Authors: Ralph Cotton
ASKING FOR TROUBLE
“You're not making me one
damn bit nervous
, Ranger,” Ferry said. His face reddened; he took two short threatening steps forward and stood glaring at the Ranger. “Without your
element of surprise
, you ain't so damnâ”
He stopped short as the shotgun butt stabbed him hard in the middle of his chest just below where his ribs met. Breath and spittle flew from his mouth. He jackknifed and stood bowed deep at the waist, his hands clutching his solar plexus. The Ranger sidestepped, reached out and grabbed Ferry's Remington from its holster in one slick professional move and pitched it away. The other two gunmen had already grasped their revolvers, but upon seeing the Ranger toss the Remington into the dirt, they kept themselves in check and stood staring. The Ranger grabbed the back of Ferry's shirt collar and raised and lowered the gasping gunman up and down at the waist as if operating a pump handle.
“That's it, Ferry. Breathe deep,” he said calmly.
“Jesus, he walked right into that,” said Rudabaugh, giving Ferry a look of contempt.
“I saw it coming,” said the other man, unimpressed.
Sam straightened Ferry onto his feet and steadied him a little.
“There, you're doing fine,” he said encouragingly. He patted Ferry's bowed back. Ferry gasped and wheezed.
“I'll ki-kill you,” he managed to say in a strained, weakened voice.
Published by New American Library,
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This book is an original publication of New American Library.
Copyright Â© Ralph Cotton, 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Mary Lynn, of courseÂ .Â .Â .
Arizona Territory Ranger Sam Burrack sat waiting midtrail atop his copper-colored dun. Both man and animal stood perfectly still, statuelike in the crisp silver dawn. Their senses searched the silence along the winding trail leading off and upward along the rocky hills. A sliver of steam curled in the dun's nostrils. The Ranger rested the butt of his Winchester rifle on his thigh, cocked and ready, its barrel pointing skyward. He'd removed his trail gloves and stuck them down behind his gun belt. He held his hand in a firing grip around the small of the rifle stock, his finger outside the trigger guard, resting along the cold metal gun chamber.
When the dun's ears pricked slightly toward the trail, the Ranger gave a trace of a smile and rubbed the horse's withers.
Not much longer.Â .Â .Â .
The men he lay in wait for had robbed a mine payroll the day beforeâin fact, had robbed two other payrolls over the past week. As the sound of horses' hooves overtook the morning silence, Sam wrapped his reins loosely around the dun's saddle horn, stepped down from the saddle and nudged the dun on its rump. The horse moved away behind the cover of a tall rock as if trained to do so. Sam shifted his rifle to his left hand, drew his Colt and held it cocked down his right side. Looking up along the trail, he counted four horsemen riding down, dust roiling behind their horses' hooves.
Riding into sight, the first horseman swung his horse quarterwise to the Ranger and jerked it to a halt.
“Whoa, boys!” he called out to the others, caught by surprise at seeing the Ranger standing there, alone, armed, looking as if he might have been there all night, waiting.
Sam stood staring calmly, his duster open down the front showing his badge should anyone be interested in seeing it.
“How the hell did you get around us, Ranger?” the first rider, a seasoned Missourian gunman named Bern Able, called out. As he spoke the other three jerked their horses to a halt. They instinctively formed a half circle on the narrow trail.
“Simple,” Sam said coolly. “You stopped. I kept riding.”
“I'll be damned.Â .Â .Â .” Able gave a stiff grin through a long unattended mustache. He looked all around the hill lines encircling them as if to see what route the Ranger had taken. “And that's all there was to it?” His hand rested on the butt of a Remington conversion strapped across his belly in a cross-draw holster. “I'll have to remember that.”
The Ranger stood with his feet spread in a fighting stance, his riding duster spread open down the front, his battered gray sombrero brim tilted down a little on his foreheadâSonora-styleâagainst the glare of rising sunlight in the east.
“I'll be taking that money now, Able,” he said with resolve. He nodded at the bulging canvas bag hanging from the saddle horn of Able's pale speckled barb.
what you'll have to do,” said a younger Tex-Mexican outlaw named Brandon Suarez. His right hand rested on a holstered black-handled Colt with an eagle etched on its grip.
Sam only gave him a throwaway glance as if it went without saying that he would
the money. Then he looked back at Able, who still sat grinning, yet tensed, poised.
