His father was a famous gunman. But the Loner is quiet, careful, and the perfect choice to go undercover—and the key to success is not getting slaughtered...
Hard Luck Money
A beautiful young woman has an incredible story to tell: about her outlaw father, how he got busted out of jail, and then met a bloody end. Katherine Lupo believes her dad, a career train robber, was sprung by someone who wanted to set up Lupo for another crime—and then killed him when the job was done. A Texas Ranger believes her. And he turns to The Loner, a man with the guile and courage to go undercover and find out who was behind Lupo’s escape and murder. Posing as train robber, The Loner finds what he is after: a cold blooded and deadly master criminal. But from the get-go, The Loner is fighting for his life, for the lives of men and women on the right side of the law—and one desperate shot to plant an evil man six feet under in Boot Hill.
Texas State Penitentiary, Huntsville, Texas
Quint Lupo knew something was wrong. Five years spent behind the thick walls, barbed wire, and iron bars of the prison had honed his instincts to a keen edge.
He figured somebody was going to kill him.
He had plenty of enemies in there, that was for sure. A man couldn’t stay locked up for very long without getting on somebody’s bad side. Look at a man wrong in the yard, bump into some fella in the mess hall by accident, and the strain of being in prison made everything seem worse than it really was. When that happened, pride often turned it into a killing matter.
When you got right down to it, pride was just about all a lockedup man had left. As Lupo walked across the yard, his eyes moved constantly, searching for the first sign of trouble.
It was a hot day, and being outside for a few minutes caused him to sweat through his gray convict’s uniform. Squinting against the sun’s glare, he glanced up at the brassy Texas sky. He looked at the guard towers in two corners of the yard, where guards with Winchesters were posted, ready to open fire instantly if they needed to.
It was Sunday afternoon and convicts were scattered around the yard. Any other day, most of them would have been out working in the fields. The penitentiary raised an assortment of crops, some to feed the prisoners, others to sell. The convicts had to work hard, but truthfully, it wasn’t much harder than it would have been if they’d been trying to eke out a living for their families from their own hardscrabble farms.
It wasn’t the work, it was the lack of freedom and the memories of being able to come and go as he pleased that got to a man. Lupo remembered vividly how it felt to race across the plains on a good horse. He’d loved it . . . even when there was a posse on his trail.
“Hey, Lupo,” someone called behind him.
Lupo stopped and turned.
A convict named Leroy Boozer was coming toward him, followed by several of Boozer’s friends. The man was tall and burly, with massive arms and a black beard. He looked even bigger and more threatening compared to Lupo’s lean build and gray hair.
“What do you want, Boozer?” Lupo asked, thinking once again his instincts had proven accurate. Boozer was a troublemaker, plain and simple. He spent a week or two every month in solitary as a result of the problems he caused.
With a murderous glare, Boozer said, “I hear you been sayin’ things about me. Bad things.”
Even though he knew it probably wouldn’t do any good, Lupo shook his head. “I haven’t said anything about you. We have never had anything to do with each other.”
“Yeah, because some fancy bank robber like you thinks he’s too good to associate with the likes of me!”
Lupo wasn’t going to admit that and make the situation worse, but Boozer was right. The man had been sent to Huntsville because he had beaten his own wife and his brother to death with his bare hands. He’d thought they’d been fooling around with each other.
There was no truth to that suspicion, the way Lupo understood it. He figured the real reason Boozer had killed those two people was because he was blind, crazy drunk at the time. He’d been lucky to escape hanging and sentenced to life in prison instead.
Quint Lupo, on the other hand, might have robbed banks and held up trains from one end of Texas to the other, but he had never killed anyone in his life and prided himself on that fact. It was one reason he was determined to serve the remaining
ten years of his sentence and then walk the straight
and narrow once he was released.
The other reason was his daughter Kate.
“Boozer, I don’t want any trouble with you,” Lupo said. “I give you my word I haven’t been talking about you, and I don’t intend to. Whoever told you that was just trying to stir up a fight.”
Boozer’s glare darkened even more. “Are you callin’ my friends liars?” he demanded as he stepped closer. His big hands balled into knobbyknuckled fists. “Are you callin’ me a liar?”
It was looking more and more like there was no way out, but Lupo shook his head and tried one more time to ward off violence. “I’m not calling anybody a liar. I’m just saying that someone is mistaken.”
“That’s the same thing!” Boozer bellowed.
Lupo glanced around. Several guards were in the yard, and they usually kept their eyes on prisoners like Boozer who were known to start trouble.
On that hot afternoon, however, they all seemed to be looking elsewhere. Lupo wondered suddenly if that was a coincidence. “Listen—” “I’m tired of listenin’ to you!” Boozer yelled. He lunged forward, swinging a big fist at Lupo’s head.
The punch would have taken his head off if it connected, so Lupo made sure it didn’t. He ducked and let Boozer’s fist whip harmlessly over his head.
Boozer wavered, a little off balance.
Stepping in close, Lupo hammered a left and a
right into Boozer’s midsection. It was almost like hitting the wall of a log cabin. He was quick, and straightened up, driving the top of his head into Boozer’s face.
Blood spurted hotly as Boozer’s nose flattened under the impact. He roared in mixed pain and anger as he bulled forward, flailing punches that would have done a lot of damage if they’d landed.
Lupo darted this way and that and avoided the big fists. He couldn’t match Boozer’s strength or reach, but he had superior speed on his side. He landed a couple jabs on Boozer’s nose and sprayed more blood into the air. Boozer tried to catch him in a bear hug, but Lupo stepped quickly to the side, thrust his foot between Boozer’s ankles, and with a hard jerk of his leg upended the bigger man.
Dust flew in the air as Boozer crashed to the ground.
Before Lupo could take any satisfaction from that, Boozer’s cronies were on him, punching and snarling. Lupo blocked as many blows as he could, but some got through and slammed into him. The impact rocked him back. He fought to keep his balance. He knew if he fell, they might kick and stomp the life out of him.
Where were the guards? Why hadn’t the men in the towers fired any warning shots? Usually a fight was broken up almost as soon as it started, as long as so many men didn’t join in that the fracas turned into a riot.
Lupo got his feet set and drove punches back at
the men attacking him. He was badly outnumbered and couldn’t hope to win, but his goal was to stay on his feet and fend them off until the guards arrived. His fists cracked against jaws, knocking Boozer’s friends away from him, and giving him a momentary respite.
It ended as someone tackled him from behind and knocked him to the ground. A heavy weight pinned him down. Foul breath gusted in his face as Boozer panted, “Now we’ll teach you a lesson, bank robber!”
Boozer heaved to his feet and brought Lupo up with him. Lupo’s arms were pinned to his sides, so he couldn’t defend himself as Boozer’s friends closed in and slammed punches to his head. He tried to kick at them, but he couldn’t keep them all away.
“Get back! Get back, damn it!” roared a harsh, commanding voice.
Finally, the guards were going to step in. It was about time, Lupo thought. The convicts fell away to the sides, clearing a path for a brawny man in a blue uniform who was carrying a club. Lupo recognized him as one of the guards named Hagen.
He expected Boozer to let go of him, but that didn’t happen. Instead the big prisoner’s grip on Lupo tightened. Hagen stepped closer, raising the club.
“What are you . . .” Lupo managed to gasp out. “Start a fight in my yard, will you, Lupo?” Hagen yelled. “I’ll put a stop to that!”
The club rose and fell. Lupo saw it coming, but there was nothing he could do, nowhere to go. The club smashed against his head with stunning force. Red light exploded through his brain.
“But I didn’t—” That was all he got out before the red light turned to the black of oblivion and claimed him.