Table of Contents
“You must be Santiago Jones.”
“That's me,” Jones said. “I've got an idea, Adams.”
“Why don't we step down from our horses and settle this between us?”
“That sounds good to me.”
“Your man will stay out of it?”
“He will. And yours?”
“They will, too.”
“Okay, then,” Clint said. “Step down.”
“Is he serious?” Coleman asked.
“No,” Clint said. “Watch the others. They'll draw, for sure.”
“I don't know . . .”
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THE LAST TRAIL DRIVE
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author
PRINTING HISTORY Jove edition / June 2010
Copyright Â© 2010 by Robert J. Randisi.
All rights reserved.
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Doan's Crossing, in the Texas Panhandle, was once the jumping-off place for trail drives heading north to Colorado and Montana. As Clint Adams rode into town he could see it had fallen on hard times. Trail drives were not a commonplace occurrence anymore. Towns that once depended on them for their livelihoodsâDodge City, Ellsworth, Doan's Crossingâwere dying.
Clint was not in Doan's Crossing for old times' sake, though. He was there to meet a friend of his, an old-time trail boss named Flood. He didn't know why Flood wanted to meet him, or why he wanted to meet in this town, but they were good enough friends that he came anyway.
He had ridden to the Panhandle directly from Labyrinth, Texas, arriving exactly on the day he and Flood were to meet. He hadn't seen Henry Flood in five years. Flood was fifty then, and was lamenting the oncoming end of the great trail drives. Flood was smart enough to see how the railroad was spreading, and soon drives would not be necessary to move cattle. Also, the advent of barbed wire, and the invention of Gustavus Swift's refrigerated car, were pretty much sealing the deal.
The reason Flood wanted Clint to meet him here, where many of the man's cattle drive's had pushed off, had to have something to do with cattle, but what? Clint had ridden in from the south and had seen neither hide nor hail of a steer. He was just going to have to wait for Flood to arrive to find out.
Clint saw to it that Eclipse was well cared for at a livery stable, and then got himself a room at the Central Hotel. He checked with the clerk, but no one named Flood had checked in yet.
He stowed his things in his room, and then went to the Crystal Palace Saloon. Once a thriving saloon and gaming establishment, it had obviously fallen on hard times. It was early, but that was not the reason there was no gambling going on. As he entered he saw that all the gaming tables that had once filled the place were gone. In their place were empty tables and chairs.
Clint went to the bar, where a barman was fighting boredom by wiping the bar down with a dirty rag. When he saw Clint, he slung the rag over his shoulder.
The man brought Clint a beer that was warm and had too much head.
“That the best you can do?” Clint asked.
“Best I can do,” the barman said, “and best you're gonna get in town.”
“Glad I'm just passing through then,” Clint said.
“Least it's wet.”
Clint took a sip, and decided that was all that could be said for the beerâit was wet.
“Days of cold beer are gone, I'm afraid,” the barman said. “Left with the cattle drives, I guess.”
“How long you been a barman?” Clint asked.
The man grinned.
“Since the cattle drives left,” he said.
“Cook, if you can believe it,” the man said. “I know, I look more like a waddie.”
Clint studied the man. He was tall, about six three, looked fit, except for a slight potbelly. Had the look of a waddie more than a cook. In his forties, he was still capable of participating in a cattle drive . . . if he could find one. A
used to be called a rustler, but as the years went on became known as a cowboy who moved from outfit to outfit, working cattle drives.
“Came here a few years ago looking to hook up with some outfit,” he said. “Never did. Took this job as a temporary thing.” He laughed. “Temporary.”
“When was the last drive that came through here?” Clint asked.
“' Bout one or two each year the last few years, but they wasn't hirin',” the barman said.
“You know a man named Henry Flood? HankâHank Flood?” Clint asked.
“Flood? Don't know 'im, but heard of 'im.”
“Heard of him lately? Here in town?”
“No, not lately,” the barman said. “Why? You lookin' for him?”
“He's looking for me,” Clint said.
The man stuck out a large hand.
“Name's Spud,” he said. “Spud Johnson.”
The man grinned.
“I can do wonders with a potato.”
Clint shook his hand and said, “Clint Adams.”
“Clint . . . Adams?” Spud asked.
“You friends with Flood, Mr. Adams?” Spud asked.
“I am,” Clint said. “Long time.”
“So you're not here for . . . I mean, to cause . . . um, I mean, to killâ”
“Don't believe everything you read or hear, Spud,” Clint said. “I don't go anywhere to kill anyone. Understand?”
“Oh, yessir,” Spud said. “I understand good.”
“Calm down,” Clint said, as the man grew tense. “There's nothing to be nervous about. The only thing I'm here to kill is some time over a warm beer.”
“I'm going to take a turn around town,” Clint said. “If Hank Flood does come in looking for me tell him to stay put. I'll find him.”
“I'll do it, Mr. Adams.”
“It's Clint, Spud,” Clint said. “It's just Clint. Okay?”
“Yessir,” the barman said. “That's okay with me.”
There was one other saloon in operation in Doan's Crossing. There used to be more, but one by one they had gone out of business. There also used to be a number of whorehouses, but now there was just one.
Debra Moore remembered when the trail drives used to come to townâor, more to the point, the drovers. They used to come to the whorehouses by the dozens, trying to get their ashes hauled one last time before they hit the trail for three months. Some men found it nearly impossible to go that long without a woman.