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Authors: Bradford Scott

Horseman of the Shadows

BOOK: Horseman of the Shadows
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          HORSEMAN OF
          THE SHADOWS
            BRADFORD SCOTT
a division of F+W Media, Inc.
Contents

Cover

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

Also Available

Copyright

1

Send your road is clear before you

     When the old Spring-fret comes o’er you

And the Red Gods call for you!

M
R.
R
UDYARD
K
IPLING HAD WRITTEN IT NOT LONG BEFORE.
And Ranger Walt Slade, named by the Mexican
peones
of the Rio Grande River villages,
El Halcón
— The Hawk — agreed heartily with the sentiment as he gazed toward the emerald billows of the western hills catching the golden light.

For here was the road, on which the hoofs of Shadow, his splendid black horse, tip-tupped cheerily. And it was springtime. And from the wastelands the Red Gods called to the rover, the wanderer, the rider of the furtive trails of outlaw land.

And, Slade well knew, those hills were outlaw land. Were and always had been. There the Dawn Men had prowled on splayed-feet, knuckles occasionally touching the ground in the ape-gesture. There the moccasins of the tribes before the Comanche had padded. There the savage Apaches had ridden until Ranger guns herded them to the reservation, or oblivion. From those hills the outlaw now raided.

For this was West Texas, still a dark and bloody ground despite the ever advancing tide of civilization.

For nearly the whole of two days, Slade had been riding north from Van Horn, up the broad and arid valley lying between the frowning rampart of the Sierra Diablo on the west and the rugged Delaware Mountains on the east, one of the most desolate but weirdly beautiful sections of Texas. A streak of blazing white gleaming like a hazy silver ribbon was the crystal-encrusted shoreline of a salt lake. The level reaches were gray-green with sage and greasewood, with dots of prickly pear, yucca, and octillo. As Slade neared the joining with the western trail, he could see the blunt nose of the mighty Guadalupe Range shoving its triangle of lofty peaks across the state line from New Mexico. A gigantic landscape, with the changes of light, color, and shadow making wondrous pictures.

Now, west of Guadalupe Pass and the blinding glare of the salt flats and approaching the looming wall of the Hueco Mountains, he rode that old, old trail climbing toward those grim foothills of the Huecos, that for untold years flowed onward to what the Spanish explorers named
El Paso del Norte
, The Pass, or Gateway, of the North.

And by the mouth of “The Pass,” under the crumbling face of Comanche Peak with, to the north, the bare and craggy crests of the Franklin Mountains, since the days of the Conquistadores there had been a settlement. Now it was the “city” of El Paso, a roaring boom town and a trouble spot along the Rio Grande.

Slade rode on into those ominous foothills, heading for Hueco Pass, with El Paso some twenty-odd miles beyond. He rounded a bend with a straggle of brush encroaching on the trail, and slowed Shadow’s gait to a walk.

Perhaps half a score yards distant, two men sat their horses, gazing in his direction. One was big with a sprinkling of gray in his hair, a florid complexion, and an arrogant bearing. The other was scrawny, lean almost to the point of emaciation. His face was cadaverous, with a thin line of mouth and quick bright eyes that seemed to look in all directions at once; Slade instantly made up his mind concerning
him
.

The big man spoke, his voice a rumble. “All right, feller, that’s far enough.” Shadow kept on pacing.

An observant person might have noticed that the split reins were knotted and lay on Shadow’s neck; both of Slade’s hands were free.

“Didn’t you hear what I said?” the big man shouted angrily. “Who the devil are you and what’s your business here?”

Shadow halted in response to knee pressure. He had halved the distance and Slade was close enough now to take care of any eventuality.

“I don’t ask who
you
are and what is
your
business,” Slade replied, his musical voice pleasantly conversational.

The big man bristled and his hand dropped to his holster. Then he stiffened, staring. He was looking into the black muzzles of two long guns that had just “appeared” in Slade’s slender hands. He never saw where they came from. Slade’s voice, no longer musical, blared a single word —

“Up!”

The big man’s hands shot skyward. His companion raised his slowly. Slade’s eyes never left those slow-moving hands and when the right one darted forward like the head of a striking snake, he was ready.

There was the crash of a shot. The scrawny man yelped with pain. The wicked little double-barreled derringer that had slid from his sleeve to spat against his palm — the gambler’s draw — spun through the air and hit the ground a dozen feet distant.

