing voice that Espy knew came from somewhere far east. “The Great Plains Land and Cattle Company came up with a twenty per cent return for its investors last year. Our syndicate made only five per cent. We’re being cheated, Colonel. And we’re going to put a stop to it.”

Espy could almost hear the colonel’s sudden, sharp intake of breath. “Slagel, are you trying to say that I’ve been cheating you?”

The answer was as cold and unwavering as a steel blade. “Perhaps you, Colonel, perhaps someone else. But we’re being cheated.”

An angry hand flung the office door open. The colonel stood there stiffly, his arm outstretched. “Get out, Slagel. Get out before I take a horsewhip to you.”

The man named Slagel walked out, holding a soft fedora in his long hands and a cane under his arm. He was a tall, spidery man with a sharp, malevolent face that matched his voice. He was immaculately dressed in long, closely-tailored black coat and gray striped trousers which broke correctly across his expensive shoes.

He was followed by another, much shorter, man dressed in much the same manner, a self-important little man whose own indignation seemed to be merely a careful copy of Slagel’s.

Slagel stopped and faced the colonel again. “We have better and safer investments for our money, Judkins. We will be more than happy to pull out of your wild scheme.”

The portly colonel stood there with his short beard bristling. “Let me remind you, sir, that you signed binding contracts.”

“Those contracts protected us as well as bound us, Colonel. One sign of fraud anywhere will relieve us of obligation. And mark my word, Judkins, we’ll find fraud. Next month I’m going to take a group of our directors and attorneys to that ranch. If we find anything amiss, Colonel, you’ll answer for it. We’ll pull our money out of that company—every last dime!”

Espy had gotten to his feet as the men came out of the office. He stood in front of the outer door, anger nettling him. Nobody had the right to accuse the colonel of fraud.

Slagel noticed Espy for the first time. Fixing a hostile gaze upon him, he slipped the cane from under his arm. He pointed it at Espy, making a quick, sideward motion with it.

“Step aside there,” he ordered sharply.

A stubborn thrust of anger made Espy hold back a moment, glaring. Then he eased to one side just enough that Slagel could edge by. The shorter man followed closely with a frowning glance at Espy.

Colonel Judkins walked up to the door and slammed it after the men, slammed it so hard that the picture frames rattled against the wall. He stood a moment, staring at the closed door, his fists clenched. Then some of the angry color drained from his full face. He turned to Espy, forcing a weak smile that quickly died. “Hello, Espy.” He grasped the range man’s rough hand in his own, his left hand on Espy’s arm. “I’ve been expecting you, Espy. Sorry you had to come at a time like this.”

He looked out the open window toward the stockyards, from which came drifting the sound of bawling cattle. “Been a hard day, Espy. I need a drink.” Worriedly he glanced at the man with the saddle-warped frame. “Would it bother you if I took one?”

Espy shook his head, a slow smile on his face. “It’s been a year since I had the last one, Colonel. Go right ahead. It won’t bother me.”

Tiredly Colonel Judkins walked into his inner office. He reached into a heavy cabinet and took out two bottles. He studied them intently, then decided upon one with a firm nod of his gray head. He put the other one back and poured a healthy-sized drink into a glass. He downed it, his face tightening, then relaxing slowly.

“Funny,” he observed, “how different this stuff can be for different people. For some, like you, it’s poison. For some, like me, it’s a real tonic.” He strode to his desk and picked up a small cedar box. He opened the lid and held the box out for Espy. “Straight from Havana.”

Espy took one, and the colonel got one for himself. He bit the end off and missed the spittoon with it by a foot and a half. He struck a sulphur match on the underside of the expensive mahogany desk and drew long and hard until the end of the cigar began to glow. He flipped the smoking match at the spittoon and missed again.

He savored the cigar a moment, his anger slowly dwindling away. A mild pleasure tugged upward at the corners of his gray-shot beard, which he kept clipped in the style of Ulysses S. Grant. “How’s your son getting along, Espy?” he asked after a bit.

Espy Norwood’s face tightened suddenly. “Well, I guess. I haven’t been to see him yet.”

“Good kid. Nine years old now, isn’t he?”

“Ten.”

The colonel smiled ironically. “That’s the trouble when you start getting old. Every time you turn around, there’s another year gone.” He fished in his pocket and brought out a silver dollar. “When you see him, Espy, give him this for me.”

Then the colonel’s face was serious again. “That was quite a stroke you pulled off with Matt Ollinger out there. Everybody on the Kansas City yards had the story inside of a day.”

Seated, Espy Norwood drew thoughtfully on his cigar, not answering. The colonel went on.

“Worries me, though. Matt Ollinger has a hard name.”

A deep frown darkened Espy’s square face. “A name given to him by men he’s managed to buffalo. He’s a four-flusher, a bluffer.”

“Sometimes it’s the coward who’s the most dangerous.”

Espy nodded. “I know. Might be I ought to’ve killed him.”

