Authors: Len Levinson
“There's nothin' to fight over,” Duane replied. “What's wrong with you?”
It sounded like a new insult. Jones stiffened, and poised his hand above his Remington. “I'm ready when you are.”
Somebody laughed, and Jones thought a joke had been made at his expense. Warped anger billowed through his brain as he reached for his Remington. His finger touched the ivory grip at the same instant that Duane's Colt fired. A bullet pierced Jones's heart, and his lights went out instantly, but he was still on his feet, gun in hand, ready to fire. Everybody stared in morbid fascination as he collapsed onto the floor.
It was silent in the saloon, acrid gunsmoke filled the air, and everyone's ears rang with the shot. Duane aimed his gun at Mundy, then at Cassidy, and finally at McPeak.
“Any of you boys want a piece of me?” he asked.
Also by Len Levinson
The Rat Bastards:
Hit the Beach
River of Blood
Meat Grinder Hill
Down and Dirty
Too Mean to Die
Hot Lead and Cold Steel
Do or Die
Go For Broke
Tough Guys Die Hard
Go Down Fighting
The Pecos Kid:
Devil's Creek Massacre
Bad to the Bone
The Apache Wars Saga:
Night of the Cougar
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 1993 by Len Levinson. Â All Rights Reserved.
EbookÂ Â© 2013 by AudioGO. Â All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN:Â 978-1-62064-861-2
HE HAUNCH OF ANTELOPE CRACKLED
and spattered over the fire, as Duane Braddock turned the spit. He kneeled in a cave near the Texas-Mexican border, gazing at endless rolling desert wastes; a bald eagle circled high in the sky.
Unrelenting silence was unhinging his mind, and every day was the same as the last. He hunted, gathered roots, hauled water, and wished he were somewhere else, like in a nice little saloon, with a relaxing glass of whisky, a piano player, and maybe, if he was lucky, some dancing girls.
But Duane Braddock couldn't simply ride away from his little niche in the mountain. He was wanted
for murder in the first degree, and a posse was on his trail, not to mention Apache scouts from the Fourth Cavalry. Duane was worth more dead than alive, because he'd shot a certain overly zealous federal marshal in a town farther north. The marshal had gone loco and tried to arrest Duane for murder, a crime Duane didn't commit. Duane resisted the warrant; he didn't trust judges and juries, his father having been hanged by a trumped-up court in the Pecos country. Then the marshal made the mistake of drawing on Duane, and Duane fought back in self-defense. The marshal died of lead poisoning, and now Duane was on the dodge, living like an Apache, constantly looking over his shoulder, ready for anything.
He returned to the fire, yanked his Bowie knife out of his right boot, and examined the roasting meat. It looked about done to his practiced eyes, so he impaled it on the knife, lowered it to the rock floor of the cave, and sliced off a chunk. Sitting cross-legged, he gnawed tender sweet venison and wondered how much longer he'd have to remain in hiding.
He was nearly six feet tall, wearing black jeans and a black shirt, with a short scraggly black beard. Eighteen years old, he looked lethal as a panther, but he'd been raised in a pious and holy Benedictine monastery high in the Guadalupe Mountains, and he'd dreamed of becoming a priest someday. Duane had never realized, as he'd sung Gregorian Chant in the chapel, that he'd end up an outlaw in Mexico. How strange is a man's life, he cogitated. One day
you're living at the right hand of the Father, and six months later, you're on the dodge.
Duane had been brought to the monastery at the age of one year, after his parents had died. He'd spent most of his life high in the clouds, cramming his mind with theology, philosophy, and history, with an occasional dip into the classics, and special attention to the mightiest tome of all, the Bible.
All had been going well until one day Duane lost his temper and nearly killed another acolyte, who'd made insulting remarks concerning Duane's parentage. According to monastery records, Duane's father had been an outlaw, while his mother had been employed as a prostitute. They'd never bothered to get married, and Duane was extremely sensitive about his sordid beginnings. Inarticulate with pain and rage, he'd attacked with the first thing he could lay his hands on, a cast-iron frying pan.
It frightened him to know that he could perform incredibly violent acts beyond his control. But he couldn't tolerate painful insults, and didn't like to be pushed around. A furnace of rebellion and resentment burned in his heart, and didn't require much to stoke it up. He could elucidate Saint Irenaeus's arguments against the heresies, but didn't comprehend his own personal behavior.
Since leaving the monastery, every time he'd turned around he'd fallen into a deeper pile of shit. Sometimes he believed that he carried the mark of Cain. On other occasions he thought himself capable of great achievements. He was full of energy and
optimism mixed with doubts and fears. Since leaving the monastery, he'd developed a new ambition: to become a cowboy and own his own ranch someday. Now the Fourth Cavalry was after him, not to mention the posse. If only that goddamned marshal had left him alone, he thought ruefully. I try to be polite, I'm kind to old ladies, but before I know it, somebody's aiming a gun at me.
He munched pinyon nuts as he watched the molten sun sink toward red mountainous calligraphy in the distance. The glory of the universe pulsated through him, and he felt saturated with the power of the Holy Ghost. But something was missing, as if he was trying to climb onto a horse, but the saddle kept slipping.
He knew that he could live indefinitely in the desert, for once he'd spent a month with a tribe of hit-and-run Apaches. They'd taught him to track, move silently, see clearly, and hear everything, but most of all how to locate food and water on a supposedly barren land. An old
medicine man named Cucharo had said that Duane's grandfather was a famous Apache warrior. Duane had drunk sacred
with the Apaches, and experienced incredible visions of his grandfather that he was still trying to decipher.
Duane would've lived with Apaches forever, but couldn't abide some of their customs. For instance, if a squaw had twins, the father was obliged to kill one, because Apaches believed that twins resulted from evil sorcery. Duane knew that he could never
slit his own son's throat, regardless of circumstances, and decided that the Apache way was a bit too barbaric and superstitious for what remained of his Roman Catholic tastes. So he'd left the Apaches and returned to the white man's world, where he'd shot the federal marshal.
He had stared at bare stone walls, and hadn't talked with anyone except his horse, Steve, for nearly a month. His tobacco was gone, he had nothing to read, and he was tired of cooking over an open fire. The desert was beautiful in all its multivaried splendor, but unending loneliness was rattling him.
He wished he could stop thinking about tobacco, but the desire became worse with every passing hour. Major events were occurring in the world, and he didn't know what they were. America could be in another war with Mexico, and he was on the wrong side of the Rio Grande.
Darkness fell on the desert, and he spotted a border town's faint twinkling lights to the north. Duane gazed at those beckoning beacons every night, and imagined churches, saloons full of colorful strangers, and homes where people sat with family and friends at dinner tables, while he chewed charred meat in a cave.
He knew that the posse would tire of the chase after a few weeks of nothing, and the Fourth Cavalry had more important assignments than to chase one lone outlaw forever. “Maybe it's time I returned to civilization,” Duane said aloud, for he often talked to himself in the cave. “I'll use a new name, and if
folks act suspicious, I'll climb onto my horse and gallop out of town pronto. They say half the people in Texas are on the dodge, and maybe somebody in that town can tell me about my father.”