Authors: Tell Cotten
They Rode Together
Also by Tell Cotten
(The Landon Saga books)
Confessions of a Gunfighter
To my grandparents, Melvin and Carol
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
Illustrator: Bill Olivas
Marcy Meinke/Converse Printing & Design
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and events are the work of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is coincidental.
Solstice Publishing - www.solsticepublishing.com
Copyright 2015 Tell Cotten
THEY RODE TOGETHER has a few continued storylines from previous books in The Landon Saga series. While it can be read as a stand alone, it is recommended that new readers start with the first book in the series, CONFESSIONS OF A GUNFIGHTER.
When he first spotted it, it was nothing more than a glimpse of something in the far distance. He squinted his eyes and could make out a brown lump on the ground.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t moving.
Curiosity got the best of him, and he nudged his horse forward.
As he got closer he could tell that it was a flipped over wagon. A wheel had come off, and the axle was broken.
He scratched his jaw in thought. Then, he stood in his stirrups and studied the countryside in all directions.
He was several miles west of Huntsville, Texas. The terrain was mainly wide-open, with a few rolling hills and some trees.
He saw nothing suspicious, so he dismounted, tied his horse to the wheel, and circled the wagon.
As suspected, there were tracks leaving the wagon. Two horses, and one human on foot.
He knelt by the human tracks and studied them carefully. Judging from the size and stride, he figured a woman had made the tracks. She had also been running; probably chasing after the horses.
There was nothing of value in the wagon, so he untied his horse and stepped into the saddle. The tracks were easy to follow, and he trotted with ease.
It was a warm afternoon, and sweat trickled down his face.
It was only a slight annoyance. He was comfortable in the heat, and was accustomed to long days in the saddle.
A few hours passed, and by now the woman’s tracks had slowed considerably. He could tell that she was beginning to drag her feet some, and he grinned wolfishly.
The tracks climbed a small, steep hill. He loped his horse to the top and stopped abruptly.
The woman was at the base of the hill. She had apparently passed out, for she was lying facedown on the ground; her arms sprawled out in front of her in her attempt to brace herself as she fell.
With his hand resting on the butt of his Colt, he encouraged his horse forward. He stopped beside her and studied her still form.
His curiosity grew when he noticed the striped prison clothes she wore. She was also young and had long, blond hair.
“Hey!” He said abruptly.
She didn’t stir.
Keeping an eye on her, he dismounted, tied his horse to a nearby bush, and approached her.
He nudged her in the ribs with the toe of his boot. There was a slight moan, and he nodded to himself.
“Well, you’re alive,” he said.
He started to turn back towards his horse, and that’s when he spotted the rifle. She was lying on top of it, with the barrel pressed against her face.
An amused look crossed his face. He squatted beside her, reached underneath her stomach, and pulled out the rifle. She made a slight whimper, but that was all.
He stood, worked the lever several times, and emptied the rifle. The first shell that came out had been spent.
“Who have you been shooting at?” He wondered out loud. He thought on it and added, “Well, long as you ain’t shooting at me, I don’t reckon it matters.”
He started to take the rifle, but then decided against it. He leaned it on a log that was close to her, gathered the shells, and walked towards his horse.
She woke with a soft groan. Her neck and back ached, and her head throbbed.
She grimaced as she took in a big breath. The smell of campfire smoke hit her, and she also smelled food. Her stomach growled uncontrollably.
She licked her cracked lips and forced her eyelids open. Then, she raised her head, blinked several times, and looked around.
It was evening time, and the afternoon heat had cooled considerably.
There was a campfire in front of her, and there was also a man sitting across the fire. A coffee pot was cooling to the side of the coals, and salt pork sizzled in a pan.
He was watching her with cold, calculating eyes.
“Hungry?” He asked.
“Yes,” she said quickly.
“Figured you would be.”
She rolled over into a sitting position. As she did, she spotted her rifle. She thought about grabbing it, but decided against it. Instead, she studied the man sitting before her.
He had a leathery face with a hard jaw. He was a tall man, and despite the smirk on his face, there was no kindness in him. He wore a Colt on his hip, and he looked comfortable wearing it.
“Who are you?” She asked warily.
“Rock Bullen,” he replied, and added, “I’m a bounty hunter.”
Her face stiffened.
“Sure,” he nodded. “I track down outlaws, kill them, and take them to the law and get paid for it.”
