Authors: Ralph Compton,David Robbins
A LOW BLOW
“Where in the hell can he have gotten to?” He pointed at the sibling with the Winchester. “Zeb, you go check the outhouse. Barnabas, sit out front and keep an eye on the gruella. Sooner or later Frost is bound to show.”
“Sooner rather than later,” came a voice from under the table.
Startled, Temple Blight straightened and whirled. He was not quite all the way around when a pistol barrel poked from under the table, pointed at his groin. The pistol cracked, and Temple shrieked and clutched at himself, dropping his Remington. The next shot caught him smack in the center of the forehead and blew out the rear of his cranium in a spray of hair and gore.
By then Zebulon and Barnabas Blight were rushing to their brother’s aid. Zeb jerked his Winchester to his shoulder, but he did not quite have it level when the pistol under the table boomed a third time and Zeb’s left eyeball dissolved….
A Ralph Compton Novel
by David Robbins
A SIGNET BOOK
Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, December 2007
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Copyright © The Estate of Ralph Compton, 2007
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his is respectfully dedicated to the “American Cowboy.” His was the saga sparked by the turmoil that followed the Civil War, and the passing of more than a century has by no means diminished the flame.
rue, the old days and the old ways are but treasured memories, and the old trails have grown dim with the ravages of time, but the spirit of the cowboy lives on.
n my travels—to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona—I always find something that reminds me of the Old West. While I am walking these plains and mountains for the first time, there is this feeling that a part of me is eternal, that I have known these old trails before. I believe it is the undying spirit of the frontier calling, allowing me, through the mind’s eye, to step back into time. What is the appeal of the Old West of the American frontier?
t has been epitomized by some as the dark and bloody period in American history. Its heroes—Crockett, Bowie, Hickok, Earp—have been reviled and criticized. Yet the Old West lives on, larger than life.
t has become a symbol of freedom, when there was always another mountain to climb and another river to cross; when a dispute between two men was settled not with expensive lawyers, but with fists, knives, or guns. Barbaric? Maybe. But some things never change. When the cowboy rode into the pages of American history, he left behind a legacy that lives within the hearts of us all.
The man who rode into Coffin Varnish did not look like a killer. If anything, he had more in common with a mouse. He was small like a mouse, not much over five feet, with stooped shoulders that gave the illusion he was hunched forward in the saddle when he was sitting as straight as he could sit. He wore a brown hat with so many stains that a person could be forgiven for thinking he used it to wipe his mouth. His buckskins were a mousy brown, and his boots had holes in them, one at the toe, the other above the heel.
The man rode a gruella, which was fitting, since a gruella is a mouse-colored horse, a sort of gray-blue more commonly called mouse dun. The horse, like the man who rode it, was weary to its core, and like as not would not have minded being put out to pasture, if only the rider owned a pasture. But all the rider owned were the clothes on his back and the gruella and a few odds and ends in his saddlebags, and that was it.
The other thing the rider owned was a revolver. It was the one thing about him that was not ordinary. No common Colt, this was a Lightning, with a blue finish and pearl grips. The man had spent extra money
to have it engraved. He had also filed off the front sight and removed the trigger guard. Since it was in a holster high on his right hip, no one noticed the modifications he had made to his hardware when he rode into Coffin Varnish. If they had, they would have known right away that he was not the mouse he appeared to be.
The single dusty street was pockmarked with hoofprints and rutted by wagon wheels. Horse droppings were conspicuous, and other droppings were almost as plentiful. A couple of chickens were pecking at the dirt near the water trough. A dog lay in the shade of the general store. It raised its head but did not bark. When the rider reined to the hitch rail in front of the saloon, the dog lowered its head and closed its eyes.
The rider stiffly dismounted. Putting a hand at the small of his back, he arched his spine, then looped the reins around the hitch rail. “Not much of a town you got here.”
The two men in rocking chairs under the overhang regarded him with no particular interest. They had not yet seen the Colt; its pearl grips were hidden by the man’s arm.
“More of a town than you think,” Chester Luce replied. He was a round butterball whose head was as hairless as the rider’s saddle horn and shaped about the same. His suit was the one article in the whole town that did not have a lick of dust on it because he constantly swatted it off.
The rider studied him. “You must be somebody important hereabouts.”
Chester smiled and swelled the chest he did not
have, and nodded. “That I am, stranger. You have the honor of addressing the mayor of this fair town.”
“Fair?” the rider said. He had a squeaky voice that fit the rest of him. “If this place was any more dead, it would have headstones.”
From the man in the other rocking chair came a chuckle. He had white hair and wrinkles and an unlit pipe jammed between his lips. He also wore an apron with more stains than the rider’s hat. He did not wear a hat, himself. “You do not miss much, do you?”
“I live longer that way,” the rider said, and went under the overhang. He pointed at the apron. “If you’re not the bar dog, you are overdressed.”
Again the white-haired man chuckled. “I do in fact own this establishment. My name is Win Curry. Short for Winifred.” Win stared at the rider expectantly, as if waiting for him to say who he was, but the rider did no such thing. Instead, he nodded at the batwings.
“This saloon of yours have a name, too? There is no sign.”
“No sign and no name. I couldn’t think of one I liked, so it is just a saloon,” Win explained.
The rider arched a thin eyebrow. “All the words in the world and you couldn’t come up with one or two?”
Win defended the lack. “It is not as easy as you think. Do you name everything you own?”