Authors: Ralph Compton
Train to Durango
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright Â© Ralph Compton, 1998
copyright Â© Ralph Compton, 1999
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REGISTERED TRADEMARKâMARCA REGISTRADA
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.
This work is respectfully dedicated to the towns of Silverton and Durango, Colorado. I am indebted to the Chambers of commerce for their promptness and generosity in supplying me with printed and generosity in supplying me with printed records of their fascinating history.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroadâonce known as the Denver and Rio Grandeâis still in operation today, making daily runs from Durango to Silverton. These days, instead of hauling supplies and ore for the miners, these coalâfired, steamâpowered locomotives carry curious passengers back through time, to the glory days of the Old West.
This little narrowâgauge railroad, and a few others like it, truly deserve to be remembered in the of American history.
El Paso, Texas, March 19, 1885
“It's hard to believe Nathan Stone's dead,” said Bryan Silver, as he and Molly Horrel stood before the grassed-over grave. “I've been reluctant to question Wes, since he didn't know Nathan was his father until after the shoot-out and Nathan was gone. If it isn't too painful, perhaps you can fill in the missing parts.”
“I've accepted it,” Molly said, “but I still miss him. I'll tell you as much as I can.”
“If it isn't too personal,” said Silver. “I have the feeling that you and Nathan were more than just friends.”
“We were,” Molly said, “and I could never talk about him to just anyone. But I feel comfortable with you, because you knew him so well. Perhaps you can understand when I tell you that Nathan was sick of killing, of having to prove himself with his guns.”
“I understand only too well,” said Silver. “He came west after the war. He was riding a vengeance trail, seeking the seven deserters who had murdered his family in Virginia. But when he had found and held them accountable, he had the reputation of a fast gun. He had become a killer, and it grieved him.”
“I thoughtâhopedâhe had put the past behind him,” Molly said. “He had rescued me from a bad situation in south Texas. When he brought me here to Granny Boudleaux's boardinghouse, we became close. When Nathan returned to El Paso for the last time, he put away his guns. I believed there was a chance for meâusâuntilÂ .Â .Â .”
“Until Nathan learned Wes was his son,” said Silver.
“Yes,” Molly said, swallowing hard. “Wes was so much like himâlightning quick with a gun and always ready to take a stand for what he believed was rightâit was scary. Wes made enemies on both sides of the border, and when they came for him, Nathan had to choose between me and the son he had known only a few days.”
“You still have a grudge against Wes,” said Silver. “It's in your eyes, when you look at him.”
“Yes,” Molly said, “and I'm sorry. But he's Nathan all over again, and when I look at him, I'm reminded of all that I lost. IÂ .Â .Â . I almostÂ .Â .Â . hate him.”
Her voice broke, and silent tears crept down her cheeks. She seemed so very young, so vulnerable, that Silver put his arms around her. But she soon got control of herself, drawing away from him.
“What about Renita, the girl Wes left here when he rode into Mexico after the outlaws who gunned down Nathan?”
“I resented her, at first,” said Molly. “It seemed likeÂ .Â .Â . she had everything that I'd lost. I was almost glad when outlaws stole her away and took her across the border. I suppose I was hoping they'd use and abuse her, and that Wes would no longer want her.”
“They did use and abuse her,” Silver said. “Wes found her in a Mexican whorehouse.”
Molly laughed. “He is just so damned much like Nathan. I was living with King Fisher in south Texas, and Nathan knew it. Yet, when King turned nasty and I ran away, I came to El Paso and Nathan took me in. Ma always told me to behave myself, because no decent man wanted used goods.”
“All men are not alike,” said Silver. “Palo Elfegoâbetter known as El Loboâfound a girl south of the border, as well. She had been sold to a whorehouse, and her own father had disowned her.”
“IÂ .Â .Â . I didn't know about either of them,” Molly said. “They never spoke of those days in Mexico, after Was and El Lobo brought them here. Now they've been taken away again, and they may be dead. I feel just terrible. I'm a dreadful woman, for not having been more understanding. Wes and El Lobo didn't deserve losing them again.”
“They haven't lost them yet,” said Silver. “If they're alive, we'll find them.”
“You're actually going with them?”
“I am,” Silver said. “This same bunch of outlaws they fought in Mexico is now north of the border, and stronger than ever. They're engaged in activities that could bankrupt the United States. Wes and El Lobo agreed to go after them, and through their efforts the gang was defeated in California. Renita and Tamara have been taken in an attempt to lure Wes and El Lobo into a trap.”