She blinked as she thought on that.
“Do you always kill them?”
“I’m not an outlaw,” she declared.
A wolfish grin split his lips.
“So you’re just wearing those prison clothes for looks.”
“I was in prison,” she admitted. “But I was pardoned.”
“Sure you was.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Let’s ride back to Huntsville and see what they have to say,” Rock suggested.
She was quiet, and Rock chuckled sarcastically.
She eyed her rifle again. She glanced back at Rock, and he was watching her curiously.
“Are you the sort?” He asked.
“Sort that would kill.”
She pinched her face in displeasure.
“What an unpleasant question to ask,” she replied, and added, “Besides, I’m sure you’ve already unloaded my rifle.”
Rock’s white teeth shone at her as he grinned.
She took in a big breath and sighed.
“So, you do this bounty work for money?” She tried to sound pleasant.
“How much do they pay you?”
“How bad they are. More people they kill, the higher the reward.”
“I haven’t killed anybody.”
“I was only in prison because I helped my husband escape from jail,” she said truthfully. “There’s probably not much reward for that, is there?”
“You always talk this much?”
“I know someone who would pay double any reward for me,” she pressed on.
“Is that so,” Rock chuckled, but not humorously. “And who would that be?”
“Ike Nash,” she declared. “My name is Lucy Nash. I’m Ike’s daughter-in-law.”
Surprise showed in Rock’s face as he stared at her.
Almost everybody in Texas had heard of Ike Nash.
He was known for being a shrewd and cunning businessman. He owned several ranches all across Texas, and he was involved in several businesses, mostly illegal. However, Ike had it set up so that nothing could be traced back to him.
“Take me to him,” she continued. “I promise you that you will be well paid.”
Rock didn’t reply, and Lucy waited patiently.
“If you’re who you say you are,” he finally said, “what are you doing out here?”
Her mind raced.
“I was on my way home,” she lied, “when two outlaws tried to jump me. I managed to lose them, but then the wagon flipped.”
“That is correct. I recognized them too. Lee Mattingly and Brian Clark.”
Again, Rock was startled.
“Lee and Brian? You’re sure?”
“I’ve seen them before,” she confirmed. “They are horrible, brutal men. If they had caught me there’s no telling what appalling things they might have done.”
“But then you found me,” Lucy’s eyes shone at him. “And I don’t have to worry anymore.”
Rock made a grunting sound, and he pinched his face as he thought on it.
“Lucy Nash,” he finally said.
“You’d better not be lying.”
“Of course not.”
It fell silent again. Rock just sat there looking thoughtful, and Lucy’s stomach growled.
“I believe that salt pork is ready,” she finally suggested.
Rock looked sharply at her, and she smiled coyly.
It took several weeks for Rock and Lucy to reach Ike’s ranch headquarters.
A lot happened during that time.
Ike Nash was now dead, killed by Lee Mattingly and Brian Clark. They also rode to Empty-lake and killed a politician named Ron Gallegan. After that they left town and hadn’t been seen since.
Butch Nelson rode to town a few days after the killings.
Empty-lake was mostly a cow town of some two-dozen buildings. Two establishments stood out the most. The sheriff’s office built by the late Lieutenant Porter, and The Palace Hotel, currently owned by Jeremiah Wisdom.
This was the first time since Ike’s death that Butch had left the ranch. It had been a stressful time, and this was a welcome distraction.
Butch had been Ike’s right hand man. He was attempting to keep Ike’s business affairs going, but most of Ike’s men were still undecided on whether to stay or go.
It didn’t help that Butch was such a plain looking man. Short with a broad face, he looked more like a storekeeper.
But he was far from that. He was very good with a Colt, and he always displayed one on his hip. However, even with the Colt, there was still nothing that really stood out.
As Butch rode down the street, he spotted sheriff Rondo Landon and his deputy Ross Stewart.
They were sitting on the porch at the jail, drinking coffee and studying a chessboard. Rondo looked pleased, but Ross was muttering to himself.
Rondo looked up and spotted him, and his face sharpened in curiosity. He nodded, and Butch returned the nod.
He felt Rondo’s eyes on him as he walked his horse down to The Palace Hotel. He dismounted, tied his horse to the hitching rail, stepped up onto the porch, and walked through the batwing doors.
He stood to the side as his eyes adjusted, and then he looked around.
The floors were clean, the bar shined, and all the glassware shone. There was also an enticing aroma coming from the kitchen.
