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Authors: Tell Cotten

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Chapter fourteen

 

 

Lee and Brian were wet and irritable. They stayed hunkered down behind the tree, holding their rifles as they inspected the surrounding area.

They finally heard the sound of a horse as it came down the trail.

There was no need to say anything. Lee glanced at Brian, and he nodded back.

They pulled back the hammers on their rifles and waited.

A rider appeared a few seconds later. Lee took aim, but he halted when he recognized him.

“It’s Rondo,” he grunted in surprise.

“Sure is,” Brian replied.

Lee cleared his throat and called out, “Rondo! It’s us, Lee and Brian.”

They stepped out into the open. Rondo spotted them, and he grinned as he trotted up.

“Hello, Lee,” he drawled, and he nodded at Brian. “Good to see you, Brian.”

“Likewise,” Brian said.

It was silent as they studied each other, and then Lee asked, “What are you doing out here, Rondo?”

“I came to warn you about Rock.”

“You’re a little late, ain’t you?”

“I didn’t think I was.”

“He was about to kill us,” Lee scowled.

“I noticed that.”

“And then you missed him,” Lee frowned his disapproval.

An innocent look crossed Rondo’s face.

“It happens.”

“Not to you, it doesn’t,” Lee grumbled, and asked, “Why didn’t you kill him?”

“You wanted me to shoot him in the back?” Rondo raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” Lee declared matter-of-factly. “When a man’s trying to kill me, I’m real quick to give him the same treatment.”

“But he wasn’t trying to kill me,” Rondo pointed out.

“He will be next time,” Lee replied sourly, and added, “And there will be a next time. He’s not the sort that gives up.”

“Perhaps.”

“You and your silly rules,” Lee sighed, and then he changed the subject. “So, you rode all the way out here just to warn us?”

“Partly,” Rondo replied. “I’m also headed for Midway.”

“On law business?”

“I’m not the sheriff. Not anymore.”

“What?” Lee and Brian were startled.

A dark look crossed Rondo’s face as he explained.

“There’s gratitude for you,” Lee mumbled when Rondo had finished.

“I’m not complaining,” Rondo shrugged. “I’ve always enjoyed punching cows. It’s more peaceful.”

“I reckon it is,” Lee agreed. He thought the situation over and added, “We’re headed for Midway too. You want to ride with us?”

“Sounds good.”

“Course, with Rock being out there, it might be a little dangerous riding with us,” Lee warned.

“Naw,” Rondo grinned. “We won’t be
in
danger. We
are
the danger.”

“If you’re talking about the entire Landon clan, then I agree.”

“How’s that?” Rondo looked confused.

“Yancy’s been after me for years, Cooper shot me a while back, and now you lead a bounty hunter straight to my camp.”

“Coop
shot
you?”

“He sure did,” Lee patted his shoulder.

Rondo frowned as he thought on that.

“Coop usually doesn’t shoot anybody without good reason.”

Lee was silent, so Brian cleared his throat.

“Lee and Yancy were about to shoot each other,” he explained.

“What for?”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Lee spoke back up, and added, “We have an arrangement now.”

“I hope it’s a peaceful arrangement.”

“We’ve held up our end. It’s up to Yancy now.”

“He’ll come through,” Rondo vowed.

“We’ll see,” Lee said, and he turned towards their camp. “I reckon we should ride a few miles before dark. Probably not safe to camp here tonight.”

Rondo nodded, and as they packed up camp he looked around.

He was startled when he noticed their horses. Instead of having long tails, all three had short stumps.

“What happened to your horses’ tails?” He asked.

Lee didn’t say anything, so Brian explained.

“Lee wanted to go fishing,” he said, “and we didn’t have a fishing line.”

“I see,” Rondo said, and his eyes lit up in anticipation. “Catch anything for supper?”

“Nope.”

“Oh.”

Chapter fifteen

 

 

Rock Bullen was furious, and mostly at himself.

He was a careful and cunning man who liked to be in control of his surroundings. He was the one who usually ambushed others.

But this time he had been the prey. If the shooter had wanted him dead, he would be.

It was a difficult thing to swallow as he rode out of the canyon and trotted west.

He suddenly became aware of the wetness on his leg. He looked down and discovered that his canteen had a huge gaping hole.

He scowled. All the water was gone, and that meant no coffee tonight.

Rock wanted to put some distance between him and the canyon before he stopped. He trotted briskly, and when it got dark he just kept going. The moon was mostly full, and he could see the ground just fine.

He thought his current situation over as he rode.

Lee and Brian were riding north. There was only one major town in that direction, and that was Midway.

It would be dangerous to follow. They were expecting him now, and an ambush was likely. There was also the shooter from the ridge to consider.

Rock finally decided to ride to Midway and wait for them there. He would also take another route to avoid ambush. 

Satisfied, Rock decided to stop for the night.

He found a decent spot, and he was just about to dismount when he spotted a glow of a campfire in the distance.

He frowned thoughtfully as he wondered who it might be.

It would be safer to ride around, but the thought of getting a cup of coffee changed his mind.

He checked his Colt and kicked up his horse.

As he rode closer he could hear occasional laughter. He could also make out several men gathered around the fire, plus a few lookouts.

One of the lookouts heard him coming, and Rock heard the click of a rifle hammer.

“Who’s out there?” The lookout called out.

“Hold your fire,” Rock replied. “I’m looking for a cup of coffee, is all.”

“Ride on in, but take it easy,” the lookout cautioned.

“Take it easy yourself,” Rock said, and he walked his horse forward.

Everybody around the fire had stood, and most held their rifles. Rock looked them over, and he grunted when he recognized the leader.

It was Butch Nelson and his men.

If Butch was surprised, he didn’t show it. Instead, he narrowed his eyes as he studied him.

