Authors: Jake Douglas
CHAPTER 1: LAST GUNFIGHT
CHAPTER 2: SIX LONG MONTHS
CHAPTER 3: RED RIVER
CHAPTER 4: SPEARMAN
CHAPTER 5: NIGHT RIDERS
CHAPTER 6: DEAD MEN RIDING
CHAPTER 7: OUTLAW TERRITORY
CHAPTER 8: THE REAL REASON
CHAPTER 9: TRACKS
CHAPTER 10: RED RIVER BATTLE
CHAPTER 11: TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES
CHAPTER 12: NIGHT KILLER
CHAPTER 13: ONCE A RANGER
By the Same Author
When he rode into the town calling itself Red Creek Flats, Deke Cutler had no notion that the coming gunfight would be his last as a Texas Ranger.
There was no doubt this deal would end in gunplay and someone taking up residence in Boot Hill. All he had to do was make sure it wasn’t him. Ten years ago he would have been
damn certain sure
with the arrogance and confidence of youth. Now, a couple of years past his mid-thirties, he had to think a little, convince himself he would walk away from this.
He’d damn well better, because he had big plans for the future and he was looking forward to seeing Durango Spain again, this time as a partner in the ranch at Red River which Spain was working until Cutler’s retirement came due.
A different kind of retirement could be awaiting him in this shack town – McKittrick was bound to have a slew of friends handy and all he had to do was yell
and every hardcase within earshot would reach for his gun.
Ah, the hell with it! This was his job and it had to be done – so damn well get on with it!
It was still cool for mid-September in Red Flats, as most folk called it, dropping the ‘Creek’ because it was little more than a trickle and a man could step across it easily. Cutler pulled the hip-length jacket across his chest but left the lower buttons undone. The flap covered the butt of his six-gun but left a good portion of the tied-down holster exposed. Anyone who knew what to look for could see this man who forked the
sorrel down Main through the hazy dusk was a man who liked to get his gun out fast, and so he was one to be leery of.
He didn’t move his head side to side, but he
his eyes as the horse plodded on and he saw some men pause and squint through the fading light, all tensed-up. Others stopped dead in their tracks and made no secret of their curiosity. A stranger arriving this close to sundown was bound to arouse suspicion amongst men like these.
Two dropped their hands instinctively to their gun butts, but, on taking a second look at Cutler, decided to leave the weapons in leather. But both hurried across the street towards the murky lights of the town’s only saloon.
Cutler saw the LIVERY sign – weak, dripping tar slapped across a weathered, splintered plank and propped up against a leaky rain butt – and turned the horse through the sagging gate and on into the draughty building. Planks were warped, some missing.
He wouldn’t bet how rain-proof the roof was, either. But the hostler was a smiling, bright young
in bib-and-brace coveralls, one strap caught with a rusty safety pin.
‘Just made it, friend – I close up at sundown.’
Cutler dismounted stiffly, half a head taller than the gangling livery man, thumbed back his dusty,
‘Business must be good,’ he opined, although the broken down stalls only housed less than a dozen horses.
‘Huh? Aw, you mean closin’ early. Heck, I could stay open all night, but I’d have to sleep here.’ The hostler winked, a big, rawboned country kid, still with marks of fading freckles and tousled hair under a shapeless felt hat. ‘Ain’t been married but a couple months. Where would you rather spend your nights?’
He laughed and Cutler nodded, slapping a hand on his saddle.
‘Hang that up on a peg, rub down the horse and give him some hay and a handful of oats. No more’n a
. All right?’
‘Sure. I know hosses, mister. Used to wrangle for a rodeo show.’
Sliding his rifle out of the saddle scabbard, Cutler turned his head, frowning.
‘How the hell did you end up here?’
‘Wife’s family din’ bless the marriage, you might say. Had to find someplace they wasn’t likely to look.’
‘Friend, you don’t want to be so open, telling
your business. How you know her family didn’t send me? Pay me to look for you…?’
