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Authors: Larry D. Sweazy

The Coyote Tracker

BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
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Praise for

THE COUGAR'S PREY

“[A] gem among gems. Sweazy is a superb storyteller, and this quick-moving yarn is cut from tightly woven cloth. He breathes life into the frontier, and readers are immersed in the sights, sounds, and ever-present threat of death lurking at every corner.”

—Phil Dunlap, author of
Cotton's War

“Larry D. Sweazy once again spins a fine historical adventure full of compelling characters and gritty action.”

—James Reasoner, Spur Award nominee and author of
Redemption: Hunters

THE BADGER'S REVENGE

“A richly layered story that offers twists and turns that dare the reader to speculate who is guilty and why.”

—Matthew P. Mayo, author of
Haunted Old West

“[A] fine entry to a great Western series . . . Wherever he goes, I'm on board, through thick and thin.”

—Bookgasm

THE SCORPION TRAIL

“Possesses the grit and swirl of dust kicked up from the heels of a galloping steed, carried swiftly on a hard West Texas wind.”

—Mike Blakely, Spur Award–winning author of
A Tale Out of Luck
(with Willie Nelson)

“Larry D. Sweazy's Josiah Wolfe books promise to stand among the great Western series. Think
The Rifleman
in the deft hands of a Larry McMurtry or a Cormac McCarthy.”

—Loren D. Estleman, Spur Award–winning author of
Infernal Angels

“Larry D. Sweazy writes a lively blend of mystery, action, and historical realism.”

—John D. Nesbitt, Spur Award–winning author of
Gather My Horses

Titles by Larry D. Sweazy

Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger Series

THE RATTLESNAKE SEASON

THE SCORPION TRAIL

THE BADGER'S REVENGE

THE COUGAR'S PREY

THE COYOTE TRACKER

THE
C
OYOTE
T
RACKER

A Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger Novel

LARRY D. SWEAZY

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada

(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

THE COYOTE TRACKER

A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley edition / August 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Larry D. Sweazy.

Cover illustration by Bruce Emmett.

Cover design by Lesley Worrell.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61065-7

BERKLEY
®

Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

To Dr. William E. Wunder

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The physical production of a book from idea to bookshelf is a long process and involves a lot of talented people. The reality is that the production team often goes unnoticed, and all of the behind-the-scenes jobs—from the paper buyer's, to the cover designer's, to the editors'—rarely receive the public kudos they deserve. I hope to correct that here.

I can't tell you how many times a reader has picked up one of my books and said, “You have really great covers.” What a fantastic compliment, time and time again, as the series continues. The cover artist, Bruce Emmett, has done a truly outstanding job capturing the look and feel of Josiah Wolfe's world. Each cover depicts a scene out of the book, and the final product always amazes me.

I would also like to thank Lesley Worrell, the cover designer, and Laura K. Corless, the interior text designer. My books have been consistent and inspiring because of your work. Thanks also goes to Rick Willett, my copy editor, who has made each of the Wolfe novels much better because of his sharp eye and dedication to his craft.

There are even more people who see my books through the pipeline whom I am unaware of, and too many to list here. Please know that you have my utmost gratitude.

Finally, I'm happy to have worked with Faith Black on four of the five Josiah Wolfe novels. Your enthusiasm for the series and efforts to make each book consistent and better has not only encouraged me, but greatly enhanced my maturity and skill as a writer. Thank you, Faith. It doesn't get said often enough.

As always, thanks go to my personal team as well: Liz, Chris, Cherry, and Rose, who continue to inspire me, dream with me, and walk alongside me on this journey.

AUTHOR'S NOTE

The following books and resources may be of further interest to readers seeking more information about the Texas Rangers and Texas history in general:
Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense
by Walter Prescott Webb (University of Texas Press, 2008);
Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers
by Robert M. Utley (Berkley, 2002);
The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821–1900
by Mike Cox (Forge, 2008);
Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875–1881
by James B. Gillet (Bison Books, 1976);
Lone Star: A History of Texas and The Texans
by T. R. Fehrenbach (Da Capo Press, 2000); and
Frontier Texas: A History of Borderland to 1880
by Robert F. Pace and Dr. Donald S. Frazier (State House Press, 2004).

