Read Kilkenny 02 - A Man Called Trent (v5.0) Online
Authors: Louis L'Amour
On Buck, Kilkenny headed toward the Apple Cañon trail. He was tired, his muscles were weary and heavy, yet he knew that the outdoor life he had lived, and the rugged existence he had known most of his life would give him the stamina he needed now. Behind him a tight cavalcade of grim, mounted men were riding out to battle.
Rusty Gates rode up alongside Kilkenny in the van of the column.
“You had yourself a scrap,” Rusty said. “Can you see?”
“How about your hands?” Gates noticed the swollen knuckles and his lips tightened. “Kilkenny, you can’t drag a fast gun with hands like that. Facin’ Barnes will be suicide.”
“Nevertheless, I’m facin’ him,” Kilkenny said crisply. “He’s my meat, and I’ll take him. Besides, my
hands ain’t as bad as they look, and most of that swelling will be gone soon. It ain’t goin’ to be speed that’ll win, anyway. Both of us are goin’ to catch lead. It’ll be who can take the most of it and keep goin’.” He nodded. “The way I figure it we’ll be spotted before we get there. They’ll be holed up around the buildin’s. The bunkhouse, the livery stable, and blacksmith shop all looked like they was built to stand a siege.”
“They were,” said Rusty. “Heavy logs or stone, and built solid. Bill Sadler’s place, on the same side as the Border Bar, is ’dobe, and it has walls three feet thick. Them windows was built to cover the trail, an’ believe me, it ain’t a goin’ to be no picnic gettin’ tough men out of there.”
“I know.” Kilkenny rubbed Buck’s neck thoughtfully. “Got to figger that one out. I’m thinkin’ of leavin’ you fellers anyway. I’m goin’ up to the castle.”
“Alone?” Gates was incredulous. “Man, you’re askin’ for it. He’ll be forted up there, and plenty tight.”
“I doubt it. I doubt if he ever lets more than one man up there with him. Royal Barnes, as I hear of him, ain’t a trustin’ soul. No, I’m goin’ to try comin’ down the cliffs above the castle.”
“The what?” Gates swore and spat into the road. “Holy snakes, feller! They’re sheer rock! You’d need a rope and a lot of luck. Then he’d see you and get you before you ever got down!”
“Mebbe, I got the rope, and mebbe the luck. Anyway, I’m comin’ down from behind where he won’t be expectin’ me, an’ I’m comin’ down while you fellers are hard at it in front. Now here…the way I see it…”
As Webb Steele, Frame, and Rusty listened, he outlined a brief plan of attack. At the end, they began to grin.
“Might work,” observed Steele. “I’d forgot that claim up in the pass. If that stuff is still there…”
“It is. I looked.”
Kilkenny had no illusions about the task ahead. With the plan he had conceived, carefully working it out during the previous days, he believed that the fort houses of Apple Cañon could be taken. It meant a struggle, and there would be loss of life. This riding column would lose some faces, and there would be hectic and bloody fighting before that return.
Where was Steve Lord? Had Steve risen to his bait and ridden to the hidden cabin in the box cañon? It would be a place to find him, and there, if Steve should go for a gun, he could end it all. Kilkenny shrank from the task, and only the knowledge that other people would die, brutally murdered from ambush, made him willing to go through with keeping his promise to old Chet Lord. He had that job to do, and luckily the cañon was only a short distance from the route the cavalcade would follow.
There had been no diary left by Des King. The idea had been created in Kilkenny’s own mind. It had been bait dropped for the killer, and it had been conceived even before Kilkenny had known that Steve was the man. That he would have discovered it soon, he knew, for slowly the evidence had been mounting, and he had been suspicious of Steve Lord, waiting only for a chance to inspect his guns and check them against the shells he had picked up as evidence.
What would Steve Lord do now? To all intents, he would be outlawed. He knew his father had exposed
him, and he must realize there was evidence enough to convict him, or to send him to an asylum. He would be desperate. Would he try to kill Kilkenny? To escape? Or would he go on a killing spree and gun down everything and everybody in sight? Kilkenny couldn’t escape the feeling that Steve would go to Apple Cañon. He turned suddenly to Webb Steele.
