Riding for the Brand (Ss) (1986) (4 page)

BOOK: Riding for the Brand (Ss) (1986)
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Besovi came to his feet, clawing for his gun.

"Afraid to fight with your hands?" Jed taunted.

Besovi glared and then unbuckled his gun belts and handed them to the nearest horseman.

Jed stripped off his own gun belts and handed them to Costa.

Besovi started toward him with a crablike movement that made Jed's eyes sharpen. He circled warily, looking the big man over.

Jed was at least thirty pounds lighter than Besovi, and it was obvious the big man had power in those mighty shoulders. But it would take more than power to win this kind of a fight.

Jed moved in, feinting to get Besovi to reveal his fighting style. Besovi grabbed at his left wrist and Jed brushed the hand aside and stiffened a left into his face.

Blood showed, and the Casa Grande men yelled. Pardo, rolling his quid of tobacco in his The big man kept moving in, and Jed circled, wary. Besovi had some plan of action. He was no wild-swinging, hit or miss fighter.

Jed feinted again and then stabbed two lefts to Besovi's face, so fast one punch had barely landed before the other smacked home. Pardo was surprised to see how Besovi's head jerked under the impact.

Besovi moved in, and when Jed led with another blow, the bigger man went under the punch and leaping close encircled Jed with his mighty arms. Jed's leap back had been too slow, and he sensed the power in that grasping clutch.

If those huge arms closed around him he would be in serious trouble, so he kicked up his feet and fell.

The unexpected fall caught Besovi off balance and he lunged over him, losing his grip. Quickly, he spun, but Jed was already on his feet. Besovi swung and the blow caught Jed on the cheekbone.

Jed took the punch standing and Pardo's mouth dropped open in surprise. Nobody had ever stood up under a Besovi punch before.

Jed struck then, a left and right that landed solidly.

The left opened the gash over Besovi's eye a little wider, and the right caught him on the chin, staggering him. Jed moved in, landing both fists to the face. The big man's hands came up to protect his face and Jed slugged him in the stomach.

Besovi got an arm around Jed and hooked him twice in the face with wicked, short punches. Jed broke free.

Yet he did not step back but caught the rancher behind the head with his left hand and jerked his head down to meet a smashing right uppercut that broke Besovi's nose.

Jed pushed him away quickly and hit him seven fast punches before Besovi could get set.

Like a huge, blind bear Besovi tried to swing, but Jed ducked the punch and slammed both fists to the body.

Besovi staggered, almost falling, and Jed stepped back. "You've had plenty, Besovi, and you're too good a fighter to kill. I could kill you with my fists, but I'd probably ruin my hands in doing it. Will you take those cattle and get out of here?"

Besovi, unsteady on his feet, wiped the blood from his eyes. "Well, I'll be damned! I never thought the man lived who.. Will you shake hands?"

"I'd never shake with a tougher man or a better one!"

Their hands gripped, and suddenly Besovi began to laugh. "Come over to supper some night, will you? Ma's been tellin" me this would happen. She'll be pleased to meet you!"

He turned to his riders. "The fun's over, boys!

Round up our stock an' let's go home."

The big rancher's lips were split; there was a cut over his right eye and another under it. The other eye was swelling shut. There was one tomorrow, but it wasn't enough to show he had been in a fight.

"Can't figure him"... Pardo told Flood, later. "Is he scared to use his guns? Or does he just like to fight with his hands?"

"He's smart"... Flood suggested. "Look, he's made a friend of Besovi. If he'd beaten him to the ground, Besovi might never have forgiven him. He was savin' face for Besovi just like they do it over China way. And what if he'd gone for his guns?"

"Likely four or five of us might not have made it home tonight."

"That's it. He's usin' his head for something more than a place to hang a hat. Look at it.

He's made a friend of Besovi and nobody is shot up."

Jed, soaking his battered hands, was not so sure. Besovi might have gone for a gun, or one of his hands might have. He had taken a long gamble and won; next time he might not be so lucky.

At least, Rancho Casa Grande had one less enemy and one more friend.

If anything happened to him Carol would need friends. Walt Seever was ominously quiet, and Jed was sure the man was waiting for proof that he was not Michael Latch. And that gave Jed an idea. It was a game at which two could play.

Carol was saddling her horse when he walked out in the morning. She glanced at him, her eyes hesitating on the bruise. "You seem to have a faculty for getting into trouble"... She said, smiling. I don't believe in ducking troubles. They just pile up on you.

Sometimes they get too big to handle."

"You seem to have made a friend of Besovi."

"Why not? He's a good man just used to taking in all he can put his hands on, but he'll prove a good neighbor."... He hesitated and then glanced off, afraid his eyes would give him away. "If anything happens to me, you'll need friends. I think Besovi would help you."

Her eyes softened. "Thank you, Mike."... She hesitated just a little over the name. "You have already done much of what Uncle George just talked of doing."

Costa was gathering the herd Jed wanted to sell, and Pardo was riding with him. Jed did not ask Carol where she was going, but watched her ride away toward the valley. He threw a saddle on his own horse and cinched up. At the sound of horses' hoofs he turned.

Walt Seever was riding into the yard. With him were Harry Strykes and Gin Feeley. The fourth man was the one he had seen in the saloon who had told Walt he was not Michael Latch.

Realizing he wore no guns, Jed felt naked and helpless.

There was no one around the ranch house of whom he knew.

Seever drew rein and rested his hands on the pommel of his saddle. "Howdy! Howdy, Jed!"

No muscle changed on Jed Asbury's face.

If trouble came he was going right at Walt Seever.

