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Authors: Ralph Cotton

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High Wild Desert

BOOK: High Wild Desert
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As Lang looked away for a second, the Ranger stepped in quick and swung the rifle butt across his jaw. Lang went sideways to the ground. The gun flew from his hand and landed at Adele's feet. She picked it up as the Ranger stood over Lang and stuck the tip of the rifle barrel down behind Lang's ear. Lang tried to raise his head. But Sam shoved it down with the rifle barrel.

“Game's over, Cisco,” he said. “Lie still or I'll give you another one.”

Looking sidelong through swirling eyes, Cisco saw the gun in Adele's hand. “Sh-shoot him, Adele,” he managed to say.

Sam looked around and saw her gripping the gun tight, the barrel pointed loosely at him. He gave her a questioning look.

“Decide here and now, ma'am,” he said firmly, stepping back from Lang lying on the ground, seeing the downed outlaw wasn't going to do anything for a while. “The gun's in your hand.”

“Gun-smoked believability . . . a hard hand to beat.”—Terry Johnson


Ralph Cotton



Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014, USA

USA / Canada / UK / Ireland / Australia / New Zealand / India / South Africa / China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

For more information about the Penguin Group visit

First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

First Printing, April 2003

Copyright © Ralph Cotton, 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.


ISBN 978-1-101-60899-9


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.



Title Page





Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5



Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18



Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24


Excerpt from RED MOON

For Mary Lynn . . . of course


Chapter 1

Painted Desert, Badlands Territory

Arizona Territory Ranger Sam Burrack stepped down from his saddle on the dusty street of Humbly and reined his bear-paw Appaloosa, Black Pot, to an iron hitch rail. Beside his dust-streaked stallion, he reined up a spindly-legged roan gelding carrying the body of Ernest Trulock tied down across its back. Next to the roan, he tied a black-maned bay. Its rider, Harvey “Cisco”
Lang, stepped down and took an awkward stance, his hands cuffed in front of him, a third cuff at the end of a two-foot chain holding him fastened to his saddle horn.

“This is a hell of a rig you've invented here, Ranger,” Lang said, shaking the chain to his cuffs. “Are you expecting to make any money on it?”

“I didn't invent it,” Sam replied. “It came from a blacksmith at the Ranger outpost.” Dismissing the matter, he said, “Where will I find Rastatler?”

Lang shrugged and looked all around the half-abandoned high desert town.

“Beats me,” he said. Then he said, “What that blacksmith don't know won't hurt him, I don't reckon. Like as not, you could claim these cuffs as your own invention, and by the time news of it got back to him, you'd be a rich man.”

The Ranger looked back and forth warily along the dusty street. Along the hill line stretching north to south beyond town, he saw no rise of trail dust, no sign of anybody fleeing.

“That wouldn't be honest,” he replied.

Honest . . . ?
You got me there,” said Lang, a slight smile showing through his black, dust-caked beard stubble. “Of course, if you're that particular you could always give him a little something to settle him up. See what I'm saying?”

“Yeah, I hear you, Cisco,” Sam said quietly, his eyes pulling back into Humbly, scanning the rooflines, the doorways, the alleys. Lang hadn't said three words all morning. Now that they were in Humbly, where Lang had assured him Sheldon Rastatler would be hiding out, the outlaw couldn't seem to shut himself up.

The Ranger drew his Winchester from its saddle boot and wiped dust off its butt. He stepped over in front of Lang, unlocked the cuff from the saddle horn, pulled Lang over and fastened the third cuff to the iron hitch rail.

“Hell, Ranger,” said Lang, “you didn't have to do that. We've been getting along well. I'm not going anywhere. Don't you trust me?”

Sam just looked at him.

“What I mean is,” Lang said, “I'm not going to try anything foolish. I've learned my lesson. All I want to do is get my time done at Yuma and get myself started in a new life. I'm what you'd call a changed man—
, if you will. Far as I'm concerned, my days of outlawry and untoward shenanigans are over and I'm—”

His words of contrition stopped short as a voice called out from farther down the empty street.

“Ranger, it's me, Sheldon Rastatler,” a man in weathered trail clothes and a riding duster called out from beneath the wide brim of a tall-crowned Stetson hat. “I know you're dogging me. I won't have it.” As he spoke he stepped sideways slowly until he stood in the middle of the street.

“Shoot him, Shel! Kill him!” Lang shouted. “Get me freed up here, pard!”

