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Authors: Larry D. Sweazy

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BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
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Morning light cut softly inside the livery. There
was a steady amount of activity going on; stalls were being cleaned out, and several horses were getting washed down and brushed out by a couple of familiar stable boys. On the other side of the stables, a wagon wheel was being repaired, the constant pounding out, metal against metal in perfect time, sounded like the beginning of a musical performance in an opera house somewhere. It wasn't like the livery was a beehive of activity; this was just a normal pace for a normal day. Urgency, as if in preparation for a battle, was nowhere to be seen.

As Josiah walked inside the livery, the odors of fresh straw, oils, and soap offered up plenty of reasons for a pleasant mood.

Lyle squeezed Josiah's hand, skipping a bit, mumbling happily, but not pulling on Josiah, not trying to get away, obviously glad to be in his father's company.

There had not been hide nor hair of Ofelia that morning, the lack of routine more than a little surprising to Josiah. He'd been left little choice but to offer some warmed up beans and toasted bread to Lyle for his breakfast. The boy didn't complain about the food or ask for Ofelia.

Of course, Josiah was concerned about Ofelia's absence, but he had to get on with the day.

Tracking down McNelly was on his list, and so was stopping by the jail to see Scrap and give the decoded cipher to Rory Farnsworth to see if it meant anything to him. Neither of those trips seemed to lend themselves to Lyle's young and unpredictable presence, but Josiah might have no choice but to take the boy along if he was not able to find Ofelia in Little Mexico.

“Where's Chipper?” Lyle asked.

“Clipper,” Josiah said.

“Chipper.” Lyle smiled, sure that he'd gottten it right this time. “Where's Chipper?”

Josiah smiled and let it go. “In his stall. Let's go look.”

Lyle nodded. “All right.”

Josiah lead the boy to the stall, and Clipper, an Appaloosa that had been Josiah's mount for more years than he cared to count, looked up and greeted them with a snort, then pushed back a pile of freshly laid straw with his right hoof. Josiah reached into the stall, scratched the horse's nose, and hoisted Lyle up so he could do the same thing.

“Give him some oats,” Josiah said. He leaned Lyle down so he could reach into a bucket that hung next to the gate.

Lyle scooped up a healthy portion of the dry oats and offered the treat to Clipper. The horse immediately obliged him with a munch, and Lyle started squirming and giggling. Oats fell to the floor like snowflakes fluttering from the sky, and Josiah let the boy down before he dropped him.

“What'd you do that for?” Josiah asked.

“Lips tickled. Don't like it.”

“You'll get used to it.”

Lyle shook his head no.

Clipper finished the oats, then looked at Josiah expectantly. Josiah shrugged. “Well, I guess we best get the saddle on him.”

Lyle nodded yes, eagerly this time.

Josiah was about to open the gate and go inside the stall when he noticed a horse three stalls down. The gray gelding looked familiar. So familiar that Josiah stopped, grabbed Lyle's hand, and hurried down to the stall to make sure he was seeing what he thought he was.

He wasn't sure if it was the same horse he'd seen yesterday, the one he'd noticed at the jailbreak, but it sure looked like it.

The horse was dappled with darker gray against light, typical for a paint, and was a little over fifteen hands high. It had sweet black eyes, but it was the proud and calm way it held itself that had struck Josiah the first time he'd seen it, and this time, too. The horse acted battle-tested, like nothing could spook it or stir it out of its duty. That kind of horse always stood out to Josiah. It was a demeanor usually well earned, not bred.

This horse had been recently washed down and reshod, and there was no saddle in the stall. It must have been stored away in the tack room.

Perplexed, Josiah made his way to the front of the livery, looking for Jake Allred, the livery master.

It didn't take long to find the man. Allred was in the front office, yelling at one of the stable boys, a towheaded waif about four feet tall, twelve years old at the most, who looked like he was already a master himself—at being bawled out. The boy's eyes were distant, staring off in the opposite direction from Allred . . . and Josiah knew it was only a matter of years before Lyle reacted the same way to him when discipline was needed, like last night.

Jake Allred stopped in mid-sentence, looked up, and saw Josiah. “Now, go on, and don't miss another stitch, or that'll be the end of you, ya hear?” he said to the boy, shooing him off with a wave of the hand.

The stable boy nodded, looked up at Josiah, understandably relieved, then pushed by him and Lyle, disappearing quickly into the shadows of the livery.

“What's your need, Wolfe?” Jake Allred feigned a smile at Lyle, who promptly hid behind his father's legs.

Allred was a tall man with a beer keg for a belly, a heavy beard that was in serious need of trimming, and boots coated with mud and horse shit. He looked more like a smithy than a livery master, and for all Josiah knew, he had been one at one time in his life.