“Hush up, Brandon, we're talking here,” Able said sidelong to Suarez without taking his eyes off the Ranger. “But he's right, you know,” he said to Sam. “I've never understood why you lawmen think a man will risk his life, get his hands on some hard-earned money and just turn around and give it all up to you.” He shook his head in disgust. “I'd like to hear just how you see any fairness in it.” He fixed a hard, sharp gaze on the Ranger.
“Yeah, me too,” said Suarez.
“It would require a lot of explaining,” Sam said quietly, almost patiently. “That's not why I'm here.” As he spoke his cocked Colt came up causally in an unthreatening manner and leveled at Able's chest, twenty feet away. He slid a glance over the other two, a young but well-seasoned Wyoming cattle thief named Freddie Dobbs and a huge saloon bouncer from Maryland named Armand “Boomer” Phipps. He noted that Dobbs kept his hand well away from his holstered sidearm. Boomer Phipps, owing to his massive size, was not known for carrying a gun.
“Well, ain't you slicker than pig piss?” said Able. Rather than looking taken aback at how coolly the Ranger had just gotten the upper hand, Able shrugged it off.
The other three just stared, not understanding why Able had allowed that to happen.
“See, Brandon,” he said as if undaunted, “that's his way of telling you to go to hellâthat he don't give a damn how hard you work, or what-all you go through to get the money. He figures his job is to take it back, make sure it goes to the squareheads who weren't fit to hang on to it in the first place. Right, Ranger?” He glared at Sam as if enraged by the unfairness of it.
“There you have it,” Sam said with resolve. He saw the slightest clasp of Able's gun hand on the butt of the big Remington belly gunâthe faintest move of his thumb toward the gun hammer.
Sam's Colt bucked in his right hand before Able brought his belly gun out and up into play. Able flew backward as his blood splattered on Freddie Dobbs. Dobbs' horse whinnied and reared wildly. Sam fired the Winchester in his left hand, hoping the shot would distract Suarez. It did. The outlaw ducked a little as the rifle shot whistled past him. Before he could straighten and get a shot off, Sam swung his Colt toward him and fired. Suarez fell down the side of his spooked horse, blood spilling from his chest.
Even as his world faded around him, Suarez squeezed off a wild shot. Sam saw the round send Dobbs flying backward out of his saddle. He landed flat on his back. Sam swung the Colt toward Boomer Phipps, who sat unarmed and growling in his saddle like a mad dog.
“Hands in the air, Boomer,” Sam called out. But even as he spoke he had to holster his Colt quickly and grab Able's speckled barb by its reins as the animal tried to streak past him. He held on to the spooked horse's reins, his Winchester smoking in his left.
“Who says?” Boomer growled at him. He swung down from his saddle. Moving fast for a man his size, he charged at the Ranger, as if unstoppable. “You're not going to shoot me. I'll break your head off!”
Sam knew he needed to lever a fresh round into the rifle chamber, but he had no time. Boomer Phipps charged hard and fast, a massive and deadly force pounding at him like a crazed grizzly. Sam let go of the barb's reins and drew the rifle far back over his right shoulder with both hands. With all his strength he drove the rifle butt forward into Phipps' broad forehead. Phipps stopped as if he'd run into a brick wall. The impact of the huge outlaw sent the Ranger flying backward onto his rump.
Instead of going to the ground like any normal-sized man, Phipps staggered backward two steps, caught himself and stood swaying, dazed but still on his feet. Sam came to his feet, levering a round into his rifle, and stood with his feet braced, ready to fire.
“Stay where you are, Boomer,” he warned. “Don't make me kill you.”
Phipps batted his eyes; he raised his arms and spread his big hands in a wrestling stance.
“You ain't going to
, Ranger,” he said, still dazed. “I'm going to kill you!” He stalked forward a step, then another.
Sam leveled the cocked rifle and aimed it at the outlaw's broad chest. There was nothing more to sayânothing more to do. Sam started to squeeze the trigger. But before he made the killing shot at a distance of less than thirty feet, Phipps crumbled to his knees, growled aloud and pitched forward onto his chest, finally succumbing to the blow on his forehead. Even still he moaned and slung his big head back and forth, trying to clear it.
Sam lowered the rifle in both hands as Phipps groaned and wallowed in the dirt. Stepping over to the dun, Sam took a pair of handcuffs from his saddlebags and a coil of rope from his saddle horn. Walking back to the downed outlaw, he grabbed the reins to Able's barb again as the horse stepped nervously around on the narrow trail.
“Don't make me hit you again, Boomer,” Sam said, stooping down, grabbing the outlaw's left arm and pulling it back behind him before Phipps knew what was happening.