The youngster blinked, then the colour faded from his face. His mouth worked but no intelligible sound escaped. He started to back off from Cutler as the rifle came out of leather and swung around in the hostler’s direction.
‘Listen, I …’
His hands were raised, palms out, as if he would push away the sudden menace. But Cutler shook his head.
‘Relax, son. I’m not after you. Just giving you a friendly warning so you’ll be a little more careful.’
Breath hissed out in relief and the young man smiled again, swallowed and wiped a grimy kerchief down his sweat-glossy face.
‘Aw, mister, you scared the hell outta me!’
‘Sorry. Now tell me where I’ll find a man named McKittrick.’
The eyes widened.
‘Kel McKittrick?’ Cutler nodded. ‘Well, if you’re one of his friends, I guess you’ll find him in the back room of the saloon. Him and his pards kinda get together most nights.’
‘S’posing I wasn’t a “friend” of his?’
The hostler studied him closely, taking in the trail clothes and their signs of long, hard travel. The gaunt square-jawed face, the cool, searching grey-green eyes and the whip-lean stance of a man at ease holding a rifle – and the way the jacket flap had been now pushed back behind the Colt’s butt, making it easier to reach.
‘Er … well then, I … wouldn’t walk right on in, mister.’
‘What would you do?’
A tongue flickered across the suddenly dry lips. ‘I – I dunno as how I’d care to go anywheres near that place.’
‘But if you did? If you had to…?’
‘If I had to … why, I reckon I’d go out through my back door.’ The hostler gestured towards the shadowed rear of the big barnlike building. ‘Work my way round my corrals. Got some half-broke fillies in the second one, so I’d walk wide: they sniff the man-smell and they get all frisky an’ squeal and holler.’
‘I’ll give ’em a wide berth,’ Cutler allowed.
‘Well, then I’d go around the back of the dark buildin’ across the lot past the corrals, cross the street where there ain’t no lamplight spillin’ outta doorways and go down the alley between the gen’l store and the barber’s. That’d put me within six feet of the door that leads into that back room from the saloon yard. The
Cutler nodded. ‘Sounds like a sensible thing to do.’ He reached into a pocket and flipped a silver dollar at the hostler who picked the coin out of the air
. ‘Be one or two more when I come back. Which might be a mite faster than I arrived. So I’ll need the horse ready.’
‘How about a fresh one? Got me a buckskin I been workin’ on and he’s full-broke to the saddle and rider now.’
‘Geldin’. Cost you – aw – thirty-five? An’ the dun there.’
Cutler asked to see the animal and liked its lines.
‘Son, you ain’t gonna make much money here with your prices. I’m on expenses, so I’ll give you fifty with
that Denver saddle throwed in. I keep the dun for a spare.’
The kid, looking pleased at the mention of fifty dollars, suddenly paled again and looked mighty worried.
‘That saddle you want belongs to Mr McKittrick.’
Cutler smiled crookedly.
‘Then we got a deal.
won’t be needing it after tonight.’
Kel McKittrick was a roughneck in his forties who had lived on the outside of the law all his brutal life. He was a mighty tough man, had been through all kinds of hardships, including near-drowning in the flooded Pecos one time when he saved himself by pulling his rescuer out of the saddle into the raging water before grabbing the horse’s tail and allowing the animal to fight its way to the bank. The Good Samaritan, of course, drowned, but McKittrick never even looked back as he rode off.
He had fought Indians, from raiding parties to
-hand knife combats over rights to a squaw. He had killed stage guards and drivers and even a few
, and if a rancher or his cowhands tried to stop him rustling their beef, they were inevitably marked for lonely graves.
Kel McKittrick had no conscience. Not once did he ever think about the people he killed or caused to be killed. They had stood between him and what he wanted so they had to be removed and the quickest and surest way was with gun or knife.
It was McKittrick’s cold-bloodedness that was his undoing.