“Ain't no problem with that Appaloosa of yours, is it?” Allred asked. “I'll tell you, these boys are gettin' lazier by the day. I just don't know what I'm gonna do if I can't find some good help soon.”

“I don't have any complaints.”

Allred wiped his brow and stared back at Josiah. “Well, what is it then? Can't you see I'm a busy man?”

“I can see that. What can you tell me about the gray gelding a few stalls down from mine?”

The livery master narrowed his eyes, then looked Josiah up and down from head to toe.

There was never any question that Josiah was wearing a gun. He wore his Peacemaker in plain sight. Allred, on the other hand, didn't appear to be armed. But that would've been a stupid, and perhaps deadly, assumption on any man's part, to come to such a quick conclusion and threaten the man or his property.

Josiah hadn't known Jake Allred long, but he knew him to be a protective man as well as an honest one, and not inclined to hold back if he needed to shoot a man. He was of an age to have been in the war but carried no obvious scars, so the topic had never been broached in their short conversations. Most men kept that experience to themselves, unless a missing leg or arm spoke for them.

“What business is it of yours, Wolfe, who owns that horse? I don't get many questions like that.”

“Just curious, I thought I recognized it.”

Lyle had remained quiet, still as a mouse with a hawk circling overhead, peering out from behind Josiah's leg.

It was going to be a warm, sunny day, and the heat was already building inside the livery. There was no breeze, nothing to stir the tension that had suddenly found its way between Josiah and Allred and push it out the door.

“Is this Ranger business, Wolfe?”

“Might be business for Rory Farnsworth. Might not, I'm not sure.”

“You workin' for the sheriff now? I don't see no badge.”

“I don't wear a badge, and I don't work for Farnsworth.”

“Good to know.”

“Is there a reason for that?” Josiah asked.

“No reason that matters to you, I 'spect. Now, what's the question about this horse got to do with anything?”

“You hear about that jailbreak yesterday?”

Allred nodded. “Busted out Abram Randalls, I hear. A banker's thief and a whore's bookkeeper. The man must hold some powerful secrets in that mind of his.”

“You know the man?”


“But you know his name.”

“Every man who does business of any kind in this town knows his name. The man has a mind for numbers and names, unfortunately. If I was half as good with my money as the one he works for, then I wouldn't have to wade through horse piss and shit every day, would I?”

“Who do you think broke him out, this Abrams fella?”

“You're just full of questions, aren't you? First it was about that gray gelding down there, and now you're curious about Abram Randalls. What are you up to, Wolfe? Ain't like you at all to be stickin' your nose in other people's business. Usually, you just get your horse and go.”

“You said it. I'm just curious.”

“Sure you are.” Allred shrugged. “Well, it makes no difference to me. I figure Randalls got broke out by the whore. She's got plenty of reason to have need of him keeping silent.”


Allred nodded. “Blanche Dumont. You know her?”

“I know of her.”

“Sure, sure, I hear that a lot, too. But maybe you're tellin' the truth, not bein' from around here, and takin' up with that Fikes woman like you have.”

“Careful now . . .”

“Not judgin', just statin' a fact, the way I see it. You denyin' that?”

Josiah just stared at the man and reached down to touch the top of Lyle's head. “Who's the gelding belong to? If you don't mind?” Bringing Pearl into the conversation would only make matters worse. Josiah was sensitive about her, even more so than he'd realized.

“No sweat off my back, I was just curious why you didn't know yourself.”

“Why's that?”

“The gray gelding,” Allred said, chewing on the corner of his lip, studying Josiah's face carefully, “belongs to Captain Leander McNelly. I figure one Ranger ought to know another Ranger's horse. But I guess I was wrong, just plum wrong, about that, now, wasn't I?”


Lyle was settled comfortably in the saddle in front
of Josiah. It felt like summer had come early. The air was thick and humid, and the sun beat down from the sky with a vengeance. Sweat soaked Josiah's collar, and he could feel the heat rising under his felt Stetson, but the weather was of little concern.

The thought that the gray gelding belonged to Captain McNelly was unsettling to Josiah.

He questioned himself, replaying the explosion and jailbreak in his mind, trying to look closer at the horse and the man riding it. His memory was decent, but as the hours went by, the details started to fade, as they would in any normal person's mind. There was no way to tell if the man on the horse really had been McNelly. His face had been covered, and he was dressed in a black duster, his body all covered. It was impossible to know for sure who the man was. But at the time, Josiah would never have considered in a thousand years that the man could be Leander McNelly, and even now it was a difficult idea to swallow. But the horse sure did look like the same one.

The captain was a slight man, taken with consumption, determined to live a full life regardless of the illness. He was tough-minded, honest, and completely aboveboard as far as Josiah knew. So the idea that McNelly was somehow involved in a brazen jailbreak, conducted in the full light of day, was unimaginable. Almost unimaginable.