Pensively the colonel rolled the cigar around in his mouth. “I’m glad you didn’t. Somebody else will, in due time. There’s no reason it should be us. I had enough of that a long time ago, Espy.”

“I know, sir.”

An uneasy silence hovered about the colonel then.

Now’s the time to tell him, Espy thought. But after all these years, he dreaded it, and he held back.

The thought struck Espy that the old man had aged a lot in the months since he had last seen him. Certainly the worry lines in his high forehead had pinched a little deeper, and a broodiness had taken the old spark out of the coffee-bean brown of his eyes.

“Espy,” Colonel Judkins spoke abruptly, looking out the window again, “how would you like to go back to Texas?”

Espy straightened. His first reaction was a quick warmth of pleasure. It had been a long time. “Some cattle you want bought down there?”

The colonel still faced the window, his wrinkled hands clasped behind his black coat and the cigar smoke forming a soft cloud over his head. “Not this time, Espy. This job is bigger. I want you to save me from going bankrupt!” The old man turned to see Espy’s jaw drop with surprise. “Yes, Espy, that’s what I said. Bankrupt.”

Espy’s hands seemed to weaken, and the cigar lost its taste. Bankrupt. He’d seen other big speculators like the colonel go that way. But somehow the colonel was something special. Espy had never seriously considered that it could happen to the old man. He winced at a genuine touch of pain. The colonel was a good Yankee.

Pointing his chin at the outer door, Espy asked, “Is that what the argument was all about?”

The colonel nodded, sinking his heavy frame into a leather-covered chair. Judkins’s worried brown eyes fastened themselves on Espy’s. “You remember the ranch I helped an English syndicate to buy a half interest in? The Figure 4 outfit down below the Canadian?

“Well, there may not be anything wrong, Espy. It may be just imagination. But on the other hand, there may be a lot wrong. You’ve got to find out for me. Safest deal in the world, it looked like when we went down there. A broad, open, new grassland in the Texas Panhandle. Good country, good as you’ll find anywhere on the Staked Plains. Frank Bowman had gotten there among the first, and he had taken over lots of land. He had good cattle, and he had the reputation of being a good manager. But he needed cash for one reason or another, and the syndicate was in the heat to invest some English capital. So we bought in with Bowman.

“But we haven’t made as much money as they thought we ought to. You know how it is. All over Europe, promoters have been painting a bright green picture about all the money that’s to be made in the cow business. Like that stuff about the Great Plains Land and Cattle Company. Twenty per cent. Horsefeathers!

“Now Slagel’s a New York lawyer for the syndicate, and he’s found some new scheme he wants to sink the syndicate money into. But he can’t get at it if he can’t pull it out of the Figure 4. He’s fanned up a lot of unrest among the stockholders. When he hits that ranch next month, he’ll go over it with a fine-tooth comb. He’d give his right arm to find something I can’t explain.”

His brown eyes were clouded with worry. “If the syndicate does pull out from under me, Espy, I’m ruined. Broke.”

Espy fidgeted. Tell him now, he said to himself, before he asks you to do something and you can’t refuse him. But instead, he queried, “What could I do about it?”

“Maybe a lot, Espy. You see, when we bought in with Frank Bowman, we consented to let him go on being the manager. But in event of his death, the syndicate was to be allowed to name the new manager. Frank Bowman is dead. Died of a stroke four weeks ago. Now I’m sending you down there as manager.”

Espy swallowed hard. He arose unsteadily, then sat down again. He took the cigar from his mouth and noted distractedly that it was dead. “Colonel, I’m just a cattle buyer, not a ranch manager. The boots are too big for me. I can’t do it.”

The colonel’s face puckered. “Espy,” he said at length, “you’ve had it in mind for years to buy a place of your own some day, a place to take your son. If you had a chance to get such a place, you’d grab it in a hurry, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t worry about whether or not you could manage it.”

Espy’s guard came up instinctively. He could feel himself being hazed into a blind trap. “No, sir, I reckon I wouldn’t.”

“Then, Espy, if you could do it for yourself, you could do it for me.” The colonel was pointing his cigar like he would point a gun. “There’s more to this than just managing a ranch. Much as I hate to admit it, there may be a little something in what Slagel says. That ranch hasn’t paid off like it should have. Maybe we’ve been cheated. Maybe the management is just a little loose.

“I liked Frank Bowman. He seemed like a prince of a man to me. Capable, hard-working, ambitious. And as kind a man as you’d ever run into. But if something’s wrong, I want to know about it. And I want it straightened out before Slagel gets there with his wrecking crew.”

Espy still shook his head. “It’s too big for me, Colonel. You ought to send somebody else.”

“We have, Espy. The syndicate’s had first one man, then another one down there half the time. They weren’t of my choosing. Mostly they were just black sheep that some English family wanted to be shed of for a while. All most of them could ever do was get drunk and make obnoxious asses of themselves.

