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Authors: Don Bendell

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BOOK: Blood Feather
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Johnny translated, and in Lakota, Blood Feather asked Johnny if he knew the places mentioned. Johnny told him he did.

The killer stepped toward the hapless cowboy. Timothy saw the giant knife in his hand, and everything became a blur. He felt the excruciating pain in his abdomen, but by the fourth time the blade plunged into him, he felt nothing. His body was left where he fell. Then Blood Feather thought better of it and picked up the body while Johnny followed. He dumped it in the Arkansas River and watched it float rapidly downstream and sink as it filled with water. Next, they caught the man's horse, stripped his saddle and tack off, and tossed that into the river as well.

Blood Feather turned to Johnny, saying, “Now you will show me these places. We must move quietly through the trees.”

Johnny Rabbit Legs was more frightened than at any time in his life. He knew that this monster would kill him as soon as he was finished.

He turned to Blood Feather, saying, “I can keep helping you. If I was to run off, I know you would catch me. If you stop tying me up, I will stay and do what you want and translate for you.”

Blood Feather stared at him with those blank eyes and finally said, “If you run away, I will find you. I will cut your hamstrings, and you will run no more. Then I will build my cooking fire on your stomach.”

Johnny smiled nervously and said in Lakota, “I will not run.”

He wanted to stall as long as he could and help
We Wiyake
in any way that he could so he would be considered invaluable by the killer. That is until something happened, some mistake by
We Wiyake
, and then he could make his escape, maybe even kill Blood Feather somehow.

Joshua Strongheart rode into Cañon City on the dirt road paralleling the Arkansas River but running along the base of the foothills, which stood like a wavy five-mile-long row of sentries in a roughly east-west line between the two towns and protecting both towns from invading mountain goblins, storms, or other unpleasantries.

Gabriel knew where he was and knew this was one of his home areas, and he pranced proudly, tossing his mane and tail from side to side. For a short distance, he did a high-step trot sideways and acted like he had the energy of a young foal. Strongheart simply let him have his fun and enjoyed the ride.

He entered Annabelle's café through the back door. She came into the kitchen to prepare a plate, saw him, and ran into his arms. They kissed passionately.

Touching his eye, she said, “Nice shiner, Strongheart. You are supposed to duck.”

He chuckled.

Handing him a key, she said, “I'm working. Why don't you go to my place, feed and hay Gabe, and rest up? I'll have someone cover for me and be home before the dinner rush.”

Joshua winked and walked out the back door. He looked forward to some real sleep in a real feather bed.

* * *

Joshua opened his eyes and felt weight on the right side of his chest. The morning sun was streaking in the window. Where was he? he wondered. Then he realized he was lying on top of Annabelle's quilted bedspread, but she had apparently put another one over him. Annabelle, in fact, was asleep with her head on his right pectoral muscle and her right arm was draped across his body. There was a hint of a smile on her beautiful face. Now he remembered lying down across her bed before sunset. He must have slept through the night, and all the way until past dawn. He must have really missed a lot of sleep on his trip.

“Good morning, Mr. Strongheart,” came the words that startled him.

He looked into the eyes of the woman he loved. He grinned at her but wondered how he was going to tell her that he had decided their love could not be. It would be just too dangerous for her, and he had already been through a mauling by a grizzly this year and had been very shot up in gunfights the year before. It would just not be fair to expect her to stick around while he lived a very dangerous life. Then again, he thought, maybe he could go into a business of some kind or act as a guide to hunters. He could scout like his new friend Chris Colt did. In fact, he felt sure he could go to Chris Colt and get a good scouting job.

Again, Joshua Strongheart was at odds with himself. He did not know the answer.

“I cannot believe I slept that long,” he said.

Annabelle said, “You must have had no sleep at all on your trip. I got home and you were sleeping so soundly I just didn't want to wake you. I cleaned the house a little and I made you an apple pie. Then, I came in, lay down, and fell asleep, too.”

They finished breakfast and drank coffee while Joshua told her about his trip and his new friend, Chris Colt. Throughout the conversation, he kept thinking about Blood Feather, wondering where he was, what he was planning, when he would strike again. He thought about the vulnerability of Annabelle Ebert being his woman. Little did Joshua Strongheart know that Blood Feather and Johnny Rabbit Legs were in the rocks on the side of Razor Ridge, which ran along the western edge of Cañon City like a five-hundred-foot-wall, and they were looking down at Annabelle's house, clearly seeing Gabriel in the barn behind the house.

Johnny looked over at Blood Feather and spoke in Lakota, “That is the house of the woman he loves. Annabelle Ebert, and that building over there on Main Street with the yellow and black near the roof. That is her lodge, too.”