Butch smiled his approval. It appeared as if Jeremiah Wisdom was doing a fine job.
Jeremiah was tending bar. Butch caught his attention, and Jeremiah gestured at the poker room.
Butch nodded and walked to the back.
There was only one man in the poker room, and he was seated at a table eating breakfast.
Butch studied him as he walked over.
He was dark headed with a thin and frail frame. He had quick, shifty eyes, and he also had large upper teeth that showed most of the time.
The man heard him approaching, and he smiled and stood.
“Are you Butch Nelson?”
“I am,” Butch said as he stared at his teeth.
“You got my message?”
“That’s why I’m here.”
He nodded, sat back down, and gestured at a chair.
“Join me for breakfast?”
“I already ate.”
“I see. How about a drink?”
“All I want is to know why you sent for me,” Butch said, and there was a stern warning in his voice.
The man didn’t seem rattled.
“Of course,” he nodded. “I’ll get right to the point then.”
“That would be good.”
“My name is Ed Hazel,” he introduced himself. “I was Ron Gallegan’s personal assistant.”
Butch blinked as he thought on that.
“The politician that Lee Mattingly killed?”
“That’s right. He and Ike were friends.”
“Yes, I know that.”
Ed smiled politely.
“Would you like to join me now?”
“I’ll see what you have to say,” Butch said as he eased into a chair.
“Our bosses were very successful business partners,” Ed announced, and asked, “Did you know that?”
“I knew they had an agreement of some sort.”
“That’s all you know?” Ed frowned.
“Ike kept his business affairs mostly private,” Butch explained.
“But he trusted you?”
“I think he did.”
Ed nodded, satisfied. He took a swig of coffee and wiped his mouth with a napkin. Butch meanwhile, stared at his teeth.
“Did Ike ever mention the railroad?” Ed finally asked.
Butch thought for a moment.
“Not that I can recall,” he said.
“But you’re the one who, ah,
all of Ike’s ranches for him.”
“I was,” Butch nodded.
“Didn’t you ever wonder why Ike was buying ranches all over Texas?”
“It wasn’t my job to wonder.”
“Ike was very particular on which ranches he wanted,” Ed continued.
“I noticed that.”
“That’s because Ron Gallegan was telling Ike which ranches to buy,” Ed informed.
“How come?” Butch narrowed his eyes.
Ed leaned forward in his chair. There was still nobody else in the room, but Butch couldn’t help but lean forward too.
“It’s still a few years away, but the railroad is coming to Texas,” Ed announced in a hushed voice. “There’s already a railroad committee mapping out the routes, and Ron Gallegan was on that committee. He was Ike’s informant.”
Butch frowned thoughtfully but didn’t say anything.
“Don’t you realize what this means?” Ed asked, and then he answered his own question. “After the railroad comes, there won’t be anymore cattle drives going to Kansas. Instead, beef will be shipped back east straight from Texas. There will also be new settlers and new towns.”
Ed let this sink in for a moment. He took another swig of coffee, wiped his mouth, and looked back at Butch.
“The railroad will also have to pay passage,” he said softly, and added, “Whoever owns that land will become extremely wealthy.”
Butch nodded slowly as he started to understand.
“There’s only one ranch we still need,” Ed continued. “And it’s an important one. Are you familiar with Midway?”
“There’s a rancher there named J.T. Tussle. He controls almost all of the range around Midway.”
“I’ve heard of him,” Butch said, and added, “He’s a salty character. He won’t sell.”
“But he has to,” Ed urged. “The railroad has big plans for Midway. It’s the midpoint between El Paso and Dallas.”
“He’ll fight,” Butch warned.
“But you have a lot of men,” Ed objected.
“They aren’t my men yet.”
“But they haven’t left?”
Ed nodded. It was silent for a moment, and then he asked, “What’s going to happen to all of the land that Ike owned?”
“I have a man named Bob Sprutt who can do forgery,” Butch replied. “He’s in the process of muddying up the records.”
“Is he good?”
“He says he is.”
“That’s fine,” Ed nodded. He hesitated and asked, “So, can you and I work together?”
“I think we can,” Butch nodded slowly.
Ed grinned, and his teeth showed even more.
“What about Tussle?” He asked.
“I’ll talk with the men,” Butch replied. “If they agree, we’ll head for Midway.”
“Good,” Ed looked pleased.