Authors: Rory Black
Dedicated to my friend, Richard Gordon. Film Producer/Director and gentleman.
There was a chilling silence throughout the dense woodland which overlooked a vast rolling range bathed in moonlight far below. Only the sound of the horse’s hoofs as the exhausted animal
the brittle ground between an ocean of tall pines echoed through the silent terrain. It was as if every living creature that occupied the
slopes instinctively sensed that there was someone deadly moving through their territory. The aroma of stale killings hung on the horseman and warned them of the lethal presence of a hunter in their midst.
A hunter unlike most of his bloody profession. A man who was far more deadly than any who had ridden through this place before. Yet this awesome rider had ceased to hunt mere animals long ago. He had turned his unequalled skills to a prey far more profitable.
Wanted men drew far greater prizes.
Sweat dripped from the mane of long, limp, black hair over his left hand, which gripped the reins tightly. His small bullet-coloured eyes, set amid a face covered with countless brutal scars, burned at the moonlit trail ahead. He knew that he was not the first to have ridden this way during the previous few hours.
Broken branches and a million other clues told the skilled hunter that the outlaw he had trailed for more than a week had been this way only a short time ahead of him.
Few others would have spotted the small rocks on the ground which had been moved as Daniel Kane rode through this remote woodland, trying to flee the man on his tail. Yet the rider who had turned his hunting skills from animals to men long before his prey had even been born, knew he was getting closer with every beat of his cold heart.
Now he was so close, he could actually smell Kane!
His unmatched prowess had become legendary in the minds of both the good and the bad men who roamed the Wild West. Hated and feared equally by them all, the bounty hunter had achieved almost mythical infamy.
For to have this bounty hunter on your trail was as good as being certified dead. This was a man who did not know the meaning of the word ‘quit’. Some said that he could not be killed for he was
not truly alive. Many believed that he was a ghost who had ceased living long ago, but was too
to go to hell.
He certainly looked barely alive. His pitifully lean frame beneath the battle-worn trail-coat had barely an ounce of spare flesh covering his
. If any man deserved to be described as a living ghost, it was he.
Somehow he had managed to survive wounds and injuries that would have killed most normal men. His entire body was now little more than mutilated evidence of every single fight he had endured over the years.
His legend had grown as he stumbled from one bloody battle to another. Those who had
him and survived the experience knew that he was unlike any other man who rode through the Wild West. It was impossible to tell what his origins were. He had the height of a white man, yet did not look like one. His long, black hair was like that of an Indian, but no Indian ever looked like him. Whatever he was, he was rejected by everyone he ever met.
He did not belong in any world except the one of his own creation. It had a population of one.
Fuelled by cigar smoke, whiskey and jerky, he continued on through the trees, inhaling the scent of his prey as it grew stronger. His pair of matched Navy Colts in his deep coat-pockets hung like weights to either side of him as he spurred harder
and harder. The blood-soaked mount beneath him obeyed fearfully. It knew its master was now ready for the kill.
Nothing could sway him now.
He was too close.
So close that he could smell the fear that dripped out of every pore on Kane’s body as it hung on the night air. He jabbed his razor-sharp spurs into the flesh of his hard-pressed horse again and forced the tired animal to find even greater pace as it navigated between the pines.
The hunter of wanted men ignored the stress of the lathered-up mount beneath him as he had done with its countless predecessors. If it wanted food and water, it would have to find it for itself.
For the merciless bounty hunter would, without a second thought, ride until his mount collapsed and died. If necessary he would continue his relentless quest on foot, until his mission was completed.
Death rode on his shoulder.
It had always done so. The Grim Reaper had yet to claim his carcass and send him to the bowels of hell. Satan would have to be patient a little longer.
With the images and details of the wanted posters branded into his mind, the bounty hunter leaned back against his saddle cantle and drove his mount down through the trees with increased eagerness. His keen eyes had spotted the swaying
grass on the edge of the vast rolling range. Kane’s horse had driven a trail through it when the outlaw had at last managed to escape the tree-covered hills.
As the weary mount cleared the edge of the woodland, the bounty hunter dragged back on his reins, dismounted and stared out across the
grass. Even the darkness of night could not prevent him from focusing on his chosen target. He could see the outlaw vainly attempting to get out of range of his pursuer’s weaponry in the moonlight.
The tall emaciated figure pulled both his Navy Colts from his pockets and dragged their hammers back with his thumbs. He raised them, stared down through their sights and then squeezed the triggers. Deafening venom flashed from both barrels. The dapple grey bucked as it tossed the dead outlaw Daniel Kane from its saddle.
Satisfied at his handiwork, the bounty hunter dropped both smoking guns back into his coat pockets. He turned to his own horse and stepped toward the saddle. His bony fingers opened the the satchel of his closer saddle-bag and pulled out a fresh bottle of whiskey. His small sharp teeth pulled the cork from its neck.
He spat it at the ground, raised the bottle to his thin lips and started to drink the fiery contents.
Iron Eyes would not lower the bottle of hard
liquor until it was empty. The bounty hunter thought his job was finished. He was wrong.
It had only just started.
The fertile soil of the massive grassland range had drawn many people to the vast Arizona territory since the war had ended and the quest for peace had started. Most were simply looking for a place where they could raise crops and animals to give their families the chance of a future better than the past they had left behind them.
Yet some had been attracted to this place for far less honourable reasons. They had been lured by their insatiable appetites for greed and power. Like human leeches the corrupt minority had not taken long to gain control and suck the life-blood from their unwitting victims. Some call it
whilst others give it a far less worthy name. Corruption!