We Wiyake
looked at his translator with his usual blank stare and lifeless eyes.

He said, “You are not needed now.”

The import of those words hit Johnny instantly, and before he could do anything else, his eyes opened wide and he saw the right arm of Blood Feather streaking toward his head, a brief flash of morning sunlight on the giant blade. Then, almost instantly, there was no more realization. The big knife came close to decapitating Johnny Rabbit Legs as it passed through his neck.

The killer paid no attention to the body next to him. Johnny had served his usefulness and was no longer needed.
We Wiyake
did not think like other men, white or red. The only time he ever felt any emotion was when he killed and struck terror in the hearts of others.

He would now watch and study. He would camp nearby and figure out a plan of action. Even planning such a killing and the stealing of Joshua Strongheart's medicine made him feel again.

He decided to carry Johnny's body away from the area so that buzzards and magpies would not be attracted to this spot, which would be one of his primary lookouts until he was ready to strike.

For the next few days or weeks, however long it took to formulate a plan, Blood Feather would lie or sit still in this perch among the rocks and watch the comings and goings of many
wasicun
men, women, and children in and around Cañon City. He would study Annabelle Ebert and watch her going to and from her house and café, and he would watch the movements of Joshua Strongheart, his prey, and when the time was just right in his mind, he would strike. Strongheart would die and his heart would be eaten and a bloody feather would be left on his lifeless face, a symbol of the power of Blood Feather.

8

The Predator Strikes

Joshua and Annabelle talked for some time, and suddenly there was a knock on her door. She jumped up and looked out the window, a big smile spreading across her face. She opened the door, and a beautiful young lady with long flaming-red hair walked in with a little girl who also had long flaming-red hair.

Joshua stood grinning while Annabelle and the woman hugged and tears spilled down her cheeks.

Annabelle leaned down and shook hands with the little girl saying, “I read about you. You must be Melissa, but they call you Missy, don't they? You are so beautiful. I am your mommy's cousin Belle, and this big man here is my friend Joshua Strongheart.”

Joshua knelt down and said, “Hi Missy. Are you home from college?”

The little girl started giggling and said, “I don't go to college. I'm too small to go to college.”

Joshua said, “You could have fooled me. I thought you were a grown-up lady.”

He shook hands with the mother, and Annabelle said, “Lucy, this is who I wrote you about, Joshua Strongheart. Joshua, this is my first cousin and more like my sister, Lucille Vinnola.”

“Well, I certainly see where Missy got her beautiful red hair from. Nice to meet you, Lucy. Did I hear Annabelle call herself Belle?”

She said, “Yes, everybody in the family called her that while she was growing up.”

Annabelle said, “I picked up Annabelle when I became an officer's wife, but I actually prefer Belle.”

Joshua said, “I think it's beautiful either way, Belle, but I will get used to it. Where did you come from, Lucy?”

“We came by train from Naperville, a village in Illinois, not far from Chicago,” she replied.

She started coughing, and the hacking quickly became so violent that she had to sit down, so Joshua took her gently by the upper arm and sat her at the table. He poured her a glass of water.

Belle said, “Are you okay? Can I do anything?”

Lucy hung her head down and shook it slowly.

Belle grabbed Missy by the hand and, smiling, took her to the door. “Missy,” she said, “would you like to go out front and play in my yard? There is a swing, and I think a neighbor boy left a stick horse out there.”

Missy smiled and said, “Thank you, Belle.”

Annabelle sat down, holding Lucy's hand, and said, “What's wrong, honey?”

Lucy said, “I came here to visit you but really to ask you to watch my daughter for a while.” She explained to Joshua, “I am a widow, too. I lost my husband to consumption two years ago.”

He said, “I am very sorry, Lucy.”

Blood Feather had just returned from carrying Johnny's body a long ways off and hiding it among some rocks and brush. He had not been there watching when Lucy and Missy arrived.

Now he saw the flaming red hair on the little girl in the yard, and he was entranced. This little girl had powerful medicine from Father Sun. Her hair showed it. Blood Feather was transfixed watching her while she played, and he assumed she was Annabelle Ebert's daughter.

Lucy said, “The doctor does not know what is wrong with me, but this cough does not go away and has been getting worse. He said he wanted to send me to a sanatorium in Glenwood Springs, Colorado Territory. I am to stay at the Hotel Glenwood. That is the sanatorium and there is a mineral hot springs there that may do me some good.”

Belle said, “There is a mineral hot springs here in Cañon City—several, in fact.”