“I’m ridin’ for the shack where I let Steve think Des King hid his diary,” he said. “If I ain’t back when you get to Apple Cañon, just go to work and don’t wait for me. I’m goin’ to get Steve Lord. When I find him, I’ll come back.”
He wheeled the buckskin and took off up a draw into the deeper hills. He had been thinking of this route all the way along. He wasn’t sure this route would do it, but knew he could find a way.
The draw opened into a narrower draw, and after a long time he rode out of that to a little stretch of bunch grass that led away to a ridge covered with cedar and pine. It was cool among the trees, and he stopped for a minute to wipe his hatband and check his guns once more. Then he slid his Winchester from the scabbard and took it across the saddle in front if him. His hands felt better than he had expected they would.
He struck a path and followed it through the trees, winding steadily upward. Then the trees thinned, and he entered a region of heaped-up boulders among which the trail wound with all the casualness of cow trails in a country where cows are in no hurry. Twice rabbits jumped up and ran away from his trail, but the buckskin’s hoofs made no noise on the pine needles or in the dust of the boulder-bordered trail.
Kilkenny was cutting across a meadow when he
saw the prints of a horse bisecting the trail he was making. In the tall grass of the meadow he could tell nothing of the horse, but on a hunch he turned the buckskin and followed. Whoever the rider was, he was in a hurry, and was moving in as straight a line as possible for his objective.
It had bad features, this trailing of a man native to the country. Such a man would know of routes, of places of concealment of which Kilkenny could know nothing. Such an advantage could mean the difference between life and death in such a country.
Scanning every open space before he moved across it, Kilkenny followed warily. He knew only too well the small amount of concealment it required to prevent a man from being seen. A few inches of grass, clothes that blended with surroundings, and immobility was all that was essential to remain unseen.
Sunlight caught the highest pinnacles of the mountains beyond Forgotten Pass, and slowly the long shadows crept up, and the day crept away down the cañons. Kilkenny rode steadily, every sense alert for trouble, his keen eyes searching the rocks ahead, roving ceaselessly, warily.
The cabin was not far away when he dismounted and faded into the darkness under the gnarled cedars, and looked down through the narrow entrance between the cliffs into the box cañon.
A squat, shapeless structure, built hurriedly by some wandering prospector or hopeful rancher in some distant period. Then in the years that followed it had slowly sagged here and there, the straw roof rotting and being patched with cedar bows, earth, and even heavy branches from the cedars until the roof had become a mound. It was an ancient, decrepit
structure, its one window a black hole, its door too low for a tall man. About it the grass was green, for there was a stream nearby that flowed out of the rocks on one side and returned into the cliffs on the other, after diagonally crossing the cañon and watering a meadow in transit.
Outside the shack, under an apple tree, stood a saddled horse, his head hanging.
Well, here we are, Kilkenny
, he told himself dryly.
Now to get close
Leaving the buckskin in concealment, Kilkenny went at a crouching run to the nearest boulder. Then he ran closer, crouched behind some cedars, watching the cabin.
He was puzzled. There was still no movement. It should take no time to find there was nothing in the cabin, and it was black in there. He should have seen a light by now, for there was no use trying to search in the blackness inside that cabin for anything.
The saddled horse stood, his head low, waiting wearily. A breeze stirred leaves on the cottonwood tree, and they whispered gently. Kilkenny pulled his sombrero lower and, moving carefully with the whispering of the leaves to cover the rustle of his movement, worked along the cliff into the bottleneck entrance. Slowly, carefully he worked inside.
There was no shot, no sound. In dead silence he moved closer, his rifle ready, his eyes searching every particle of cover. The horse moved a little, and began cropping grass absently, as though it had already eaten its fill.
Suddenly he had a feeling that the cabin was empty. There was no reason for him to wait. He would go over to it. He stepped out, his rifle ready,
and walked swiftly and silently across the grass toward the cabin.
The horse stopped cropping grass and looked up, pricking its ears at him. Then he stepped up to the cabin.
Was there anyone inside? The blackness of the squat cabin gave off no sound. Despite himself, Kilkenny felt uneasy. It was too still, and there was something unearthly about this lost cañon and the lonely little shack. Carefully he put down his rifle and slipped a six-gun into his hand. The rifle would be a handicap if he had to fight in the close quarters of the shack. Then he looked in.