“I dareÂ .Â .Â . you to, law dog!” Phipps growled, sounding groggy and thick-tongued. He reached his other hand around behind him and flailed about for the Ranger. Sam managed to grab the big hand long enough to clasp the cuff around the other wrist.
Phipps, still a little dazed, struggled against the cuffs and wallowed until he managed to rise onto his knees.
“I'll twist your limbs off!” he shouted at Sam.
Sam stepped back, opened a loop in the rope and swung it down over the big man's shoulders, drawing it tight around his arms. Before Phipps could react, two more loops swung around him and tightened.
“There, now, Boomer, settle yourself down,” Sam said. “You're not going anywhere.”
Phipps strained and struggled; Sam heard the rope creak with tension.
“Shoot me, Ranger, I dare you,” he continued to taunt. “You won't shoot me. You're afraid toâ!”
His words cut short as Sam stepped behind him, placed his right boot between his shoulders and shoved him forward. Phipps landed with a grunt and a solid thud. Sam wrapped three turns of rope around his thick knees and dogged the rope down.
“That ought to do it,” he said quietly. Phipps struggled, but Sam could see he was wearing out.
“What about meÂ .Â .Â . over here?” Freddie Dobbs called out in a weak voice. Sam saw him sitting up unsteadily on the ground. Blood ran freely from a bullet hole in his upper shoulder.
“I'm coming, Dobbs,” Sam called out, dusting dirt from his hands. “Keep breathing in and out.”
“That'sÂ .Â .Â .
funny,” Dobbs rasped.
Sam helped the big outlaw to his feet and steadied him for a moment. Phipps' forehead carried a swollen welt the size and shape of the Ranger's rifle butt. Blood trickled down from the welt and dripped from his nose. Sam tugged on the short length of rope in his hand.
“Let's go, Boomer,” he said.
The outlaw looked down groggily at his knees with the rope wrapped securely around them. He took a short six-inch step forward, swaying, his huge arms bound against his sides.
“How am I supposed to walk like this?” he asked.
“Real slow,” the Ranger replied flatly.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
An hour passed as Sam dressed Freddie Dobbs' wounded shoulder with a folded bandanna he took from his saddlebags. He tied the bandanna in place with strips of Dobbs' shirtsleeve he'd torn off and cut into strips. Dobbs sat with his shirt hanging off his left shoulder. He looked down at the improvised bandaging and shook his head.
“That's my last shirt,” he said in a sad tone.
“I've got worse news than that for you,” Sam said, standing, pouring canteen water onto his cupped hand, then clamping the canteen under his arm and washing his hands together. “The bullet is stuck against a bone inside your shoulder.”
,” said Dobbs, “that's why I can't bend my arm?” He tried rounding his shoulder a little but stopped in a sharp surge of pain.
“Most likely that's why,” Sam said. “The bullet has to be cut out.” He looked all around the barren desert hill country as he spoke.
“Can't you slice right in there, dig it up and pluck it out, Ranger?” Boomer Phipps asked, sitting off to the side listening, his forehead still pounding.
PluckÂ .Â .Â .Â ?
” said Dobbs. He looked back and forth between the two, sweat pouring down his forehead. “What the hell am I, some kind of roasting animal?”
Phipps just scowled at him.
“I can cut it out,” Sam said. “But it would be less painful if we took you into town and got it done.” He looked Dobbs up and down. “You decide. But it needs doing quick, keep the fever from setting in.”
“Man oh man.Â .Â .Â .” Dobbs looked worried as he considered the matter and touched his hand carefully against the bloody bandage.
Seeing the look on his troubled face, Sam handed the canteen down to him.
“We're a day's ride from Big Silver,” he said. “There's a doctor there most times.”
“Most times?” said Dobbs, taking the canteen. “I don't like those odds.”
“Then you should have picked a different game,” Sam said.
Dobbs paused, then said, “SayÂ .Â .Â . that's Sheriff Sheppard Stone's town.” A slight grin came to his parched lips. “Didn't I hear he's a drunk? Heard he's gone loco, thinks he turns into a wolf or something.”
Sam stared at him. It had been a month now since he rode with Sheriff Stone, and the woman sheriff named Kay Deluna. The three of them had fought a band of outlaws bent on holding a railroad baron named Curtis Siedell hostage.
“I heard some rumors like that myself,” Sam said. “Last I saw Stone he was sober, doing his job like always. Anyway, Big Silver's where we're going.”