Other resources include:
The Look of the Old West
by William Foster Harris (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2007);
www.texas.gov
;
The Handbook of Texas
(www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online);
The Portal to Texas History
(http://texashistory.unt.edu/); and
Texas Ranger Dispatch
magazine.

PROLOGUE

June 1, 1865

The footsteps behind Josiah Wolfe were close,
trudging along at a steady pace, just like his. Every voice was silent, and every man in the small troop had a dry mouth, thirsty for the smallest drop of fresh water.

Nothing but the thought of home propelled them all forward, one step heavily in front of the other. Josiah was so tired, hungry, and worn down that walking another ten feet was more effort than he thought he could muster. But it was Texas air that he was breathing, and Texas dirt that he was walking on, pushing him on, encouraging him to use every bit of perseverance that remained in his mind and heart. There was no stopping him now that he was so near his home.

The hot sun beat down from a cloudless and merciless sky. Two vultures soared above, circling high overhead, their voices silent, as usual. The broad-winged birds' shadows were large and dark on the brightly lit ground, passing over the men like storm clouds spiraling rapidly out of nowhere. It seemed like death and misery were following every man home from the War Between the States, waiting to catch him at every turn, even in a carrion eater's beak if it could.

As they made their way south, deeper into Texas, the first hint of the piney woods that Josiah had hunted in as boy touched his nose and perked him up. He recognized the lay of the land, too, and the realization that he was almost home, had actually returned from the war with his life and all of his limbs, was nothing short of a dream come true. It was a mix of miracle and luck, though Josiah was not prone to believe in either, even after serving almost the entire duration of the war.

Surely the days of blood, explosions, and killing were behind him now, he thought, drawing a deep breath of air into his dry mouth.

“You got much farther to go there, Wolfe?” Calbert Jenkins, a scrawny boy of nineteen, asked as he hurried up next to Josiah.

None of the men, the seven of them, had an ounce of fat to spare. Each was gaunt, his eyes sunk in, defeat weighing heavily on his shoulders, neck, and spirit. Jenkins was the skinniest of the bunch and still smelled of blood and death.

“I hope to see my folks' cabin soon, Jenkins,” Josiah said. “Up that hill and down a bit lies the town I call home. How about you?”

Jenkins smiled, showing teeth that were beginning to decay and gums that had been bleeding recently—it was a common sign of bad nutrition that they all shared. The troop had scavenged for whatever game and food they could find since Lee had surrendered in the latter part of April. Not that food had been a bounty before the war ended. Hardly. But it was worse on the trek home, left to fend for themselves as they were.

“I still got a long ways to go. Alto, you know. The rest of us, too. You're the lucky one,” Jenkins said.

Josiah nodded. “I remember you talking about home. It'll be your turn soon, you'll see.”

“Some of the boys are talking about meetin' up in a week or so, plottin' revenge on some of those Yankees still lingerin' around Texas. We need someone like you, Wolfe. Good in the lead and always walks out when they's supposed to.”

Josiah didn't flinch, didn't take the words as a compliment. He'd just been doing his duty, just like the rest of the men of the Texas Brigade. They were first into a battle and the last men out, at least, those that were still standing. The losses suffered by the Brigade were immense. Even now, Josiah could taste and smell the odor of the battlefield—gunpowder and blood—just at the thought of it.

“The war's over for me, Jenkins. I fought more battles than I should've, and I'm lucky enough to stand here and be talking to you. I hope to never raise a gun at another man for as long as I live.”

Jenkins looked like a little boy who'd just asked for a dog and been told no. His eyes drooped, and he looked away for a brief second. “You're serious, Wolfe? A man like you, layin' down the gun?”

“I sure hope to.”

“That'll be the day.”

It wasn't Jenkins who spoke. The scrawny boy had slowed his walk at the first utterance of Josiah's objection and was about a step and a half behind Josiah, his head lowered deeper to the ground than it had been before he spoke with the offer to keep them all together.