Pete Feders had been a Texas Ranger captain, too, and in the end, he had forged a relationship with Liam O'Reilly, an Irish outlaw, dead now, too, like Feders, and had been seeking to do some serious cattle rustling business with Juan Cortina. Still, Josiah just couldn't bring himself to believe McNelly was the same kind of man Feders was, driven by greed, avarice, and envy to do the unspeakable—betray his rank, the Rangers, and the state of Texas, as well.

“Where we going, Papa?” Lyle asked.

Josiah looked down at the boy, envious at the moment of his innocence and lack of responsibility. “Home to see if Ofelia is there. Is that all right?”

Lyle nodded his head yes.

Josiah eased Clipper down Sixth Street, not in a hurry, but hoping that Ofelia was at the house instead of in Little Mexico. There was no way he could take Lyle with him today, not with all he had to do and all of the places he had to go.

The information he'd gotten from Jake Allred about the gray gelding had changed everything.

* * *

The familiar smell of
greeted Josiah at the
door. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief, seeing Ofelia standing over the stove, stirring a pot of the spicy stew made from leftovers, picking up where she'd left off the day before.

Ofelia looked over her shoulder when the door opened, and Lyle charged inside.

The bruises on her face were still apparent, but fading. He still winced at the sight, a sorrowful bit of guilt roiling in the pit of his stomach; the wounds were a reminder of his own failures, of how he was managing his life and the consequences to everyone involved. He had to look away and couldn't bring himself to say hello.

,” Ofelia said, turning back to the stove.

, 'Felia,” Lyle answered, rushing to Ofelia, wrapping himself around her leg, looking up at her expectantly.

Ofelia tapped Lyle's head. She did not smile, or otherwise change her expression, which bordered on stern. “
Vete a jugar.
Go play.”

Disappointment slid down Lyle's face, but he did what he was told, pulling away from Ofelia and making his way to the bedroom without acknowledging Josiah.

“I'm glad to see you, Ofelia,” Josiah said, standing in the middle of the room, his hands at his sides, unsure what to do next, leave or stay.

Ofelia turned and faced him, the wooden spoon in her hand. “You thought I was not coming today, señor?”

“I didn't know what to think.”

“I will be here as long as you want me to be here,” Ofelia said. “We have had this discussion many times. You do not need to worry. If I quit you, I will let you know plenty of days ahead of time so you can find someone else.”

“No one could take your place.”

“Someone will have to one day, señor.”

Josiah exhaled heavily, knowing full well that what Ofelia said was true. “I would say I'm sorry . . .”

“There is no need to say you are sorry about anything. This is your
. You are the
niño's papá

Josiah nodded. “But you are the closest thing he has to a mother.”

“I'm not his momma.”

“Maybe not. I'm not sure how that would work, if it ever could, you leaving Lyle. Us.”

“You do not love Miss Pearl?”

Josiah stared at Ofelia blankly as a million memories rushed through his mind and heart. They had known each other a long time, before he had married Lily, before he had gone off to the war, and then after, when he returned a different man. There was not a living person in the world who knew as much about him, his way of thinking and feeling, and how and why he behaved the way he did, as Ofelia did. And Lyle had not known one day in his life without Ofelia. The loss of her presence was unthinkable for more reasons than Josiah could count.

“I don't know,” Josiah said. “I don't know if I can allow myself to love her.” Billie Webb had asked him the same question. Billie was a girl he'd helped a while back, and she had followed him to Austin. But once she figured out that there was no chance of a relationship with him, she left the city, disappeared as if she'd never existed.

“It has been long enough since Miss Lily died, Señor Josiah. The
needs a
, if that is possible. I am only Ofelia. There is not a woman's love in this house like there should be.”

Josiah looked away from Ofelia, out the window. He wanted to tell her that he was afraid of losing Pearl, and that he was afraid of losing her, too, but couldn't bring himself to. Ofelia knew what he had lost, he didn't have to explain it to her.

“I'm sorry, Ofelia. I'll try not to yell or show my anger like that again,” Josiah said.

“You're learning, too, and that is hard on you,” Ofelia said, ignoring the apology. “Spending time here in the city is difficult for you. It makes Lyle happy when you sleep in your own bed, but you do not know which way the wind blows inside your own house. It is like you are a hundred miles from here.
Tomarà tiempo
. It will take time, just like all good things. I am sorry I was late this morning. My
, my daughter, needed my help. All is well now. I had no way to get word to you.”

“Good,” Josiah said. “I have some things to take care of, I probably won't be back until this evening.”

“That is fine, señor. We will be here, and your dinner will be on the stove.”

BOOK: The Coyote Tracker
12.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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