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Authors: John Thomas Edson

Slaughter's way

BOOK: Slaughter's way
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This book made available by the Internet Archive.

PART 1

They Called Him The Cattle Kin^

CHAPTER ONE

111 Kill You Where You Stand

Big Tag stood six foot three inches tall anb weighed two hundred and twenty pounds. He always tied down his holster bottom and as they said out west of the Mississippi, **A man with a tied-down gun doesn't do much arguing with his mouth." Balancing the walnut-butted Colt at his right side, a bowie laiife hung at the left and he reckoned to be better than fair with both of them. Certainly John Chisum thought Big Tag was better than average, for the Cattle King hired the big man as his ''segundo''; and Chisum never believed in wasting money.

The peace of Blantyre City, Texas, shattered one afternoon as Big Tag and three other hard-case riders from Chisum's trail herd came tearing along Main Street. They rode fast, firing oflF their guns, churning up dust, and yelling like a bunch of drunken Comanches on their way to a wedding feast. Folks scattered out of their way like chickens ahead of a hunting coyote. Bringing their lathered horses to a halt before Lige Baxter s general store, the four hard-cases threw their reins over the hitching rail and tramped over the sidewalk to enter Baxter s establishment.

Shoving aside a customer who was talking with the owner. Big Tag leaned on the counter and eyed Baxter up and down. His grinning companions each took a dip into the cracker barrel by the counter and one

helped himself to a hunk of yellow cheese from tiie big slab by the scales.

"A sack of Bull Durham,'' Big Tag ordered. ^'And charge it to the Long Rail.'*

Baxter blinked at the man for a moment and replied, "They don t have an account here, sir."

Which was the wrong reply to make to Big Tag, unless the speaker stood behind the loaded and cocked barrels of a lined ten-gauge shotgun. Baxter had failed to take that elementary precaution.

Letting out an angry growl that soimded meaner than a starving grizzly coming out of its winter den to find folks picnicking in front of it. Big Tag shot his hands over the coimter and clamped a hold of Baxter s shirt and vest front. Baxter stood maybe five foot four and weighed a hundred and thirty pounds sopping wet and with an anvil under 6ne arm, so he did not stand arq^ great chance of escaping. With a single heave Big Tag jerked Baxter clear over the coimter and carried his kicking, struggling,victim across the store, then out into the street. Exchanging grins, the other three Long Rail toughs ambled out after their leader.

Standing in the street. Big Tag held Baxter suspended in the air and turned to look at his pards, conscious that several citizens of Blantyre were witnessing his actions.

*TTiis feller's done disrespected John Chisrmi's Long Rail, boys I" Big Tag annoimced for all to hear. "When folks does that we either runs the Long Rail iron down their hide, or we jingle-bobs them."

"Ain't got neither fire nor branding iron here. Tag," one of the other men pointed out.

"By cracky, we ain't," agreed Big Tag in a tone that suggested he was in the habit of carrying both a fire and branding iron in his hip pocket. "It'U have to be the jingle-bob then."

With that Big Tag slammed Baxter down to the groimd, taking the Kttle man by surprise and landing him on his stiff legs so the wind was ranmied out of him. Still holding the man's clothing with his left hand,

Big Tag reached across and drew the bowie knife with his right.

This was not cowhand horseplay. Big Tag had every intention of running the knife blade across Baxter s ear, splitting the flesh into two pieces and leaving the lower half flapping in the hideous jingle-bob ear-mark John Chisum used to identify his catde.

"Letloosel"

The two words cracked out like the explosive pop of a bull-cracker s whip from behind Big Tag. Without releasing his hold on Baxter, and still gripping the knife, Big Tag turned to see who would be fooHsh enough to lock horns with the Long Rail's segundo when he stood backed by three good men.

The speaker stood alone in the center of the street. While he was not a tall man, he barely topped five foot nine in his high-heeled fancy-stitched boots, he was a man of commanding appearance. Nobody would ever think of that man as being small; he seemed to stand much taller than his true height. A costiy black J. B. Stetson hat, wide brimmed and low crowned in the Texas fashion, sat at just the ri^t jack-deuce angle over his off eye, shielding a tanned, strong face. The man had a thin, neatly trimmed black moustache and eyebrows, although his hair was of a gingery color. A thin, crooked black cigar stuck its unlit length from between his lips and his mouth looked grim, though it could smile. The tight rolled bandana knotted at his throat was a riot of color and hung over his costly gray shirt. His brown levis had creases in them and were tucked neatly into shining black Justin boots with Kelly spurs attached to their heels.

