Texas Tough. Arizona Bound.
With blood and tears, Chet Byrnes built a life in Texas, only to have it shattered by an ill-fated cattle drive and two deadly family feuds. Spurned by the woman he loves, Chet sets off for new territory. The journey won’t come cheap.
And Ready For Any Fight That Comes.
Chet leads the Byrnes family across New Mexico into a harsh, haunting land. His long lost brother Cagle, after 15 years living among the Comanche, reappears. So does the family’s blackest black sheep. Then, amidst old grudges and new battles, Chet picks up the trail of a killer he desperately wants to bring to justice. The reward is a hearty welcome to Arizona. The risk: dying before he can meet the one woman who’d make it all worthwhile…
“Nobody spins a better western tale. If you want to read how real cowboys lived and worked, then you must read a Dusty Richards novel.” —Mike Kearby
“Dusty Richards writes…with the flavor of the real West.” —Elmer Kelton
“Dusty Richards is the embodiment of the old west.” —Storyteller Magazine
Texas hill country looked winter drab all around him when Chet Byrnes pushed the big bay gelding he called Julio off the ridge. The leafless mesquite branches stuck out and the brown grass waved in the relentless north wind under the cloudy sky. Kind of a day a man hunched under his denim jumper and rode along dreaming about a crackling fire to warm his hands. Fingers encased in the goatskin gloves, the heat would still feel good to his digits. Being home would, too, instead of out checking on scattered range stock this far away from the headquarters.
One good notion crossed his thoughts. The buttermilk ceiling rolling in from the Gulf might bring some rain. Wasn’t a day in Texas a man couldn’t use more water.
Then the sharp report of a rifle cracked the wind’s heavy breath. Without even thinking about it, he ducked down in the saddle and set steel spurs to Julio. They bailed off the steep slope into the dry wash bottom and the thicket cover of cedars and live oak.
The powerful gelding slid to a stop amidst the tall, bushy evergreens. Chet jerked out the .44/40 rifle from the scabbard in a swift dismount. Rifle chamber quickly loaded with the lever action, his ears were tuned for another incoming round.
Where was the shooter? One round could draw a man’s attention, but he needed the second one for a source and a direction where the shooter might be located. His heart pounded hard under his breastbone. Breathing came short at the realization of his tough situation. Alone and far from any aid or assistance from the ranch crew, he must wait out these backshooters. For a short moment he’d forgotten all about the deadly feud that existed between his family and the Reynoldses—a sneaky bunch of cowards who with their relatives had killed his younger brother the previous spring. Dale Allen’d been up there in the Indian Territory on a cattle drive to the Abilene, Kansas stockyards.
Listening intently, all he could hear were some windswept crows calling. Three or four more hours of daylight until sundown. Another cold winter day. He could wait them out. No doubt they’d quickly get fidgety. Then they’d either charge down there to find him, or hang tail on their horses and ride like they were on fire for home.
After a breakneck run last spring up to the Indian Territory, he’d gathered most of the herd and later evened the score of his brother’s murder with a gunfight in Abilene. But that never stopped a feud so deeply entrenched in revenge with ignorant people like the Reynoldses. If they came for him in this draw with its dense cover, he’d send some more of them to hell before they ever reached him.
Julio was busy snatching bunch grass through his small curb bit. He raised his head between bites as if testing the wind. Then, with a clang of the steel bit on his molars, he hurried to eat more, like he might not get another chance. Groundtied by training with the dropped reins, the big horse would not leave him except to get more to eat—then the cow horse raised his head again and shifted around, looking south. Enough of a clue for Chet to belly down under the pungentsmelling boughs and try to spot the riders on the ridge above them, opposite of where he’d flown off the slope.
He caught sight of a red something, and next, through the limbs, he distinguished a rider huddled under a blanket jacket coming across the hillside. Armed with a rifle, the party stared hard down at the cedars for a sight of him. Satisfied this was one of the ambush crew, Chet took aim, the red cloth making a good target; drew a tight bead and fired. Then Chet rolled to the side and levered in a new cartridge. His shot had struck either the rider or the horse, for he left bucking and threw the man off on his back in a halfdozen short hops.
It was the others Chet worried about. If they’d seen his quickly dissipated gunsmoke in time, they might have him spotted. He needed to move aside from there and be certain they couldn’t see him. There came another shot, but the round never came close to him. And he suspected the bullet originated from the same ridge, as he settled in a new spot a dozen feet away.