Slade spoke again, pleasantly, addressing the big man —

“You figure to do a little fanging, too? I aim to accommodate.”

But the other took no notice of the implied threat. Instead, he turned furiously on his companion, shaking a ham-like fist under his nose.

“You loco terrapin-brain!” he bawled. “What you trying to do, get us both killed?”

“I thought I could shade him!” the scrawny man squealed in a high falsetto, nursing his blood dripping hand.

“Shade him!” stormed the big man. “You’d have as much chance shading a streak of lightning in a hurry! You and your blasted sleeve gun! I oughta bust you wide open!” Abruptly he turned and addressed Slade —

“Oh! Sorry. I forgot.” His hands went above his head again.

Slade’s black-lashed, long gray eyes crinkled at the corners, the little devils of laughter that always seemed to lurk in their clear depths edging to the front. What had been grim a moment before had developed a comical twist.

“Put them down, I think you’ll be more comfortable that way,” he said, holstering his big Colts.

“And as for you,” he told the scrawny man, “don’t try a thing like that again; you might get hurt.”

“Get hurt!” squalled the other, in injured tones, “ain’t I hurt already? My finger’s plumb busted!”

“I don’t think it amounts to much,” Slade answered. “Let’s have a look.”

Appearing a bit dazed, the fellow extended the injured member.

“Just a nibble of meat knocked loose,” was Slade’s verdict. “I’ll fix it up for you.”

From his saddle pouches he took a jar of antiseptic salve and a roll of bandage and went to work on the bullet-cut hand. The big man regarded him curiously.

“What’s to keep me from throwing down on you now that you’ve got both hands busy?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Slade replied without raising his head. “Nothing, except you don’t strike me as the sort who would shoot a man in the back, which is what it would amount to, wouldn’t it?”

“Guess you’re right,” the other agreed. “On both counts. Goes for that squirrel-brain you’re tieing up, too. You’d have to be standing up to
him
before you had anything to worry about. With your back turned you’d be plumb safe.”

“He took his chances,” Slade said as he gave the bandage a final pat.

“And he took one hell of a damn fool chance!” snorted the big man. “His hands are fast but his think tank is slow.”

“There ain’t going to be no more chances where you’re concerned,” the scrawny man squeaked. “I know when I’m licked. Much obliged, feller, hand feels a helluva sight better.”

Slade addressed the big man, a note of sternness in his voice —

“Now that we’ve settled our differences, just what is the meaning of stopping a peaceful stranger on an open trail and asking questions you have no right to ask? Such an action could get you into trouble.”

The other flushed a little under the reproof in
El Halcón’s
voice.

“So I just found out,” he replied dryly. “Guess we shouldn’t have done it, but we’ve been having a lot of trouble hereabouts of late and us fellers have been keepin’ watch on this trail and trying to learn something about folks ridin’ in from the badlands over to the east or down from New Mexico, where this trail runs to. We’ve stopped a few who didn’t look just right and couldn’t give much of an explanation of themselves, and turned ‘em back.”

“Sort of taking the law into your own hands, aren’t you?” Slade remarked. The big man flushed again.

“Guess that’s right,” he admitted, adding defensively, “but the law ain’t been doing much good of late.”

“You’re playing a risky game,” Slade said. “A few minutes ago I might have missed,
inside
your
amigo’s
gunhand a few inches.”

The scrawny man, getting the implication, squirmed in his saddle.

“Much obliged for not
missin
’,” he piped. “Even though I am so good I’m almost ready to sprout wings, I’d like to get a mite better ‘fore I take the Big Jump.”

“You’d sprout a coal shovel in your hand, not wings on your shoulders,” the big man snorted. “Feller,” he said to Slade, “I’m Sime Judson. I own the Tumbling J spread over to the southwest. This centipede is Clate Hawkins, better known as Wimpy, because of the way he squeaks. And if you don’t mind shaking hands with a couple of lawbreakers — ”

Slade supplied his own name and they shook.

“Where you headed for, Slade, if you don’t mind me asking?” Judson said.

“El Paso,” the Ranger replied.

“So were we just getting ready to when you showed,” said Judson. “Be a mite late getting in, but not too much — the Hueco Pass is right ahead. So if you are of a mind to ride with us — ”

“Be glad of company,” Slade replied. He gestured to Hawkins’ derringer, which lay by the side of the trail.