Lucy replied, “My doctor's brother is a doctor in Glenwood Springs, and they have cured several people with similar conditions. My doctor has already written him about me.”

Belle said, “Of course, I will be happy to take care of Missy. Don't you worry. She will be fine and happy here.”

Lucy hugged her and both women got tears in their eyes.

Joshua put his hand on the door and said, “I'm going to go groom the horses.”

He walked outside and smiled at Missy playing on a stick horse.

He held out his hand, saying, “Come on, young lady, and help me groom the real horses.”

She got excited and was starved for a father figure, so she jumped into his arms and he carried her back to the barn.

This was not missed by
We Wiyake
, who now assumed she must be the child of Annabelle and Strongheart. The killer was still amazed by the shiny red hair. While he watched, they went to the barn, and only then did Strongheart set her down gently. He handed her a brush and a curry comb and started to show her how to groom the horses, and she loved it.

After a while, Joshua set her up on Gabe's back while he groomed him. Both the horse and the little girl seemed to enjoy this immensely.

Blood Feather seemed to enjoy it even more so . . . if he was capable of enjoying anything. He decided he would sneak down into the town at night and find a telescope or binoculars like he had observed the
wasicun
using to see long distances. It might take several nights, but he would find what he wanted.

It was still daylight when Joshua went to the barn escorted by Missy, and he hooked up Belle's horse to the buggy. This time of year it got dark earlier, and Lucy had to board her train by 7
P.M.,
so he was going to take her, Belle, and Missy to the depot about six-thirty. It was a short distance to the new depot. In fact, Cañon City had just gotten railroad service that year. There was a long piece of leather hanging off one trace chain on the buggy, and Joshua started to grab his knife to cut it off.

Missy stopped him saying, “Here, use my knife.”

She pulled out of her shoe a small pocketknife with a single two-inch blade. She handed it to Joshua. He looked at it, opened it, and tested the sharpness.

Strongheart said, “This knife is larger than you, Pumpkin. How did a pretty little girl like you get a pocketknife?”

“My mommy gave it to me. It was my daddy's,” she replied. “Mommy taught me how to be really, really careful, and how to whittle and how to cut things with it. She said she always wanted me to have a tool like this to help me.”

Strongheart was a little taken aback, but impressed nonetheless, and he could tell this little girl treated her knife with a lot of respect.

It was a long way from
We Wiyake
's perch to Annabelle's house, and he watched this activity as best he could, still stealing glances at the little's girl's hair every chance he could. They were too far away for him to see she was showing a pocketknife.

She and Strongheart finished and went back into the house, and Blood Feather lay his head down on a tree limb arm and took a nap.

Lucy had already prepared Missy for her visit and stay with Belle, so the time was spent with Lucy and Belle catching up on old news and family stories. In the meantime, Joshua spent time with Missy and taught her how to play checkers. She was already very attached to him and secretly in love with him. She wished she was a grown-up so she could marry him.

It was after dark when the four emerged from the house and went to the street side of the barn, where the buggy was braked. Blood Feather was awake, but he could not see the other side of the barn, even in daylight. It was now after dark, and as far as he knew, Joshua, Belle, and their red-haired daughter had gotten into the buggy and ridden toward downtown through the trees. His eyes strained in the darkness to see where they rode, but they did not turn on Main Street. He would have to wait until they returned, but a plan was formulating in his mind. He would kidnap the little girl with the powerful medicine, but he would not eat her heart. She was too sacred. He would keep her and ensure her safety. He would also in that way get Joshua Strongheart to chase him and give him the challenge he sought. First, he needed to find one of those special glasses the
wasicun
use.

After the train left, Strongheart stopped at the Western Union office and sent a telegram to Lucky letting him know where he was and asking if anybody had had any sightings of
We Wiyake
. He told the clerk he would be at the Hot Springs Hotel at the west end of town and to deliver the reply message there. Then he, Belle, and Missy returned to Belle's house.

“Why don't you stay here tonight?” she said.

He replied, “I stayed here last night and felt bad about that, for you.”

She said, “I didn't.”

Joshua replied, “I did, and I need to get in the hot springs anyway. I cut the cast off the other day, and my other wounds are still healing now with no bandages. It will be good for me.”

“I understand,” she said, giving him a kiss, “I'll see you in the morning.”

Missy ran up to him with her arms outstretched, and he swept her up so she could give him a big hug. Joshua winked at Belle and went out the door. In the barn, he saddled Gabriel not knowing that the seven-foot-tall figure of Blood Feather was at the base of Razor Ridge, moving silently toward him using trees for cover. Slowly, carefully, the killer moved forward in the shadows, the patches of darkness his ally.