The voice belonged to Charlie Langdon, another Seerville boy who'd fought alongside Josiah.

They'd both joined up with the Texas Brigade on the same day, back in '61. Charlie took to the war and killing like a coyote takes to sneaking about. He was good at it. Had no conscience, or regrets, about the pain and blood he left behind. Josiah, on the other hand, had to season himself, become accustomed to taking another man's life. If that was possible. He only did what he had to to stay alive.

Josiah ignored Charlie's comment.

For a while, he'd considered Charlie Langdon his friend, even though his own mother had warned him against it. Both men had saved each other's hide more than once, but now there was a distant something growing between them, and Josiah wasn't sure what that something was, except the idea that Charlie was intent on bringing the war home with him and Josiah wasn't.

“You'll see, Wolfe. Guttin' a squirrel won't be near enough for you. You're a killer through and through. All of us are. What are you gonna do? Sit on the porch, chew grass for the rest of your life, and pretend you don't know how to do what you do best?”

Josiah felt his chest heave and caught his words in his throat. There was no use arguing with Charlie, so he just ignored him and picked up his pace, pushing to the crest of the hill that stood between him and home.

“You'll see, Wolfe. You wait and see. I'll be right. I guarantee it,” Charlie Langdon said, pulling up next to Jenkins and engaging him in a conversation of whispers and encouragement.

Seerville came into view at the peak of the hill.

The small town didn't look like it had changed much. It was a stop-off point on the way to, or from, Tyler, the nearest big town. The church looked like it needed a new coat of whitewash, and one of the two liveries was shuttered, but other than that, from what Josiah could see, the town was just like he'd imagined it since he left.

Someone must have spotted them, spread the word that men from the war were coming through, because a small crowd had gathered at the entrance to the town, just off the boardwalk, in front of the bank.

Main Street was dry, the ruts hard, like rain had been sparse in the last few weeks of spring. Josiah licked his lips in anticipation of quenching his thirst and wondered how the farming was going, considering the obvious early drought. He knew he would find out soon enough.

As Josiah walked down the hill, he searched for the faces of his mother and father, but he didn't see them in the crowd. Maybe they were deeper back, standing behind someone, or maybe word had not gotten to them yet about the arrival of the soldiers.

There were some soldiers, long-returned, standing in wait, their gray coats on, some doing their best to balance themselves on one leg and a crutch, or hide the sleeve pinned to their coat from a missing arm. It was not a victorious welcome. There was a sadness on nearly every face Josiah saw.

Josiah looked the waiting soldiers in the eye, nodded, and walked on, his attention drawn away from the gloominess by the face of a girl that at once looked familiar but changed, older, sixteen or seventeen, instead of eleven or twelve, a young woman instead of a girl.

Her face was like that of an angel, alabaster white skin framed by shiny, long, brown hair, with sensitive green eyes that looked happy to see the men, especially him. She wore a wide smile and showed a row of perfect pearly white teeth that glimmered in the sun.

The girl was Lily Halverson, one of the eight Halverson children, all boys except her. It was only a hop, skip, and a jump to the Halverson farm from the Wolfe farm, so Josiah knew the girl, and her brothers, too. He had known them most all of his life, been friends with the boys, but never too close. One of the brothers stood behind Lily, his leg cut off at the knee. Josiah didn't know what had become of the rest of the boys—if they'd all lived or if there were more at home. Some of the brothers were too young to have raised a rifle in the war, so Josiah supposed they were working the farm.

Josiah smiled back at Lily, and she gazed at him in a welcoming way. His face flushed red, and he hurried his step, looking over his shoulder at her every few feet. Calbert Jenkins, Charlie Langdon, and the rest of the boys were quickly forgotten.

Lily Halverson never took her eyes off Josiah, and he couldn't wait to see her again once she disappeared from his view. She was the most beautiful thing Josiah had seen in years, since he'd left Seerville.

He knew for sure then that coming home had been worth fighting for, no matter what lay ahead of him.

BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
9.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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