“What are you doing here?”

“I told you,” Rock replied. “I’m looking for a cup of coffee.”

“Help yourself,” Butch nodded at the coffee pot.

Rock nodded. He dismounted, tied his horse to a nearby bush, dug his cup out of his saddlebags, and walked over to the fire.

“Preciate it,” he said as he squatted by the coals.

Butch watched as he poured a cup of steaming coffee. He took a swig, sighed in contentment, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

“Good coffee,” he said.

“Traveling kind of late, ain’t you?” Butch changed the subject.

“You could say that.”

“What about Lee and Brian? Did you get them?”

Rock ignored the questions as he took another swig. Several seconds passed, and he looked over at Butch. Both were motionless as they stared at each other.

“I have a job to do,” he said softly.

“I know. I’m the one who hired you.”

“But I’ll do it my own way, in my own time.”

“I ain’t in a particular hurry,” Butch shrugged, and added, “Just as long as they don’t die of old age.”

Rock grunted and changed the subject.

“Where you headed?” He asked.

“Midway.”

“What for?”

“Business.”

“What sort of business?”

A suspicious look crossed Butch’s face.

“Why do you care?”

“Just curious.”

It was silent as Butch thought on that, and then he shrugged.

“If you must know, we’re going to raid J.T. Tussle’s ranch.”

Rock was surprised. He finished his coffee and rose to his feet.

“Tussle can be a handful,” he warned.

“I know that.”

“How are you going to go about it?”

“Perfectly, I hope.”

Rock grunted his response. He studied Butch a moment more and cleared his throat.

“Things like that take careful planning,” he said, and added, “I could help if you wanted. I have experience in such matters.”

Butch gave him a hard, calculating look.

“What about Lee and Brian?”

“They’re headed toward Midway.”

“You’re sure?”

“Pretty much.”

Butch scratched his stubbled jaw in thought.

“You’ve done this sorta work before?”

“Some.”

“I thought you were a bounty hunter.”

“I haven’t always been.”

“Well, I ain’t desperate, but I reckon I can use all the help I can muster going against Tussle.”

“I’d say so.”

“Especially fellas with experience.”

“That would be me.”

“All right. You can ride with us,” Butch decided, and asked, “Now, what’s this careful planning you was talking about?”

Rock shook his head.

“Before we get into that, we need to agree on the price.”

Butch scowled at him.

“How much you want?”

“Double wages will do. For now.”

“For now?”

“I like to keep my options open. You never know when conditions might change.”

Butch grunted. It was silent for a moment, and he sighed and nodded.

“Fine,” he muttered. “Double wages.”

Rock smiled. He refilled his coffee cup, got comfortable by the fire, and looked up at Butch.

“When we get there, I’d split your forces,” he announced. “Except for one. You’ll need somebody to stay with the mules and extra horses.”

“You want us to split up?” Butch narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

“They’ll probably be holding the herd close to headquarters,” Rock figured.

“I’d say so.”

“It’d be best if we attacked the herd and headquarters all at once,” Rock explained. “Take everybody by one, big surprise.”

Butch liked that, and he nodded slowly.

“Go on,” he said.

Rock grinned wolfishly and cleared his throat.

Chapter sixteen 

 

 

“That’s a fine looking packhorse,” Rondo commented as they made their way out of the canyon.

Lee was in front, and he led the packhorse. Rondo was next, and Brian brought up the rear.

“He no look so good,” Brian said in a thick, Spanish accent.

“How’s that?” Rondo asked, confused.

“He’s the gentlest, best handling, smoothest horse you ever rode,” Brian said, and added, “But he’s also almost completely blind. We call him No-see-ums.”

“That’s a shame,” Rondo said as he admired the animal.

“Sure is.”

They rode a while in silence.

Then Rondo said, “I almost forgot. I got a message to deliver.”

“From who?” Lee turned in the saddle and looked back.

“April.”

The mere mention of her name sent trills of excitement through Lee. He tried to hide it by frowning and looking unconcerned.

“Oh? What did she say?”

Rondo told him, and Lee felt a pinch in his stomach. He was suddenly irritable, and he turned back around in the saddle so the others couldn’t see his face.

“I wonder why she’d say that?” He asked nonchalantly.

Rondo frowned.

“You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“April has strong feelings for you. She’s been miserable since you left.”

“What about Jeremiah Wisdom?” There was bitterness in Lee’s voice.

“What about him?”

“Don’t they have feelings for each other?”

“He might, but she doesn’t. Everybody in town knows who she has feelings for, except for mebbe you.”

It was silent, and then Lee declared, “Well, she’ll just have to get over it.”

“Why?” Rondo asked, perplexed.

“Because she’s a real lady, and I’m an outlaw and a killer.”

“I used to be those things too,” Rondo reminded, and added, “I changed.”

“I tried, but it didn’t work.”

Rondo wanted to change his mind, but he could tell that Lee wasn’t in the mood. So, Rondo decided to change the subject.

“Well, it’ll take us a few weeks to reach Midway,” he said.

“And we’ll have to keep watch every night too,” Lee added sourly.

“Pretty sure we can handle it,” Rondo smiled tightly.

Lee muttered a reply, and it fell silent.

A few minutes passed, and Brian suddenly chuckled.

“What are you snickering about?” Lee looked back at Brian and scowled.

“It just occurred to me that we’re all that’s left of Kinrich’s old outfit,” Brian explained. “Together one last time.”

“Who says it’ll be the last time?” Rondo asked.

“It might be if Rock catches us,” Lee retorted.

Rondo sighed and shot his friend a dark look.

“Are you going to stay in a bad mood the entire trip?”

“Probably.”

You must really miss April,
Rondo thought, and he smiled as he wondered how long it would take for Lee to give in.

BOOK: They Rode Together
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