"Smart play"... Seever said, savoring his triumph. If it hadn't been for me doubtin' you, you might have pulled it off."

Jed waited, watching.

"Now"... Seever said, "your game is up. I suppose I should let you get on your horse an' ride, but we ain't about to."

"You mean to kill me like you did Latch and his friends?"

"Think you're smart, do you? Well, when you said that you dug your own grave."

"I suppose your sour-faced friend here was one of those you sent to kill Latch"... Jed commented.

"He looks to be the kind."

"Let me kill him, Walt"... The man with the sour face had his hand on his gun. "Just let me kill him!"

"What I want to know"... Seever said, "is where you got them guns?" Walt said, holding up a hand to stop the other man.

"Out of the wagon, of course! The men you sent to stop Latch before he got here messed up.

I'd just gotten away from a passel of Indians and was stark naked. I found clothes in the wagon. I also found the guns."

"About like I figured. Now we'll get rid of you, an' I'll have Casa Grande."

Jed was poised for a break, any kind of a break, and stalling for time. "Thieves like you always overlook important things. The men you sent messed up badly. They were in too much of a hurry and didn't burn the wagon. And what about Arden?"

Jed had come a step nearer. They would get him, but he was going to kill Walt Seever.

He chuckled. "They missed her, Walt! Arden is a girl. She was with Latch when he was killed."

"A girl?" Seever turned on the other man.

"Clark, you never said anything about a girl!"

"There wasn't any girl"... Clark protested.

"He killed three of them, but she was out on the prairie to gather wild onions or something."

"That's a lie! There was only the three of them"... Clark shouted.

"What about those fancy clothes you threw around in the wagon? Think they were old woman's clothes?"

Walt was furious. "Damn you, Clark! You said you got all of them!"

"There wasn't no girl"... Clark protested.

"Anyway, I didn't see one!"

"There was a girl, Walt, and she's safe.

If something goes wrong here you will have to answer for it, Walt. You haven't a chance!"

Seever's face was ugly with anger. "Anyway, we've got you! We've got you dead to rights"... His hand moved toward his gun, but before Jed Asbury could move a muscle, there was a shot.

From behind Jed came Pat Flood's voice.

"Keep your hands away from those guns, Walt. I can shoot the buttons off your shirt with this here rifle, and in case that ain't enough I got me a scattergun right beside me. Now you gents just unbuckle your belts, real easy now! You first, Seever!" The men shed their guns. "Now get hosses"... Flood ordered.

They dismounted and Flood asked, "What you want done with "em. Boss? Should we bury them here or give them a runnin" chance?"

"Let them walk back to town"... Jed suggested.

"All but Clark. I want to talk to Clark."

Seever started to speak, but the buffalo gun and the shotgun were persuasive. He led the way.

"Let me go"... Clark begged. "They'll kill me!"

Jed gathered the gun belts and walked to the blacksmith shop, behind Clark.

"How much did you hear?" He asked Flood.

"All of it"... The big blacksmith replied bluntly, but my memory can be mighty poor. I judge a man by the way he handles himself, and you've been ridin' for the brand. I ain't interested in anything else."

Jed turned on Clark. "Get this straight.

You've one chance to live, and you shouldn't have that.

Tell us what happened, who sent you and what you did."... He glanced at Flood. "Take this down, every word."

"I got paper and pencil"... Flood said. "I always keep a log."

"All right, Clark, a complete confession and you get your horse and a running start."

"Seever will kill me."

"Make your choice. You sign a confession or hind a runaway horse. Seever's not going to kill anybody, ever again."

Clark hesitated, and then he said, "I was broke in Ogden when Seever found me. I'd knowed him before. He told me I was to find this here wagon that was startin' west from St. Louis. He said I was to make sure they never got here. I never knew there was a woman along."

"Who was with you?"

"Feller named Quinby and a friend of his'n named Buck Stanton. I met up with "em in Laramie."

At Jed's exclamation, Flood glanced at him.

"You know them?"

"I killed Buck's brother Cal. They were crooked gamblers."

"Then you were the man they were huntin"!"

Clark exclaimed.

"Where are they now?"

"Comin' this way, I suppose. Seever sent for "em for some reason. Guess he figured they could come in here and prove you was somebody different than you said."

"Seever ordered the killing?"

"Yes, sir. He surely did."

A few more questions and the confession was signed.

"Now get on that horse and get out of here before we change our minds and hang you."

"Do I get my guns?"

"You do not. Get going!"

Flood handed the confession to Jed. "Are you going to use it?"

"Not right now. I'll put it in the safe in the house. If Carol ever needs it, she can use it.

If I brought it out now it would prove that I am not Michael Latch."

"I knew you weren't him"... Flood said.

"Old George told me a good bit about him, but just seein" you around told me you'd covered a lot more country than he ever did."

"Does Carol know?"

"Don't reckon she does, but then she's a right canny lass."

If Stanton and Quinby were headed west, then Seever must have telegraphed for them to come, and they would certainly ally themselves with Seever against him. As if he did not have trouble enough!

Costa and Jim Pardo rode into the yard, and Costa trotted his horse over to Jed, who was wearing the silver guns now.

"There were many cattle! More than expected!

We came to see if the Willow Springs boys can help us."

"Later. Was Miss Carol out with you?"

"No, Senor. She went to town."

Jed swore. "Flood, you take care of things here.

We're riding into town!"

Seever would stop at nothing now, and if Quinby and Stanton had arrived in town Jed's had known how to reach them, and it must have been from Stanton that Seever learned his name.

A description from Seever would have been enough for Stanton to recognize who he was.

BOOK: Riding for the Brand (Ss) (1986)
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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