“You brought him here, Cisco, you rotten cur,” the outlaw shouted out in reply. “I ought to kill you first.”

“I had no choice, Shel,” Lang shouted. “He's beat me, pistol-whipped me, threatened to kill me, kill my horse!”

The Ranger poked him a sharp blow to the ribs with the tip of his Winchester.

“Shut up, Lang,” Sam said. “I can't even hear what the man's trying to say.”

Lang grunted and fell silent, his cuffed hands clutching his pained ribs.

“Poke him again, Ranger,” said Rastatler from fifty feet away, his duster pulled back behind a big holstered Remington on his right side. “Shoot the fool in the head for all I care.”

“You don't mean that, Sheldon,” Lang called out in a strained voice. “We've been pals too many years.”

“Oh, I mean it,” said Rastatler. “Fact is, I always figured you'd jackpot me and ol' Trulock. I so much as told him so. Watch Cisco Lang like a hawk—don't turn your back on him, I always said. He wouldn't listen. Now look at him.” He gave a nod toward the dust-covered body sprawled across the horse at the hitch rail.

“I didn't get him killed, Sheldon,” said Lang. “It was his own stupidity that caused him to look around just because someone called out his name. What kind of fool looks around like that?”

As the two outlaws argued, Sam had stepped sidelong away from the horses and moved out to the middle of the street, his Winchester cocked and in his hands.

“It makes no difference to me,” said Rastatler. “Soon as this law dog's lying dead on the ground, look for me to come over there and gut you with my spurs for siccing him on me, knowing my name's high up on his wanted list.” He looked away from Lang, back to the Ranger.

“Let me make it clear before we start,” the Ranger said. “Your name's not on my list at all. I came after the three of you because I was nearby when you robbed the mercantile in Farm Town Settlement.”

“Not on the list?” said Rastatler. He sounded disappointed, taken aback.

“No,” said the Ranger.

“Then why'd you kill Trulock?” Rastatler asked.

“He threw down on me,” said the Ranger in a firm tone, “the same way you're about to do.”

“And we never were on your list?” Rastatler said, seeming to have a hard time dealing with the matter. Being on the Ranger's list had become a dark and short-lived honor to many of the thieves, killers, lowlifes and swindlers in the Four Corners area of the territory badlands.

“I once rode with the Painted Gang,” Rastatler said, as if that fact might boost his suddenly deflated image.

“Good for you,” said the Ranger. “But so has every other gunman who's wandered in this Painted Desert. Yuma Prison is full of the Painted Gang. Some have learned to live like civilized human beings, under their circumstances.”

“Yeah?” said Rastatler. “How about Old Byron Tappet? Is he still wilder than a three-eyed—”

“My point is,” Sam said, cutting his conversation short, “you can give yourself up, like your pard here.”

“This rotten bucket of slop is no pard of mine, Ranger,” said Rastatler.

At the hitch rail, Lang gave a flat smile and waved his cuffed hands.

“I'm saying you don't have to die here in Humbly,” Sam said, trying to get him to forgo his anger at Lang and focus on the matter at hand.

“I'll go to hell before I give myself up,” said Rastatler. “I ain't spending my life breaking rocks beside that son of a—” He grabbed the butt of the Remington and started to swing the gun up into play.

A shot from the Ranger's Winchester hit him dead center, lifted him backward off the ground and turned him up in a complete back flip, like some acrobatic performer. The outlaw hit the ground face-first and trembled for a second. Then his life seemed to drain down out of him into the arid dirt.

The Ranger walked forward, keeping an eye on the roofline, levering a fresh round into the rifle chamber.

“If I was you, I'd shoot him again,” Lang called out from his spot at the hitch rail. “But that's just me, Ranger,
to a fault—a trait you might consider mentioning to the prison board, on my behalf.”

I don't know how I'm going to put up with this one all the way to Yuma,
Sam thought, walking a few steps along the street of the dusty, near-abandoned town. He stopped when he saw a fresh familiar set of boot prints appear out of an alleyway and circle around to the front door of a small saloon. Fresh, because the wind and passing sagebrush had not yet swept away the distinct edges of the soles. Familiar, because he'd seen this stride pattern in a clearing along his trail only the day before.