While the man wore the dress of a prosperous rancher and had the appearance of a top hand with catde, Big Tag gave his appearance little or no attention. Instead Big Tag studied the gunbelt around the man s waist.

Made of black leather, the gunbelt hung just right. Maybe to some eyes the holster rode just a shade too high and far forward for a real fast draw. It was a

holster contoured to the shape of the guns four-and-three-quarter-inch barrel, and it left half of the cyhnder and all of the trigger guard exposed while turning out the Colt CiviHan Model Peacemakers ivory butt so as to be easily gripped.

That gun rig told a significant story to Big Tag. Either the man wearing it wanted folks to think he was real good with a gun—or he was real good with it.

**Who the hell do you reckon you're talking to, hombreF' Big Tag asked, still retaining his grip on Baxter; and seciu-e in the knowledge that while he had three good men at his back, the stranger stood alone.

Or did the stranger stand alone?

Now he came to give the matter thought, Big Tag noticed the two men who lounged across the street. Each stood with one shoulder resting against the supports of the WeUs Fargo oflBce porch, his hands thumb-hooked into his belt and dose to a weapon. All in aU they looked like an exceptionally salty brace of Texas cowhands, though not hard-case troublemakers like the Long Rail crew.

The one at the right looked to be in his late thirties, same as the interloper in the center of the street. He wore range clothes and a well-worn Confederate Cavalry campaign hat rode his head, no mean tribute to its maker, for the war was a good ten years over. Despite the hat, the man had about him that undefinable something which spelled top-hand. The walnut-handled Colt Cavalry Peacemaker riding butt forward in a low Cavalry twist-hand draw holster at his right side did not look like a decoration. The man's leadiery, moustached face was turned toward the Long Rail men, and there was a readiness in his lounging, lean, angular body.

If the other man did not have Indian blood, he could sue his face for hbel. It was a dark face with high cheekbones and an aquiline nose, while the mouth looked Uke a thin, straight hue. He wore a black Stetson hat, faded buckskin shirt, washed out blue jeans and Comanche moccasins. While taU and broad shouldered, he did not look heavy or slow on his feet. Showing a disdain for modem inventions, he toted a brace of wal-

nut-handled 1860 Army Colts in fast-draw holsters; the right-hand gun pointed its butt to the rear, the one at the left turned forward so as to be available to either hand. In age the dark man looked around nineteen, but they had been nineteen years of range country growing and had not left him a soft, easy mark to push around.

For all that there were two cowhands backing the interloper who dared challenge Long Rail, or its chosen representatives in Blantyre, 3ie odds were still in Big Tag's favor. He and his three pards drew their pay more for fighting ability than for knowledge of cattle work. They were not the kind of opposition most folk cared to stack against. Happen if it came to a push the two cowhands would back water and drag out. Others had done so under similar conditions.

"Let loose and clear out of town!" the man said, not showing the slightest interest in who Big Tag might be.

^"And if I don tr Big Tag snarled.^

"I'll kill you where you stand,'' the man replied.

Nobody could ask to have it explained plainer than that. Big Tag let out a low snarl and thrust the storekeeper to one side, letting the knife fall from the other hand. Then he drove the right hand toward the butt of his gun.

Down and back dropped the interloper's hand, stroking the gun from leather in a sight-defj^g though casual-seeming move. Three fingers curled around the hand-fitting curve of the Colt's butt. The thumb hooked over the web of the hammer and drew it back as the gun began to move. Now the perfect make of the holster showed, for the cylinder turned as the hammer operated its mechanism in going to the rear. Yet the man's forefinger did not enter tihe trigger guard until the gun's barrel cleared leather and lifted in Big Tag's direction. For all that the instant, the Colt lined, all was ready to fire.

Just a bare half second from the start of the move, before Big Tag's knife hit the groxmd and long before Baxter stopped staggering from the push, the ivory-handled Colt roared once. Big Tag's gun had only lifted from the holster lip when two hundred and fifty grains

5

L.

of lead, powered by thirty grains of powder, struck him between the eyes. The shocking impact of the striking bullet flung Big Tag backwarck. His body struck the hitching rail, himg diere for a moment, then crumpled [ face down in the street.