“And you're riding into it with them,” said Molly.
“If I have to,” Silver replied. “I'd never send any man on a mission that I don't have the guts to tackle myself.”
“Small wonder that you and Nathan were friends,” said Molly. “You think and talk just like him.”
“I'll take that as a compliment, ma'am,” Silver said.
“When willÂ .Â .Â . or will you ever be coming back here? Will I see you again?”
“Well, now,” said Silver, “do you want to see me again?”
Blushing furiously, she turned away. Placing his hands on her shoulders, Silver turned her around until she faced him.
“Yes,” she said, her eyes not meeting his. “Now you know me for the shameless, forward woman that I am.”
“You want to see me again because I remind you of Nathan,” Silver teased.
“No,” said Molly. “You think and talk like Nathan, but you're not like him. IÂ .Â .Â . meanÂ .Â .Â . youÂ .Â .Â . oh, I don't know what I mean.”
Silver's hands were still on her shoulders, and when he drew her to him, she didn't resist.
“You're an honest woman, Molly Horrel,” Silver said, “and if you're willing, I'd like to know you better.”
“Promise me you won't ride off and get yourself killed,” said Molly.
“This is still the frontier, and I can't make such a promise,” Silver said, “but I promise to do my best. Having a pretty girl wantin' to see me again makes a difference.”
The sun had set, its crimson rays beginning to fade, as the first gray fingers of twilight painted the western sky. Molly's eyes met Silver's in silent understanding. He kissed her long and hard, and she didn't resist.
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“Eat,” Granny Boudleaux urged, when Wes, El Lobo, Silver, and Molly were seated at the table.
“I'm not all that hungry,” said Wes Stone. “I have the feeling Renita and Tamara are in great danger.”
“You not eating won't change that,” Molly said.
“She's right,” said Silver. “We'll get an early start in the morning. It's the best we can do. Somebody pass me the biscuits.”
The meal was eaten in silence. Granny Boudleaux cleared away the dishes, leaving the coffee cups. Wes and El Lobo sipped their coffee, but Silver drained his cup. Sliding back his chair, he got to his feet and started down the hall to the front porch. Without a word, Molly got up and followed. Pausing with the coffeepot, Granny Boudleaux laughed.
“Tarnation,” Wes said, “she don't waste time, does she?”
“Hush,” said Granny Boudleaux. “Time is not a woman's friend.”
Silver had taken a seat on the front porch steps, and Molly sat down beside him.
“They're goin' to wonder about us,” Silver said.
“I don't care,” said Molly. “I've been alone too long.”
“I don't know when I'll see you again,” Silver said. “I must destroy this conspiracy, and when we've rescued Renita and Tamara, I'll be forced to return to Washington to tie up the loose ends. If I send you the money, will you join me there for a few days?”
“Yes,” said Molly. “I'd go with you now if you'd let me.”
“Too dangerous,” Silver said. “Frankly, I can't be sure I'm not endangering you, just sitting here talking. These outlaws we're after have a habit of hitting a man where it hurts him the most.”
“How long have you beenÂ .Â .Â . doing this?”
“Twenty-five years,” said Silver. “I'm forty-five years old, and there are times when I feel that I've about played out my hand. When this case is behind me, I might just hang it up, quit Washington, and return to Texas.”
“Oh, I wish you would,” Molly said. “I'll lie awake nights, worrying about you.”
“I'm flattered,” said Silver, “and I promise I'll devote some serious thought to it.”
The night wore on, and when they returned to the house, Silver retired to the room Granny Boudleaux had prepared for him. As was their custom, Wes and El Lobo shared a room. When El Lobo got to his feet, Wes spoke.
“Go ahead and turn in for the night,
. I aim to go outside for a while.”
El Lobo nodded. Granny Boudleaux and Molly said nothing. They all knew what Wes had in mind. He went out through the kitchen, across the back porch, into the yard. Stars twinkled from afar, and a pale half-moon had begun to rise. Wes stood before the grave of his father, his head bowed, swallowing hard. Suddenly, almost imperceptibly, he moved, and the twin Colts that had been Nathan Stone's leaped into his hands. Deftly he spun them, and they dropped neatly back into their tied-down holsters. The grass rustled and Empty, Nathan's blue tick hound was beside him. His hand on Empty's head and his eyes on the distant stars, he spoke in a hoarse whisper.