“Geoffrey Spence was the only one of them who was ever worth a dime. He went there about a month before Bowman died. He was smart, that Spence was. Had a way of looking right through you, like he could read everything that was on your mind. He wrote me a couple of letters. There was something down there he didn’t like, Espy. He didn’t say what it was, but he indicated that he was on the trail of something. Trouble was, he didn’t get to finish.”

“What happened to him?”

“Well, he was a great hand for hunting. That was his only weakness, I guess. Had a whole set of guns with him. One day he went out to shoot some prairie chickens and didn’t come back. They found him dead, shot by his own gun.”

“Accident?”

“Looked that way. Must have tripped and shot himself.”

Thoughtfully Espy tugged at his ear. “Still, Colonel, if he had found out something, there’s always a chance it wasn’t an accident.”

Colonel Judkins nodded. “That’s why I want you to go down there. If there’s anything wrong, you’re the man who can straighten it out. And you’re the man who will come back in one piece.”

Espy wanted to go. The thought of a return to Texas started needles to prickling his skin, and he could almost taste the sharp, tangy air of the Texas high country, the great, sweeping plains of the Llano Estacado.

But he shook his head. His gaze touched the cabinet where Judkins kept his whisky. “Aren’t you forgetting one thing, Colonel?”

Judkins saw what he was looking at. “A year ago, Espy, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it. But today, I’d never be afraid of you. Not a bit. I’m willing to bet on you, if you’re willing to bet on yourself.”

This time it was Espy who walked to the window and stood looking out, his hands clenched. He tasted the gentle drift of dust that came in from over the stockyards, and his mind ran back to other days, and other cattle, and other times he’d tasted that dust. There had been a time he would have taken a job like this on the fly, without ever looking back. That was when Jeannie had been alive, and he had been a reckless young cowboy with the world by the tail on a downhill pull.

Lots of things were different now. He wished he had the confidence in himself that the colonel seemed to have in him. That matter of the colonel’s whisky. It had bothered him, watching the colonel empty that glass. Even after a year or more, it still beckoned him like the legendary mermaids he had read about, luring ships to the rocks. Even now there were times he wrestled with it, wrestled harder than he could admit even to himself.

For there was something a man could do about most of his enemies. He could whip them, kill them, or drive them away. But when his biggest enemy was himself, what was a man to do? He could run and run, yet always his enemy was there, a coyote lurking in the shadows just beyond the campfire, biding its time.

Memory brought the taste of Texas back to him, an early-spring taste, cool and fresh, and sweet with the promise of rain.

But his mind settled on something else, a boy ten years old, a boy who had barely known his father the last three or four years.

“Colonel,” Espy said at length, “I hate to turn you down, but you’ve got to find you somebody else. For a long time now I’ve had my mind made up. I’ve promised myself I was going to start staying close to Kenny. I’ve been on the go a way too much these last few years. Always on the trail, or fixing to leave, or just getting back. But I’m going to change that.

“I’m going to get me a job that’ll let me stay here. Something on the stockyards maybe. I’m going to get to know my boy again, the way I used to a long time ago when his mother was living.”

There was more he could have said, but that he would have told no man. Like the worrisome reserve that held back the love from Kenny’s thin face when Espy went to see him nowadays. It was as if this rough, sun-browned man with the long-reaching look of the plains in his eyes was not his father at all, but, instead, a stranger who occasionally dropped in from some strange land, then rode away again, leaving him as always, in the care of his Aunt Margaret.

There was that night more than a year ago, a memory that always brought an upward surge of shame. Espy Norwood had been in Dodge City, taking delivery on cattle he had bought for the colonel. The hot, dusty day’s work over, he had slumped into a chair at a table in the Alhambra and taken his supper from a bottle. That was his habit often in those days, when the only way he knew to stop memories from tearing at his soul was to keep them drowned in whisky.

Sometime far into the night he had gripped the bottle, shouldered his way through the milling throng that crowded the smoky room, and staggered up the street to the frame hotel. He had been singing some raucous ditty as he weaved up the stairs and shoved open his door, his big hand clenched on the neck of the bottle.

Somehow he got it through his thickened brain that the lamp was burning. Then his cloudy eyes saw them sitting there waiting for him—Jeannie’s sister Margaret, and little Kenny. She had brought the boy out from Kansas City for a surprise visit.

Sight of them sobered him the way cold water settles the grounds in a boiling pot of coffee. But it was already too late. As long as he lived, he would never forget the stricken look that chilled the gray eyes of his son.

He had babbled some explanation, but Margaret angrily led the boy out of the room and out of the hotel. In fury at himself, Espy hurled the bottle through the open window. It was the last one he had ever touched.

Espy could see the colonel’s shoulders slump in disappointment. “I’m sorry, Colonel,” Espy said. “You can find someone better than me. I’ve got a lot to make up to Kenny for. And I’m going to start now.”


Hot Iron copyright © 1956 by Elmer Stephen Kelton Estate

The Time It Never Rained copyright © 1973, 1984 by Elmer Stephen Kelton Estate