Even before Big Tag fell, as soon as his gun dropped from his lifeless fingers, and while still cocldng the Colt on its recoil, the interloper swimg to face the other Long Rail men. At the same moment the two cowhands across the street sprang forward, showing they had been ready for action, each stabbing down his good right hand and fetching out a gun as they moved. Neatly and swiftly they converged on the Long Rail men, flanking the well-dressed man and watching for any hostile moves, ready to back any play until the last chip fell.

"You ride for Chisum?*' asked the interloper after all movement died undone on the Long Rail side.

'Tfeahl" growled one of the trio, trying to sound tougher than he felt. "He ain't going to like th— ""

If the man in the street felt any concern for what the Cattle King hked or disliked, he failed to give any indication of it. The cigar still stuck from the comer of his mouth, and he managed to speak without removing it. His voice sounded flat, calm, matter-of-fact, as if he were discussing the weather.

"Im John Slaughter,*' he interrupted. "Take your pard and ride. TeU Chisum that FU be out to see him later."

Quite a fair slew of Blantyre's citizens had been witness to the incident on Main Street. While the subdued Long RaU men set about lifting Big Tag's body onto the back of his horse, the citizens gathered around and started to discuss what they had seen happen.

"That big feller should've knowed better'n stand flapping his lip when Texas John said for him to get out of town," one of the crowd told his neighbor. "It's not Slaughter's way to tell anybody twice."

Slaughter's way!

From the Mississippi River to California's Pacific shore, from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border,

folks talked of Slaughter s way. They did not refer to a cattle trail, a railway being built between two great cities, or even a street in a famous town. They meant the way a certain Texas rancher looked at life and handled its problems. Slaughter said exactly what he meant, and did what he said he would do.

Big Tag had been imfortunate in two ways: first, he had failed to recognize John Slaughter; second, he had failed to obey the other's order to get out of town.

Watching the Long Rail men ride out of town—and their going was far less rowdy than their arrival— Slaughter pimiped an empty shell from his Colt and replaced it with a loaded roimd. His two men, the lean, angular Washita Trace who rode as his foreman, and Burt Alvord who acted as ranch scout, returned their guns to leather, but did not relax their vigilance imtil Qie departing Long Rail men were gone from sight.

**Are you all right, Lige?'' Slaughter asked, turning to the storekeeper, who felt secure in the knowledge that two keen-eyed men whom he could trust with his life kept watch on his departing enemies.

"Sure, John,'* the storekeeper replied, straightening his rumpled clothes. **Thanks to you. Marshal Dale would pick on today of aU days to take them prisoners into the county seat.'"

^'The missus and Coonsldn'U be in later,'' Slaughter said, not troubling to discuss the marshal's absence, for he never wasted words. Taking a sheet of paper from his pocket, he held it out toward Baxter. "Here's a list for you to have ready for when she arrives."

*Tou be aroimd when she comes?" Baxter inquired, taking the note.

"Nope. Tell her I rode out to see a man."

"I'll do that, John," Baxter promised.

He knew better than to ask questions. Anyway, a man did not need to have the powers of a Comanche witch woman to know where Slaughter was headed, or why he needed to go. Nor did Baxter need to repeat his thanks; Slaughter knew he felt gratitude for being saved, and did not wish to have a man wasting his time telling him over and over about it.

Slaughter bolstered his gun and glanced at his men, but he did not speak. Neither of them expected, or needed, him to give orders. None of them chattered a great deal. When they had something to say, they got it out in as few words as possible. Right now all three knew what needed doing, so they turned away from the front of Baxter s store and walked along the street.

A seventeen-hand black stallion, an uncut stud of size, beauty and power, stood at the hitching rail of the Rainbow Saloon. No cow-horse that, it looked Hke somebody's go-to-town mount although better than the usual animal a cowhand owned. Slaughter went to the black, tightened the double girths—^no Texan used the word "cinch"—of the low-homed and well-built saddle, unfastened the reins and swung onto the animal's back. A Winchester Model 1873 rifle rode in Slaughter s saddle boot and a well-used rope himg coiled by the horn.

BOOK: Slaughter's way
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