Whoever wore these boots had a slight pigeon-toed gate—bowlegged, no doubt, he told himself, knowing that to usually be the case. Rifle ready, he stepped onto a dusty boardwalk. Making no attempt to quiet his footsteps on the rough planks, he walked straight and steadily toward a pair of weathered batwing doors. But instead of walking inside, he quickly turned, pressed his back to the wall beside the doors, reached out and shoved them open with his rifle barrel.

From the saloon's dark interior, three pistol shots roared; bullets tore through the doors in a spray of splinters. Following the sound and the flash of fire, the Ranger swung around to his left, took quick aim above the hard-swinging door and fired at the figure standing crouched in front of the bar.

The bullet hit its target and hurled the gunman backward against the bar. The man's pistol roared again, but this time only in reflex, his finger squeezing the trigger as he melted straight down to the floor and fell face-forward.

“Jesus, Ranger!” Lang shouted from down the street at the hitch rail. “Are you going to kill everybody!”

Without answering, Sam gave him a hard stare and levered another round into his Winchester.

Only one set of boot prints . . . ,
he told himself, but for all he knew someone could have come in through the rear door.

“Anybody who wants to come out of there alive better answer up now,” he called out, taking the same position against the wall beside the doors.

“The man you shot is dead,” a woman's voice replied. “I'm the only one here alive.”

“What are you doing in there?” Sam asked.

“I'm the owner of the Desert Inn,” came her reply.

“Who is he?” Sam called out.

Bertrim Moore, or so he said,” the woman replied, sounding closer to the door. “Can I come out? There's blood all over everything in here. I'm getting the willies.”

“Come on out,” Sam said. But he stayed in place until she walked out the door and looked up and down the street, her hands raised chest high. “Where is he?” she murmured to herself.

“I'm here, ma'am,” Sam said quietly behind her, not wanting to startle her.

The woman made a gasp of surprise and turned quickly. She looked him up and down.

“My goodness, Marshal!” she said. “I'm guessing you don't get caught unawares much.”

“I try not to,” Sam said. “It's Ranger, ma'am,” he added, correcting her. “Arizona Territory Ranger Samuel Burrack.” As he spoke, he raised his hand from his rifle long enough to touch his hat respectfully. “You can lower your arms,” he added.

“Well, thank you, Ranger,” the woman said. She folded her arms in front of her in a stately pose. “I'm Miss Adele . . . Adele Simpson. This is my place, such as it is these days.” She gestured a nod toward the inside of the saloon.

Sam looked closely at her. She was a tall, strong-looking woman, busty, wearing a dust-streaked but clearly expensive-looking dress. Over the full-skirted dress she wore a baggy, battered denim miner's coat. A slouch hat hung from a rawhide string behind her shoulders. Beneath the ground-level hem of her dress, Sam saw the scuffed toes of what looked to be black English-style riding boots.

“Would you like to gather your prisoner and come inside, Ranger Burrack?” she asked, gesturing toward Lang, who stood grinning at the hitch rail. “Maybe the two of you will drag Moore out and bury him somewhere?”

“Yes, ma'am,” Sam said. “We can do that, straightaway.” He looked back and forth along the empty street, seeing a ball of sage roll and bounce out of sight on a passing gust of wind. “Is there a restaurant left here, and a livery?”

“There's a barn out back,” she said. “Nobody's tending it, though. You'll find some hay, maybe some grain left.”

“Good,” said Sam. “What about a place to eat? After we bury the deceased, that is?”

The woman just looked at him as she unfolded her arms and placed one hand on her hip.

“I hear you, Ranger,” she said in a flat tone. “I'll fire up the stove while you get the
underground.” She looked down the street at Lang. “Maybe he can wash out some of the blood and guts when he's finished eating. I saw a couple of miners headed this way down the high trail a while ago. That could mean more miners on their way.” She gave a tired smile. “I sure need the business.”

“I'm sure he'll be happy to clean up for you, ma'am,” Sam said, cradling his rifle in the crook of his arm.

“Moore's black barb is tied out back,” the woman said. “Any objections to me keeping him?”

“No, ma'am,” Sam said. “Better you keep him than for me to turn him loose. These wild herds up here can get real testy with newcomers.”

“Thank you, Ranger,” Miss Adele said. “Go get your prisoner. I'll kindle the stove.” She stopped as if in afterthought. “Who is your prisoner anyway?”

“Harvey Lang, ma'am,” said Sam. “Do you know him?”

BOOK: High Wild Desert
13.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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