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Authors: William Colt MacDonald

Tags: #western

Shoot Him On Sight

BOOK: Shoot Him On Sight
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
by William Colt MacDonald











Ace Books 1966
Scanned and Proofed by Highroller and RyokoWerx






Only a stupid fool would have allowed himself to be trapped in such fashion. It wasn't entirely my fault, at that. My horse had picked up a chunk of rock in his right hoof and gone lame, which slowed me up all to hell, before I could pry it loose. Meanwhile, the posse had gained on me and the trail had got too hot for comfort. I'd headed for the river bottoms hoping to shake them off, when one jasper with a faster pony than the others had forged ahead and with a lot of luck managed to down my horse with a long rifle shot. I'd hit the ground running, just before my pony crashed down. There was no doubt about it, I was set afoot
muy pronto
, and there behind me, closing in fast with wild yells of triumph, was the bustard who was responsible for my downfall. I saw him lift his rifle for a second shot and caught the vicious whine of the slug as it nipped a chunk out of my bandanna, below one ear. Close, that one!

I stooped to my dead horse, jerked the rifle from its boot and triggered a fast shot in the hombre's direction. No one was more surprised than I was when the bullet found a mark. I saw the fellow go toppling from his saddle, roll over a moment with the dust billowing up behind him, then climb slowly to his feet and start limping back toward his pals who were coming a hundred yards to the rear, shouting like a tribe of mad Comanches.

Even then I had a moment of satisfaction in the fact I had stopped him, without having another killing laid at my door. Momentarily my luck took a turn for the better when I saw that the fellow's horse had continued running in my direction, slowing to a trot as it came near me, its reins dangling. I expected it would shy away when I reached for the reins, but it didn't. Maybe after the long chase it welcomed a bit of a breather.

The next instant I was in the saddle and on my way again. I cast one reluctant backward glance at my dead pony. My coat was rolled behind the saddle, but I had my Winchester and the .44 in my holster. Digging in my spurs I began to gain on the yelling horde at my rear. They'd started unleashing lead now, but I was moving too fast to provide a good target; the slugs were flying high overhead, but their nasty bee-like humming only made me dig in the spurs harder. Actually, spurring wasn't necessary. I'd inherited a good horse that needed but little urging, a lean chestnut with good wind.

Hoping to shake off my pursuers, I headed away from the river again, the late afternoon sun shining brightly in my face now. Again, I was headed west, always west, in my effort to shake off what seemed a never-ending chase. No sooner had one pursuit dropped off, it seemed, than another was on my trail.

And no wonder, what with the number of "wanted" bills offering a reward for my scalp. Mister, I'm telling you, I was scared most of the time, night and day.

The wind whipped into my face as the chestnut thundered on. The yells of the posse sounded fainter now. I glanced back once when their shooting stopped. I'd out-distanced them considerable by this time.

Ahead lay a line of hills, rocky bluffs beyond and what looked like a series of broken canyons. With the sun lower now, perhaps I could cut through a canyon and shake off the posse. It was worth trying.

I cut around one of the lower hills. There wasn't much growth here. Almost what you'd call semi-desert country. A few cactus and cat-claw lifted heads from the sparse grass; here and there a mesquite tree waved lacy foliage in the breeze. And, over all, the darkening sky with the sun still closer to the horizon.

I pounded on. The horse was tiring, slowing down now. Now and then flecks of foam blew back on me. Trouble was, my tracks were plain to follow, so long as daylight lasted. The way grew steeper. Finally, between two rugged sandstone bluffs I spied a break in the rocks—the canyon I'd been looking for. Once through, and on the other side, I'd have a good chance of slipping away again. I reined the pony around a huge rock the size of a small house and headed for the narrow rift in the sandstone bluffs. Their steep ochre sides hemmed me in as I proceeded, more slowly now. There was a slow gradual incline, the floor of the canyon littered with loose rocks. Once the chestnut stumbled and I slowed some more, not liking the idea a-tall, but finding some satisfaction in the fact that neither could the posse make good time, once they'd located the hoofprints leading into the canyon.

The way twisted and turned, and glancing overhead I saw the sky had darkened considerable. Bits of plant life clung precariously to some crack in the rock. There was little to be seen but sand and loose chunks and stone and the towering bluffs overhead, my pony's hoofs on the rocks echoing from the canyon walls.

Once I thought I heard a yell far to the rear, and I swiveled in the saddle, glancing back, but I saw no one. Well, it was to be expected that they'd gained on me by this time, but they'd be coming as slowly as I'd been traveling. Once through this canyon and I'd be in open country where I could once more start to make time. The chestnut was tiring, but so were the mounts of the posse by this time. Yep, I'd make a clean getaway.

And then I was caught up short. My lousy luck abruptly turned against me. Rounding another bend in the canyon, I saw what lay ahead, and a sort of groan parted my lips.

"Blast and damn the luck!" I swore.