“I wanted you to be proud of me, and if you had some way of knowin', I believe you would be. I took your guns, your horse, and your name. I swear before God that I'll never dishonor you, and that I'll never forget you.”
There was a low rumble from Empty's throat that wasn't quite a growl, for he hadn't forgotten this lonely grave or the man with whom he had shared so many trails. When Wes turned away, his sense of loss was stronger than ever, and within him was a feeling he had never before experienced. He believed he was seeing his father's grave for the last time.
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El Paso, Texas, March 20, 1885
“You're sure the four men who took Renita and Tamara rode north?” Wes asked.
“When they leave here, they ride north,” said Granny Boudleaux.
“Thank God they didn't cross the border into old Mexico,” Silver said. “That's a sign that the bunch we're after will be holed up somewhere in the southwestern United States.”
Wes, El Lobo, and Silver were traveling light, carrying only what would fit into their saddlebags. They had mounted their horses, but before they could ride away, Molly ran to Silver. He leaned from the saddle, and not caring what anybody thought, she threw her arms around him. Granny Boudleaux smiled approvingly while Wes looked away. El Lobo watched with interest, a rare half grin on his rugged face. Anticipating their direction, Empty had bounded on ahead. The trio rode north, not looking back.
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Santa Fe, New Mexico, March 20, 1885
A few miles south of town, on the west bank of the Rio Grande, four men hunkered around a fire, drinking coffee from tin cups. A nearby cabin, built of logs, had a single door, no windows, and a shake roof. Smoke curled from a stick-and-mud chimney.
“I'm almighty tired settin' here watchin' this damn cabin,” Bolivar said. “Them females ain't goin' nowhere.”
“Two of us could stay here, while the other two rides into town,” said Reeves.
,“ Chavez said, “but that is not what the
Stringfield pay us to do. He say the two
that we must kill are diablos with the pistola. He say they be a match for us all.”
“I'm with Chavez,” said Hamilton. “We don't know these hell-raisers, and I can't see payin' the four of us, unless we're all needed. I reckon we'd better foller orders and stay here until we earn our money.”
“At least he could have let us have our way with the women,” Bolivar growled. “When we've gunned down the
that's comin' after âem, who's gonna complain?”
Reeves laughed. “Stringfield didn't say we could strip âem, either, but we did.”
“We may regret that,” said Hamilton. “Killin' a man is one thing, but mistreatin' his woman is somethin' else. Many an hombreâs had his neck stretched, just for insultin' some whore. These have the look of decent women.”
Reeves laughed again. “When a woman's naked as a skint coyote, how do you tell the decent one from a whore?”
“For one who has known nothing but whores, it would not be easy,” Chavez observed.
“Why, you damn Mex,” said Reeves with a snarl, “don't you talk down to me.”
He started to draw, but thought better of it, for Chavez already had him covered. The ugly muzzle of the Mexican's Colt was steady.
“When this job is done, I don't care if you kill each other,” Hamilton said, “but I'll not have you messin' things up now. Put the gun away, Chavez.”
Easing the weapon's hammer down, Chavez holstered it.
“This is the start of the second week since we took them women from El Paso,” said Bolivar. “Suppose them
Stringfield's paid us to gun down don't show up? We'll be out of grub in another week.”
“They'll be here,” Hamilton said, “and we got to be ready for âem. Remember what we was told about there bein' more work for us in Denver? If we botch this, Stringfield's likely to have us paid off in lead.”
Within the cabin, Renita and Tamara sat near the fire, trying to keep warm.
“All outlaws are of a single mind,” said Renita bitterly. “Can't they capture a woman without taking her clothes and leaving her stark naked?”
“It is better than it was in Mexico,” Tamara said. “They have not sold us to a whorehouse.”
“Only because they have something else in mind,” said Renita. “We're bait for a trap.”
“They want Wes and Palo,” Tamara said, “but how will Wes and Palo know we have been taken away, and how will they find us?”
“The outlaws must know Wes and Palo are returning to El Paso,” said Renita, “and I'm sure the men who took us left a trail for them to follow.”
“We must not let them ride into a trap,” Tamara said.
“We're stuck here in this cabin, with a locked door, no windows, four armed men outside, and not a stitch of clothes between us,” said Renita. “What can we do?'