“Might as well take it with you,” he added, “although it
might
be better to leave it where it is till you learn to handle one properly.”

“I’ve handled one properly across a poker table,” Wimpy squealed indignantly. “Only I wasn’t goin’ up against chain-lightning then.”

Slade chuckled. “I’ll get it for you,” he offered as Wimpy started to dismount, awkwardly because of his injured hand. He did so and extended it butt to the front.

But as Wimpy reached for it, the derringer spun like an arc of light and the twin muzzles glowered at the cowboy.

“Oh, what’s the use!” wailed Wimpy. “He knows all the tricks. Fact is, I figure he’s the gent what invented ‘em.” He received the sleeve gun and tucked it into its hidden holster. Judson roared with laughter.

“Guess you been taken down a peg today,” he chuckled. “Let’s go, ‘less you want to be showed something else.”

“I’ve seen plenty,” declared Wimpy. They rode on at a good pace.

“I believe,” Slade remarked, “that you said you have been having trouble hereabouts of late. What kind of trouble?” He already knew, but wanted to hear Judson’s version.

“Cow stealing, robberies, a couple of killings that weren’t over cards or a gal,” replied Judson. “All the owlhoots seem to have gotten together, and they’re working like a machine. The farmers down in the valley by the river have been having trouble, too. Lost some valuable stock and had a couple of haystacks burned. That ‘pears to be just downright cussedness on the part of somebody, and some of ‘em are wondering a mite about the cowmen, with whom they had differences a while back. Got so everybody is sorta looking sideways at everybody else.

“The blasted railroad is mostly to blame. Everything was okay and El Paso a good town till it came through, headed for California by joining up with the line building from the west.”

“Been quite a few years since the railroad came through,” Slade commented.

“Uh-huh, and for quite a while things were all right, even with the one building up from Mexico City to Juarez, the Mexican town across the river,” said Judson. “But all of a sudden folks came pouring in and El Paso is darned near a city now, and a heller.

“And to make matters worse, the Mexicans are pawin’ sod because of the rukus over the Chamizal Zone that they say belongs to them and folks up here say belongs to El Paso. Lots of folks will tell you that’s back of most of the trouble, the Mexicans raiding on this side of the river, though it does seem they’ve been having trouble, too. Most of us cowmen figure the real trouble is from over to the east and down from New Mexico, but, as I said, quite a few fellers are inclined to blame most of it on the Chamizal Zone row.”

Slade nodded soberly, understanding what was meant. The Rio Grande had a tendency to change its course at will, cutting off large slices from Mexico and putting them in Texas in return for Texas lands transferred to Mexico.

One of those tracts was, and is, the Chamizal Zone containing about six hundred acres, embracing a part of South El Paso and extending eastward to Cordova Island. An international dispute over this section was based on controversy regarding the cause of the river’s changed course. El Paso didn’t really need the Chamizal Zone. Neither did Mexico, for that matter. But involved was national pride, with repercussions that extended all the way to Washington and Mexico City. More than half a century would elapse before the argument was finally resolved. The Border in the vicinity of what is called Cordova Island was a favorite crossing for smugglers who kept the authorities hopping.

Meanwhile the Chamizal Zone was in the nature of a “hot potato” that “scorched” fingers and engendered ill feeling, the disputants blaming each other for everything that went wrong in the section.

The coming of the railroads ended El Paso’s isolation, which had obtained for centuries. It also ended El Paso’s peace of mind and quiet living. Once the roads really got going there, population boomed, and among others, came a rush of gamblers and Wild West desperadoes and professional gun slingers. Saloons and gambling halls blossomed and flourished, and El Paso sat up on its hind legs and howled.

“What we need here,” growled Sime Judson, “is a flock of Rangers to quiet things down. Got to have ‘em if we’re ever to hope for peace and quiet again.”

Slade’s lips quirked to hide a grin. After reading numerous letters yelping for help, Captain Jim McNelty, the famous Commander of the Border Battalion of the Texas Rangers, decided that one Ranger, his Lieutenant and ace-man, who worked mostly under cover, would be enough to cope with the situation. Which was the reason for Walt Slade paying a return visit to El Faso.

BOOK: Horseman of the Shadows
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