Now I was really blocked! Ahead were no more turns with openings ahead. It had been my damnable luck to choose a box canyon with no way through. My heart must have dropped to my boot-tops as I studied the furrowed sandstone wall ahead of me. A man on foot might make it to the top, though it would be right steep climbing, but a horse-never.

Even while I was studying the situation, trying to figure a way out of the trap, I caught the faint sound of horses' hoofs and voices echoing along the canyon walls. My heart started going pumpety-pump and my breath came faster. I was really in for it this time, and there seemed no way of dodging the outcome.

What to do? Try to rush the gang coming through the canyon? Somehow, that didn't make prime sense. I was outnumbered. I might make to get one or two, but I hated killing, even when forced on me. In the long run they'd get me if I tried to turn back. With all those reward bills out for my arrest—"Dead or Alive"—I wouldn't have a cow's chance against a pack of coyotes—not with that gang on my trail, eager for blood money.

Abruptly I saw the only way open. I slipped down from the saddle with a "S'long, hawss, and thanks a lot." I patted the animal quickly on the neck, dropped reins over its head and then, rifle in hand, scrutinized the furrowed cliff ahead, seeking the best path to the top. Path, there wasn't any; I'd have to make my own.

I started to climb, clutching knobby protrusions in the rock, getting risky footholds on bits of stone imbedded in the canyon wall. A stunted bit of mesquite growing from a crack in the rock provided something to grip hold of. Gradually I made my way to the top, nearly falling a couple of times when sandstone or earth crumbled beneath my feet or handhold. Carrying the Winchester didn't make it any easier, either. Several times I had to pause to catch my breath. I glanced down once, just once, and saw I had proceeded quite a way, too far to risk any falling now. I didn't feel like looking down again.

A withered-looking yucca near the top gave me the handhold I wanted and I hoped it wouldn't come out by the roots when I seized it. Thank God it held firm and a moment later I lay gasping at the top, flat on my back.

And not a moment too soon!

From far below there came a sudden triumphant yell: "There's Tiger-Eye's hawss!"

I rolled on my stomach and peered cautiously through some scanty grass to the canyon floor below, then drew stealthily back as I figured they'd be glancing up in a minute. The voices came clearly from below. In a brief glance I'd seen only a half dozen riders. Where were the rest? There must have been twenty or so on my track earlier in the day. The voices again:

"But where'd Cardinal get to?"

"Climbed up that wall, likely."

!" Another voice: "He'd have to be a humming fly to make a climb o' that sort—"

"Too damn' steep for climbin'," someone said.

"You know what, pards," someone else cut in, "I figure Cardinal realized he was trapped and he's hid up in some cave along this canyon. I noted several likely openin's as we come through."

"That's right likely," a rough voice agreed. "Let's track back and see what we can turn up."

"Hell's-bells," a man grumbled. "With just the few of us, that's a-goin' to take time. I don't see why so many had to go back to town, leavin' us to do the trailin'. Didn't take no dozen galoots to get Tiger-Eye to the Doc—not for no measly scratch in the laig—"

"They'll be back," a rider explained. "Some of 'em swore they had to get somethin' to eat in town. And Zeke figgers to get old man Berry and his hounds. Zeke allows them hounds can track anythin'. Let's start lookin' for caves. We'll get that Cardinal killer yet."

To my ear came the creaking of saddle leather as the men remounted, turning their ponies. Their voices began to die away. I'd heard enough, as I edged back from the brink and, somewhat stiffly, rose to my feet. What next? My eyes sought the surrounding country, as though the solution lay there, as it probably did, one way or another. What I'd heard I didn't like. Hounds to track me down. Nice thought. Anyway, that fellow I'd hit—Tiger-Eye—had had only a scratch, though if I were ever captured, I'd likely be charged with attempted killing and seriously wounding. Give a dog a bad name and so on.

The sun was below the horizon by this time, only a faint orange light lingering in the lower sky, but I could see ahead of me a dwindling off of the bluffs as they flattened out to more level terrain. Then I noticed something else: the river farther along swung in a sharp bend to reach the flatter country. On this side there was relatively little vegetation, sprouting from the sandy, rocky soil, but across the river, there were trees and brush where a man might hide out for a time. That offered some slight hope. Then I thought of the tracking hounds again. At any rate I'd never get far afoot, so the river and hide-out looked like the best chance. I started out.

I made my way along the top of the bluffs, until I'd come to a narrow declivity that in a short time carried me to the level. Awhile later, peering through the dark gloom, I found myself on the low banks of the river and heard the soft gurgling in the silence. River? That was scarcely the name for it—just a slow sluggish stream, some twenty or twenty-five yards wide. I doubted it was very deep at this time of year, though when the rains came it was doubtless transformed to a raging torrent.

Making my way along the bank for another ten minutes, I came to a narrow plank bridge and started to cross over, then paused. It was possible that wading across might throw tracking hounds off the scent. There'd be footprints left near the bridge if I crossed that way, but similar sign would be easily seen where I entered the water. Anyway, that was my only hope—to get across and hide in the brush.

BOOK: Shoot Him On Sight
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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