He made a habit of visiting a whore over in the nearby town of Big Hat, a slightly more salubrious place than Red Flats, and he had been quite taken with the woman, thought about moving her back to the Flats. Then one night he looked in another room of her house, in search of a drink, tequila and moonshine already scouring his belly but leaving him thirsting for more.
In a bed against a wall, was a girl, twelve years old, her chestnut hair glinting with tight curls. Her skin was porcelain-smooth, soft as goosedown, silken. Her screams awakened the mother still asleep in her rumpled bed which she had been sharing with McKittrick.
She came in like a cyclone in a nightgown, wielding a length of fence paling she kept under the bed –
her customers were rougher than she liked and had to be subdued. She ‘subdued’ McKittrick with a well-placed swing of the paling, pulled her hysterical daughter out from beneath him and told him to get out, that she’d kill him if ever he laid another finger on the girl.
When McKittrick recovered he laid more than a finger on the child – and he left the whore bleeding and battered so that she was out of business
. It took her a long time to get over that beating and then she went looking for the girl. And found her in an outlaw camp, being passed from man to man, plied with liquor, far gone, out of her head, never
what was happening to her.
The whore couldn’t hope to get near McKittrick, but she went to the Rangers and told them where he hung out, how the original hideout, used by other men on the dodge, had gradually built up into the shack town of Red Flats.
The Rangers sent their top man to get McKittrick, one of the most wanted outlaws in the state.
That man was Deke Cutler, and now he was crouched in the darkness outside the weather-raw door of the Red Flats saloon, loaded rifle in hand, ready to go get his man.
He could hear muted voices through the wall,
, only an occasional swear word coming through the door so he could understand it. He listened carefully a little longer.
, he figured by the slight difference in the tones of the voices that he could just make out.
Well, he’d had better odds and likely they wouldn’t change soon, so
He drove his right boot against the door at lock-level and wood splintered. He went in shooting, dull amber light washing over the smoke-hazed room, leaving plenty of shadows. The rifle blasted and the well-oiled lever had never worked so fast and efficiently. Flame stabbed, moved slightly left and stabbed again, swung right, flared, the muzzle moving in a deadly arc.
Men threw up their arms. One man screamed. Another cussed a blue streak, down on one knee but bringing up a gun. Cutler gave him another bullet and he went over backwards, body twisted in an impossible position. A man ran for the other door and Cutler cut him down, then spun away as a bullet tore through his
right forearm, chewing at the muscle, blood and flesh spraying.
The impact slammed him against the wall as the gunman stepped out of a shadowed corner. Through the red haze of pain, even as he fumbled for his six-gun, Cutler recognized McKittrick.
‘So they sent the goddamn Rangers!’ the killer snorted and spat, bringing up his smoking pistol. ‘Well, hope they give you a good funeral, Deke!’
Cutler dropped, his Colt slippery with his blood in his right hand. He rolled across the floor as McKittrick’s bullets tore into the warped boards. Then he flopped on to his back, Colt in his left hand now, and as the killer lunged at him so as to get a clear shot, Cutler fired upwards.
The bullet splintered the table which was in the way and slivers of wood flew into McKittrick’s face. He clawed at his eyes and Cutler put two bullets into his belly, a third into his chest.
McKittrick was dead before he hit the floor.
Cutler worked up to his feet, feeling a little lightheaded, arm dripping blood. He was half-crouched in the middle of the room, surrounded by dead men, when he heard a faint sound behind him. He started to turn but wasn’t fast enough and the bullet took him in the back, under the left shoulder, and slammed him across the table. As he slid to the floor, through the red pain and the fast-approaching oblivion, he saw the kid from the livery standing there with a smoking rifle in his hands. He smiled.
‘Should’ve asked me my name, mister – It’s McKittrick, too. Kel was my half-brother. No-good son
of a bitch! Least he won’t bother my wife no more. Nor anyone else. Obliged to you for killin’ him for me. No one’s gonna miss him … So I’ll just say –
The blackness had descended on Cutler before the kid stepped out into the night, whistling.