It was black inside, yet between himself and the hole that passed for a window he could see the vague outline of a sleeping man’s head. A man’s head bowed forward on his chest.
“All right,” he said clearly. “You can get up and come out!”
There was neither sound nor movement. Kilkenny stepped inside quickly, and there was still no move. Taking a chance, he struck a match. The man was dead.
Searching about, he found a stump of candle that some passing rider had left. Lighting it, he looked at the man. He was a stranger. A middle-aged man, and a cowhand by his looks. He had been shot in the right temple by someone who had fired from outside the window. The room had been thoroughly ransacked.
Kilkenny scowled. An innocent man killed, and his fault. If he hadn’t told that story, this might not have happened. But at the time he had needed some way for the killer to betray himself. It wasn’t easy to do everything right.
He walked out quickly and swung into saddle.
There was nothing to do now but to return. He could make it in time, and morning would be the time to attack. In the small hours, just before daylight.
Buck took the trail with a quickened step as though he understood an end was in sight. Kilkenny lounged in the saddle. Steve would be riding hard now. He would be heading for Apple Cañon.
Weary from the long riding and the fight with Cain Brockman, Kilkenny lounged in the saddle, more asleep than awake. The yellow horse ambled down the trail through the mountains like a ghost horse on a mysterious mission.
There was a faint light in the sky, the barest hint of approaching dawn, when Kilkenny rode up to join the posse. They had stopped in a shallow valley about two miles from Apple Cañon. Dismounted, aside from guards, they were gathered about the fire.
He swung down from his horse and walked over, his boots sinking into the sand of the wash. The firelight glowed on their hard, unshaven faces.
Webb Steele, his huge body looking big as a grizzly’s, looked up.
“Find Steve?” he demanded.
“No. But he killed another man.” Briefly Kilkenny told of what he had found at the cabin. “Steve’s obviously come on here. He’s somewhere in there.”
“You think he worked with this gang?” Frame asked. “Against his own pa?”
“Uhn-huh. I think he knows Barnes. I think they cooked up some kind of a deal. I think Steve Lord has a heavy leanin’ toward Nita Riordan, too. That’s mebbe why he come here.”
Rusty said nothing. He was looking pale, and Kilkenny could see that the ride had been hard on
him. He shouldn’t have come with that wound, Kilkenny thought. But men like Rusty Gates couldn’t stay out of a good fight. And wounded or not, he was worth any two ordinary men.
Not two like Webb Steele, though. Or Frame. Either of them would do to ride the river with. They might be bull-headed, they might argue and talk a lot, but they were men who believed in doing the right thing, and men who would fight in order to be able to do it.
Glancing around at the others, Kilkenny saw that they looked efficient and sure. All of those men had been through the mill. There probably wasn’t a man in the lot who hadn’t fought Comanches and rustlers. This was going to be tough, because they were fighting clever men who would kill, and who were fighting from concealment. It is one thing to fight skilled fighting men, who know Indian tactics, and to fight those who battle in the open.
“Well,” Kilkenny said, as he tasted the hot, bitter black coffee, “we got to be movin’. The stars are fadin’ out a little.”
Webb Steele turned to the men.
“You all know what this is about,” he said harshly. “We ain’t plannin’ on no prisoners. Every man who wants to surrender will get his chance. If a man throws down his shootin’ iron, take him. We’ll try ’em decent, and hang the guilty ones. Although,” he
added, “ain’t likely to be any innocent ones in Apple Cañon.”
“One thing,” Kilkenny said suddenly. “Leave Nita Riordan’s Border Bar and her house alone.”
He wasn’t sure how they would take that, and he stood there, looking around. He saw tacit approval in Rusty’s eyes, and Steele and Frame nodded agreement. Then his eyes encountered those of a tall, lean man with a cadaverous face and piercing gray eyes. The man chewed for a minute in silence, staring at Kilkenny.
“I reckon,” he said then harshly, “that if we clear the bad ’uns out of Apple, we better clear ’em all out. Me, I ain’t stoppin’ for no woman. Nor that half-breed man of her’n, neither!”
