Authors: Matt Chisholm
His name was Remington McAllister. He was young and the whole world seemed young, too. He was reckless, carefree, heart-free and broke. The war between the states was just over and he had experienced the tail-end of it on the losing side, for, if he belonged to any set spot on earth, it was Texas. But his daddy had been a wandering man and his own feet were just as fiddling and he felt as much at home in the high country of Montana as the deep brasada of the Nueces Country of south-west Texas.
His mother had been â¦ well, it depended on how sober the old man had been when he told the story. Sometimes she was a high-born Mexican lady, at others a Cheyenne princess. It didn't matter to McAllister because he had learned to be not only tough in his body but in his mind from an early age. His father, who had trapped with Kit Carson, traded with the Bents and raised hell with the Blackfoot with Jim Bridger, had always impressed upon him that nothing mattered much so long as a man had his independence, a gun, a horse and enough drinking money in his pocket.
If McAllister had been brought up at all, it had been by his father, when he had been there to do any bringing up. Old Chad McAllister had done his best with a fine flow of cuss words, the back of his horny hand and the buckle of his belt to teach young Rem all he knew. Which was considerable. McAllister grew up able to shoot with belt gun and rifle, to ride, rope and hogtie; he could fight with gun, fists, whip, knife, boots and spurs. Fear was well-known to him and he permitted it to modify his behaviour, but never to throw him. He bowed his head to no man, swore (poor fool) that he would never be trapped by a woman and had a curiously soft spot for the defenseless, especially small animals and children. From which you will gather that though rawhide hard, he was no bully, and, though he knew fear, he was no coward.
He had been born and trained to stay alive in the dangerous environment of his day.
His twentieth birthday found him looking for a job or anything that would provide him with a little spending money, it also found him in possession of little more than a Remington revolver, five shot and .44 caliber, a Henry repeating rifle, a battered saddle and a fine
pony which he would not have swapped for anything this side of the gates of paradise. He had spent the last month chasing a red mustang stallion which he had not caught, he had had a brush with a war-party of Kiowas and was now low on ammunition, completely out of supplies and his one spare shirt had been used for bandage to plug a hole made in him by an Indian arrow.
In this state he came to the small frontier town of Gibbs-ville which had been named for an itinerant pedlar of bad whiskey who had met his justified end at a river crossing at the hands of the Indians he had been slowly killing with his foul distillation. The place showed some signs of prosperity and of growing, for here trail-herds up from Texas stopped to replenish their supplies. There was a big store selling everything useful to man, a couple of saloons and a few adobe houses. There was no official law here and the not infrequent quarrels of men who habitually wore guns were settled either with those same guns or by Big Ike Goldheimer who ran the store.
It was spring, rain was still in the air and the grass was fine and green. Just south of the little settlement grazed a large trail-herd of some two thousand mixed longhorns nursed by a handful of riders. They waved to McAllister as he trotted by on the
and McAllister toyed briefly with the idea of enquiring if there was a place in the outfit going spare. But only for a moment for he had tasted trail-herding and regarded it as dangerous work for little pay. It was hard, monotonous and boring. At twenty he fancied some fast action and some quick cash-money, so he lifted his pony to a lope and headed down the ridge into town.
He stepped down from the saddle at the entrance to the store, tied up and walked into the cool of the long building. Ike was attending to the needs of what looked like the trail-boss of the herd but he took time out to bawl a greeting to
McAllister whom he knew. McAllister lounged till the trail-boss, a lanky gun-hung Texas man, dragged his spurs outside, stepped into the saddle and rode away.
McAllister and Goldheimer shook.
McAllister saw an immensely fat and tall man with fists like hams, eyes pale blue, hair fair and curly and a mouth that laughed easily. Goldheimer saw a tall young man, swart as an Indian, black-eyed and hard-mouthed, buckskin jacket frayed and greasy, shotgun chaps in as bad a condition, a large hogleg of a gun worn high on the right hip. The storekeeper had known the father and reckoned the son was a chip off the old block. Neither were men to tangle with; they made good friends, none better, and highly efficient enemies.
“Vot luck, Rem?” Ike asked, knowing of the horse hunt.
“Ever tried chasing a good broomtail on your lonesome?”
Ike nodded and sighed.
“So you vill be wanting credit, heh?”
“Just one drink.”
“Just von drink, he says. As if it was possible.” Ike tore his hair a little. “I shall never make a profit. I have too much heart for a goot pizzness man.”
McAllister reckoned Ike could buy the state of Texas and still have change left over. The big Jew took a mug to a barrel and filled it, handed it to McAllister and picked up his long-stemmed pipe. He fired a match, puffed and watched the young man lugubriously as he drank. A magnificent shudder of gigantic proportion went through McAllister, he caught his breath and said: “Aaaah!”
“What's new?” he asked.
“Last veek, der Comanches.”
“Tventy miles vest.”
“Der Bourns. Young Mrs. Bourn, she vas taken.”