Muffled shouting. “Joe. You alright?”
“Stay down. We’ll get him.”
Don’t be so damn certain. Still flat on the ground, Chet removed a fresh brass cartridge from his jumper pocket and slipped it into the side breech. His rifle reloaded, he tried to peer through the boughs for another sight of one of them.
“Come on,” he whispered to himself, anxious to get this settled. The word “We” must mean more than one was left up there. Had he been daydreaming, riding along, to draw that many assassins? Or had they simply gotten lucky running into him? He was near the south end of —C range. No matter, there were still at least two more gunhappy yahoos out there.
A hardbreathing horse was coming at breakneck speed off the hill, and he could hear the rider urging him. He rolled over and drew his .44. When the one on horseback busted into the space where Julio grazed and spooked him, the shooter never saw Chet on the ground halfunder the cedar, and two shots from his Colt belched death into the rider’s shocked face and chest. The horse lurched sideways into the cedars and his rider fell off, facedown.
Chet was on his feet and headed for his own wideeyed horse. In his left hand, he caught the reins and “whoaed” to him. The other mount tore out of the grove and clattered down the dry wash, wasting no time to escape. In an attempt to scramble up the hillside, the frantic animal fell over, then rolled back on his side into the dry wash off a chesthigh side wall.
Kicking and screaming, the horse finally righted himself and then bounded to his hooves. In lunges, he was going uphill with fear in his wide eyes, his tail tight to his ass.
“Damnit, did you get him?” someone shouted.
“No. He’s gone to hell, too,” Chet answered in a whisper, trying to locate the lastest one doing the shouting on the ridge. Then he saw the speaker and quickly drew a bead on him. Way too far away for a pistol shot.
There wasn’t time to get his rifle off the ground, but he lunged for it anyway. At last, with the wooden gunstock of the oilysmelling rifle in his hands, knowing the shooter must have seen him, he scurried to the right on the floor of sticky needles for another knothole in the green boughs to shoot at him from. When he reached the spot where he could see the black gunsmoke blasts of the shooter’s rifle, he aimed into them. Two quick shots expressed toward him and Chet raised the smoking barrel to look for the results. There was silence, save for the wind.
Chet found his feet, then swept up the pistol he’d dropped and looked it over. Save for some resinsticky needles, the revolver looked okay and he jammed it into his holster. With slow intent, he studied the ridge selectively from his cover and reloaded the Winchester. Were there only three of them? By his judgment, that was all, but he wasn’t taking chances—that Reyn olds bunch was never easy to kill.
The twiceshot man on the ground had never moved. He rolled him over with his right boot toe. This dead man had a name. Carley someone. Did day work for ranchers. He wouldn’t no more. He located Julio and swung into the saddle.
Julio acted upset when Chet rode him out of the thicket to the north. Twisted in his seat, Chet could see three saddled horses together, grazing on the ridge opposite his position. Their horses. It took fifteen minutes or longer to work his way over there.
He found Adrian Claus sprawled out on his back, rifle nearby in the grass. A brotherinlaw to the Reynolds clan, he’d been the talker on the ridge. If he was alive, he’d not last long. He was unconscious, the wound in his chest pumping blood though Claus’s fingers. Chet booted his cow pony over and rode downhill where the one in the red jacket sprawled on the ground.
No more than a boy in his late teens, the stricken shooter blinked up at Chet and made a gasp. His open jacket showed he was losing lots of blood. He reached vainly for his handgun a few feet from his fingers.
“Better save those bullets for yourself,” Chet said, resting his left hand on the saddlehorn. “They won’t find you in time to save you from all the suffering. You a Clayton?”
“Joe Clayton. . . .”
He looked hard at the wounded one. “Are you boys that damn stupid?”
“Guess—” Joe’s voice cut off and he closed his eyes against the obvious pain. “We figured we could take ya easy.”
“You ain’t the first or last to think that. Shame you won’t be alive to tell ’em that.”
Chet reined the bay around and struck out for the north. Halfsick to his stomach, he shortloped Julio for the house. Small patches of sunlight through the buttermilk sky swept the hill country, lighting the live oak and cedars on the slopes, and then the seams in the clouds closed in again. Another day and a chapter in his bellysouring life had come and gone. The taste of vomit was hard to swallow from behind his tongue.
Three more of his enemies were dead, or would soon be when the last one slipped away back there.
He hunched his shoulders under the unlined jacket against the penetrating cold. Damn, was there no end to this killing and dying?