Strongheart mounted up, and Gabe trotted out of the barn and headed south down the wooded street, toward the downtown section. He passed Main Street, then turned west on the river road, toward the Hot Springs Hotel, and put Gabe into an easy trot. Within a half an hour, Gabe was stabled and eating alfalfa and mountain grama grass hay, while Joshua was easing himself into the warm water.

In the meantime, the monster
We Wiyake
still moved through the shadows and actually bypassed the house. He did not know where Strongheart was going, but he knew he would be back. The predator was singled-minded in purpose right now and knew what he wanted to do.

He made his way down the alley running parallel to Main Street behind the numerous businesses. He came out at the end of the alley and turned south on Fifth Street and to the corner of Main Street. Staying in the shadows, he slowly made his way down Main Street to the first saloon, where four cavalry mounts were tied outside. Quickly, Blood Feather emerged from the shadows and went to each horse, checking it. Cavalry saddlebags were fashioned out of top-grain cowhide and had three straps with buckles holding the flap securely down. It took Blood Feather tense moments to figure out how to unbuckle the straps, but he did, and from the third saddlebag he pulled out a pair of binoculars.

A horse turned the corner into Main Street, and a man on a cremello mare trotted down to the second hitching rail in front of that saloon and then dismounted, tied his horse, and entered. He did not see the sevenfoot-giant lying in the shadows, large knife in his hand, next to the sidewalk by the cavalry horses. If he'd known who was there, all he'd have had to do was draw the Russian .44 he carried and blast into the giant mass of insanity several times, but he was unaware of the lurking danger.

The man went inside the noisy saloon, and
We Wiyake
moved quickly and quietly back to the corner of Fifth Street and turned north. He moved slowly, quietly through the shadows by all the houses, and in an hour was back at his perch on Razor Ridge, now armed with binoculars, which would help him to survey Annabelle Ebert's house more readily.

Joshua Strongheart really was starting to feel himself again. His broken arm had healed pretty well, as had many of the aches and pains from the grizzly attack. He could not believe how many scars he had for a man so relatively young, but he also felt it meant there was a good chance he had received his share of scars for a lifetime. He also was amazed by the fact that both he and his natural father bore the scars of a grizzly bear attack. He wondered if that had ever happened in history or ever would again. The hot springs really seemed to help him recuperate, and he was enjoying the time in the water.

A young man brought him a message from Western Union, and he had the youngster bring him his trousers and gave him a tip, which brought a smile from the boy.

He read the reply from Lucky, which read:

No sightings of killer STOP 2 draft horses stolen STOP 1 in Colorado Springs area STOP 1 in Auraria STOP Good report on Comanche STOP Investigate Colorado Springs theft STOP See local sheriff STOP Good luck STOP

Joshua dried off and headed to his room, deciding he had to leave in the morning, before daybreak. He would leave a note for Belle at her café. He would also be unseen by Blood Feather, but of course he did not know that. Joshua figured to be gone close to a week. It was a forty-six-mile ride to Colorado Springs, and he would also need to visit the location where the draft horse was stolen from, interview witnesses, and see if he could determine if it was stolen by
We Wiyake
. In the meantime, he knew that Lucky would assign another Pinkerton to check out the draft horse theft in Auraria.

It was well before daybreak when Strongheart took off toward Colorado Springs, first heading east toward Pueblo but soon turning north toward Colorado Springs on the well-worn stage coach road that would take him along the base of the foothills to Pikes Peak. He did not want to push Gabe too hard after all the traveling they had just done. He would go halfway or more to Colorado Springs and camp for the night, then go on the next day.

At daybreak Missy and Belle emerged from the house and walked toward downtown, holding hands and chatting.
We Wiykae
watched with his new binoculars and could not remove his eyes from “the little one touched by the Great Spirit.” He kept watching and caught glimpses of them walking west on Main Street and then saw them opening the front of Belle's café and entering. He figured that Strongheart must be asleep inside the house. Blood Feather napped and waited all day, and then he noticed that Gabriel was no longer in the barn. Now he knew that Joshua had left sometime, maybe while he slept. That did not matter to the killer, though. He had his plan and would soon carry it out.

That night, when the café closed, looking through his glasses Blood Feather watched Annabelle lock the door and leave with Missy. Even at that distance the two were obviously happy. Belle had found the note on her back door from Joshua that morning, so she knew he would be back soon, and she was thankful for that. She was also grateful for her niece's company. Although Missy was not actually her niece, she seemed like one, and to Missy, Belle was the same as an aunt, not her mommy's cousin.

BOOK: Blood Feather
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