Steele’s hand tightened, and his eyes narrowed. Kilkenny noticed tension among the crowd. Would there be a split here? He smiled. “No reason for any trouble,” he said quietly, “but Nita Riordan gave me a tip once that helped. I think she’s friendly to us, an’ I think she’s innocent of wrong doin’.”
The man with the gray eyes looked back at him. “I aim to clear her out of there as well’s the others. I aim to burn that bar over her head.”
There was cruelty in the man’s face, and a harshness that seemed to spring from some inner source of malice and hatred. He wore a gun tied down, and had a carbine in the hollow of his arm. Several other men had moved up behind him now, and there was a curious similarity in their faces.
“Time to settle that,” Kilkenny said, “when we get there. But I’m thinkin’, friend, you better change your mind. If you don’t, you’re goin’ to have to kill me along with her.”
“She’s a scarlet woman,” the man said viciously, “and dyin’s too good for her kind. I’m a-gettin’ her, and you stay away.”
“Time’s a-wastin’,” Steele said suddenly. “Let’s ride!”
In the saddle, Kilkenny swung alongside of Steele in the van of the column.
“Who is that
” he demanded.
“Name of Calkins. Lem Calkins. He hails from West Virginia…lives up yonder in the mountains. He’s a feuder. You see them around him? He’s got three brothers, and five sons. If you touch one of ’em, you got to fight ’em all.”
They rode up the rise before coming to Apple Cañon, and then Kilkenny wheeled his horse toward the cliff. Almost instantly a shot rang out, and he wheeled the buckskin again and went racing toward the street of the town.
More shots rang out, and a man at the well dropped the bucket and grabbed for his gun. Kilkenny snapped a shot and the man staggered back, grabbing at his arm. A shot ripped past Kilkenny, scarring the pommel of his saddle as he lunged forward. He snapped another shot, then raced the buckskin between Nita’s house and the Border Bar, dropping from the saddle.
He was up the back steps in two jumps, and had swung open the door. Firing had broken out in front, but Kilkenny’s sudden attack from the rear of the bar astonished the defenders so much that he was inside the door before they realized what was happening. He snapped a shot at a lean, red-faced gunman in the door. The fellow went down, grabbing at his chest.
The bartender made a grab at the sawed-off shotgun under the bar, and Kilkenny took him with his
left-hand gun, getting off two shots. A third man let out a yelp and went out the front door, fast.
Jaime Brigo sat very still, his chair tipped back against the wall. He just watched Kilkenny, his eyes expressionless.
Kilkenny reloaded his pistols.
“Brigo,” he said abruptly, “there are some men among us who would harm the
. Lem Calkins, and his brothers and sons. They would burn this place, and kill her. You savvy?”
“I must go up on the cliff. You must watch over the
Jamie Brigo got up. He towered above Kilkenny, and he smiled. “Of course,
. I know
Calkins well. He is a man who thinks himself a good man, but he is cruel. He is also dangerous,
“If necessary, take the
away. I shall be back when I have seen the man on the cliff.”
The firing was increasing in intensity.
“You have seen Steve Lord?” Kilkenny asked Brigo.
He went before you to the cliff. The
would not see him. He was very angry, and said he would return soon.”
Kilkenny walked to a point just inside the window of the bar and out of line with it. For a time he studied the street. The bulk of the outlaws seemed to be holed up in the livery stable, and they were throwing out a hot fire. Some of the defenders were firing from the pile of stones beyond the town, and others from the bunkhouse. There was no way to estimate their numbers.
Some of the attacking party had closed in and got
into position where they could fire into the face of the building. But for a time at least it looked like a stalemate.
Walking to the back door of the bar, Kilkenny slipped out into the yard and walked over to Buck. Safely concealed by the bar building, he was out of the line of fire of the defenders. Suddenly he heard a low call and, glancing over, saw Nita standing under the roses. An instant he hesitated, then walked over, leading Buck. For a moment he was exposed, but appeared to get by unseen.
Briefly he told her of Lem Calkins. She nodded.
“I expected that. He hates me.”
“Why?” Kilkenny asked.
“Oh, because I’m a woman, I think. But he came here once, and had to be sent away. He seemed to think I was somewhat different than I am.”
“You are going to the cliff?” Her eyes were wide and dark.
“Be careful. There are traps up there, spring guns, and other things.”