McAllister thought about that. He had never seen the girl, but he had heard about her. Who hadn't? Famed for her beauty throughout this corner of Texas. Married to a man twenty years older than herself. He knew Bourn. A mean man and a powerful one, as powerful as a Texas man could be with the carpetbaggers in. They said he had big interests in
San Antone and Austin. He could smell out a profit like a coyote smelled carrion.
“A young poy who vorked for Bourn, he vass killed. A terrible zing.”
“Anybody I know?”
He knew Johnny, a bright-faced boy, eager and willing. He had lost his hair under a Comanche moon. McAllister drank up and heard the faint scream in his head of a young boy coming under the knife. He had heard it in reality more than once. It was something you had to expect when you settled in a country claimed by savages. No good bellyaching. He finished the drink, said: “Thanks, Ike,” and laid the mug on the counter that was a plank laid across two barrels.
“And zere is anozzer zing.” The big Jew looked troubled. “Morny Richards is here.”
McAllister looked at him blankly for a moment, taking the shock of the announcement, then he chuckled and instinctively hitched his gun around so that it was easy to his right hand.
“Now,” Ike said hastily, “I don't vant no trouble here, Rem.”
“Trouble? Hell, you know what I owe him, Ike.”
Ike knew all right
The frontier code was simple, so simple that any fool could understand it. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and where there was no official law a man made his own. Thou shalt not molest a decent woman, thou shalt not steal another man's horse nor brand his cattle. And Richards had stolen a horse. McAllister's horse. In the heart of Comanche country, the year before. It had taken McAllister a week to walk to the nearest settlement and he had arrived more dead than alive and with a well-developed wish to see Richards over the sight of his Remington .44 But the man had apparently disappeared into the endless wastes of the west. Now he was here.
Ike was agitated.
He could handle most things, but the idea of two men like McAllister and Richards tangling didn't appeal to him.
“No, no trouble, Rem,” he said. “You owe it to me.”
“I don't aim to give you no trouble, Ike,” McAllister said.
“But Richards â now, that's another matter.”
“He has his two brothers mit him,” Ike told him.
That information slowed McAllister a mite, but it didn't stop him.
“Boy,” he said, “you meant it when you said trouble. Three dead men sure is a problem.”
Ike wrung his hands a little.
The doorway darkened. They both turned.
Richards stood just inside.
He was big, bigger than McAllister. He was lean and he was hard. He had the face of a man who would rob his own grandmother and find pleasure in it.
“Saw you ride in, Rem,” he said casually. “Thought you'd be a-lookin' for me, so I'm savin' you the trouble.”
“You owe me a horse, Morny,” he said.
Richards said: “Now, see here, boy, I can explain.”
“You could talk all night and you couldn't explain away the time I took walkin' across the Stakes Plains.”
“I thought you was finished.”
“Well, now I think you're finished, so that makes us quits,” McAllister said. “How will you have it, Morny â fists, knife or gun?”
Morny smiled. He had done all his pride would allow him to do to sidestep a fight; now he was ready for it.
He said: “I can take you any way you like to name, boy.”
“I have a hankerin',” McAllister said, “to mark you up some before I break your coyote's neck.”
“Fists it is,” he said.
Where're his two brothers at?
McAllister wondered. Morny wouldn't be so willing to fight if they weren't around. He was capable of fighting like a cornered cougar and McAllister had seen him do it, but he wasn't one to brace McAllister without an ace up his sleeve.
McAllister unbuckled his belt and laid his gun on the counter. Richards unbuckled his and laid belt and gun on a pile of sacks. Then he hitched his pants and stood ready, the grin gone from his face.
“Mein Gott,” the storekeeper said, “not in here. Outside you two.”
Morny Richards said: “I'll break his jaw here, Ike, then you won't have to drag him inside.”
“Outside, Morny,” McAllister said, “or do you want me to put you out?”
Richards said: “All right, outside,” and turned through the open doorway. McAllister followed warily.
As soon as he reached the doorway, the man in front of him turned quickly and swung a fist for his face. McAllister ducked under it, caught hold of the wrist in both hands, turned and heaved and hurled Richards across the store. He hit the counter and brought it, the barrels supporting it and Ike Goldheimer down with a crash. Ike swore horrible oaths, tried to get up and collapsed as a sack of flour landed, seemingly from nowhere, on his chest. Richards lurched to his feet in a fury and hurled himself at McAllister who gave way abruptly before the fury of his attack, went down under it, landed on his shoulders and hurled Richards over him. The big man landed in the doorway on his face and groaned.
Ike disentangled himself from counter, barrels and flour and howled: “You vill pay for zis, py Gott. You vill pay, you Goddampt safages.”
Richards got to his feet and staggered out into the open. McAllister followed him, paused a moment as he was blinded by the brilliant sunlight and heard a faint sound to his right. Turning his head in that direction, he saw Morny's elder brother, Rick, a big red-headed man with a straggling beard and broken teeth. He looked left and saw Seth, Morny's younger brother, a tall lean boy of McAllister's age.