The numerous settlements which had sprung up across the newly opened-up territory did not take long to establish themselves. Temporary
soon became permanent wood-and-brick
townships as businesses started to buy goods and sell the homesteaders everything they required.
As with all new towns, the unscrupulous had quickly latched on to the honest, law-abiding people and proceeded to fleece them. It was a pattern that had been followed since the first white man had set foot on the land that was to become known as America.
Like a subtle cancer, the pattern of greed had silently spread until it devoured everything.
The largest of the towns to have risen amid the swaying grassland valley was called, simply, Hope. It was a name that had inspired its original settlers and signified their faith in the future. Yet after a mere handful of years, the name had become ironic. For Hope was the one thing the honest people who lived on the large ranges and in the town itself, were stripped of.
The skilled criminals who had followed its
settlers and allowed them to do all the hard work, now ruled Hope and the rest of the towns. Like most of their breed, they were clever men. They allowed others to toil as they themselves found easier ways to make their fortunes. Gambling-halls, saloons and brothels culled every penny from the naïve and gullible. Taxes and threats gathered up what was left.
It was not a new story. It had trailed the pioneers since the first wagon had set forth and aimed its teams of horses, mules and ox towards the
uncharted West. The corrupt always gained control and then punished the less well-educated or well-armed people until they became little more than servants.
The names might have never quite been the same, yet the men were indistinguishable in their ruthlessness.
Among them was Brewster Fontaine. He was one of the few. The few who used their intelligence to gain control of those who initially trusted the tall, handsome Easterner. By the time the people of Hope and those who lived in the grasslands
what was happening, it was too late.
There is an old saying that appearances can be deceptive. It was true. Fontaine had the
demeanour of a riverboat gambler. His looks were those of a gentleman, yet in truth he was a heartless rogue. Unlike those he cheated, he had never actually worked with his hands for a living. He had never toiled in the sun and had his skin burned by its merciless rays. With a subtle hint of grey at the temples and a full head of neatly trimmed dark hair he had always been able to sway any females he encountered long enough for him to get the better of their menfolk.
With a cunning and ruthless soul, Fontaine had managed to enrich himself far beyond even his own imaginings. The territory had been good to him. He owned the only bank in Hope and almost every other business inside its boundaries. His
interests stretched like the web of a spider to almost every other town along the wide range. He even held the mortgages on more than half the ranches and farms within a hundred square miles of Hope.
Yet Fontaine was troubled.
The looming prospect of statehood and
from outside forces had made the
nervous. For the first time since he had arrived in the fertile Arizona territory, he was
at the possibility of his power being reduced, if not completely destroyed. The laws which governed the rest of the Union might soon be enforced here.
Fontaine knew he had to do something, but what?
With an army of killers on his payroll he could control anyone within the borders of the
most prosperous region, but what would happen if Uncle Sam sent in the cavalry?
What if they placed a governor here?
The tall Fontaine knew that it would not take long for lawyers to drift in and unravel the empire he had spent a quarter of his life creating.
Men of Fontaine’s sort never gave up without a fight though. They knew that there was always a way to get what you wanted if you desired it badly enough. Fate could be manipulated if you were capable of grasping the opportunity when it arose.
Then, as Fontaine stood on the veranda of his
large home on the outskirts of Hope, he saw
riding towards him in the first rays of a new day. At first he thought it was just an Indian. Then he became uncertain as his eyes focused on the thin emaciated rider leading a horse through the tall grass. The sight of the dead body tied over the saddle made Fontaine aware that this was no Indian.
The businessman snapped his fingers.
‘Riley!’ Fontaine called out to his top gun. ‘Get out here fast!’
Frank Riley ran with his napkin still tucked like a bib into the top of his shirt. The gunslinger chewed and then swallowed the last of his
as his thick, sturdy legs reached his employer.
‘What ya want, boss?’
Fontaine raised a finger and aimed it at the rider who was approaching them slowly.
‘What you figure that is, Riley?’
Riley shielded his eyes from the low, rising sun.
‘Whatever that is,’ Fontaine drawled, ‘I don’t reckon it’s an Indian, Riley!’
‘He got himself a body tied over the saddle of that grey he’s leading.’ The gunman nodded.
‘Ain’t that Kane’s grey?’ Fontaine asked,
both his fists. ‘It is!’
‘Yep! It sure is! That’s Kane’s grey OK!’ Riley gasped as he stroked the grips of his holstered .45s. ‘Whoever that
is, he’s found one of our best boys, boss!’
Brewster Fontaine shook his head and looked at his top gun.
‘Found? I’m willing to wager he killed our young Daniel, Riley!’
‘Who’d be capable of gettin’ the better of Kane, boss?’
Fontaine gritted his teeth.
‘Someone after the bounty on his head!’
‘A bounty hunter?’ Riley rubbed the sweat off his temples and screwed his eyes up even harder as they focused on the rider. ‘Are ya sure it’s a bounty hunter?’
‘What other kind of man would have the nerve to come here with his kill, Riley?’ Fontaine snarled.
‘A bounty hunter?’ The gunman repeated the description and then felt a shiver trace up his spine as sweat started to flow down it.
‘Yeah, a bounty hunter!’ Fontaine licked his lips. ‘And I reckon that there’s only one who could do that and come out of it unscathed, Riley!’
‘Look at the critter!’ Fontaine sighed. ‘Long hair like an Indian. A bag of bones on horseback. There’s only one man who fits that description and his names Iron Eyes!’
Riley swallowed again.
‘I thought he was dead!’
‘Maybe he is!’