“I’ll be careful.”
He swung into saddle and loped the buckskin away, keeping the buildings between him and the firing.
When he cleared her house, a shot winged past him from the stone pile, but he slipped behind a hummock of sand and let the buckskin run. He was going to have to work fast.
Skirting the rocks, he worked down to the stream and walked Buck into it, then turned upstream. The water was no more than a foot deep, flowing over a gravel bottom, clear and bright. For a half mile he
walked the horse upstream, then turned up on the bank, and followed a weaving course through a dense thicket of willows that slowly gave way to pine and cedar. After ten minutes more of riding, he rode out on a wide plateau.
Using a high, thumb-shaped butte for a marker, he worked higher and higher among the rocks until he was quite sure he was above and behind the cliff house. Then he dismounted, and dropped the bridle over Buck’s head.
“You take care of yourself, Buck,” he said quietly. “I’ve got places to go.”
Leaving his carbine in its scabbard, he left the horse and walked down through the rocks toward the cliff edge.
The view was splendid. Far below he could see the scattered houses of Apple Cañon, all of them silent in the morning sun. There were only a few. Around the cluster of buildings that made the town, there were occasional puffs of smoke. From up here he could see clearly what was happening below. The defenders were still holding forth in the livery stable and bunkhouse, and apparently in Sadler’s house. His own attacking party had fanned out until they had a line of riflemen across the pass and down close to the town. They were fighting as the plan had been, shrewdly and carefully, never exposing themselves.
Kilkenny had worked out that plan himself. He was quite sure from what he had learned, and from what Rusty and a couple of others who knew Apple Cañon had told him, that the well across from Nita’s house was the only source of water. That one bucket was empty, he knew, for it lay there beside the well, and alongside of it the gun that had fallen from the
man’s hand after Kilkenny had shot him. There were a lot of men defending Apple Cañon, and it was going to be a hot day. If they could be held there, and kept from getting water, and, if during that time he could eliminate Royal Barnes, there would be chance of complete surrender on the part of the rustlers. He believed he could persuade Steele and Frame to let them go if they surrendered as a body and left the country. His only wish was to prevent any losses among his own men while breaking up the gang.
Suddenly, even as he watched, a man dashed from the rear of the bunkhouse and made a run for the well and the fallen bucket. He was halfway to the well before a gun spoke. Kilkenny would have known that gun in a million. It was Mort Davis who was firing.
The runner sprawled face down in the dust. That would keep them quiet for a while. Nobody would want to die that way. It was at least 600 feet to the floor of the valley from where Kilkenny stood. Remembering his calculations, he figured it would be at least fifty feet down to the cliff house and the window he had chosen. Undoubtedly there was an exit back somewhere not far from his horse, or at least somewhere among the boulders and crags either on top or behind the cliff. There had to be at least two exits. But there wasn’t time to look for them now.
He had taken his rope from the saddle, and now he made it fast around the trunk of a gnarled and ancient cedar. Then he dropped it over the cliff. Carefully he eased himself over the edge and got both hands on the rope. Then, his feet hanging free, he began to lower himself. His hands gave him no trouble.
He was halfway down when the first shot came, followed by a yell. The shot was from the livery stable,
and it clipped the rock wall he was facing. His face was stung with fragments of stone.
Immediately his own men opened up with a hot fire, and he lowered himself a bit more, then glanced down looking for the window. He saw it. A little to the right.
Another shot clipped close to him, but obviously whoever was shooting was taking hurried shots without proper aim or he would not have missed. He was just thanking all the gods that the men behind the stone pile hadn’t spotted him when he heard a yell, and almost instantly a shot cut through his sleeve and stung his arm. Involuntarily he jerked, and almost lost his hold. Then, as bullets began to spatter around him, he found a foothold on the window sill, and hurriedly dropped inside.
Instantly he slipped out of line with the window and froze. There was no sound from inside. Only the rattle of rifle fire down below.
The room he was in was a bedroom, empty. It was small, comfortable, and the Indian blankets spread on the bed matched those on the wall. There was a crude table and a chair.
Kilkenny tiptoed across the room and put his hand on the knob. Then slowly he eased open the door.
A voice spoke.
“Come in, Kilkenny!”