Journey To A Killing Ground
Conrad Browning, a.k.a. The Loner, knows what it’s like to a have a family and a home. And he knows what it’s like to lose it all. Now, he has a met man living on the edge of sanity: a good man, a flawed man, a solitary man who might just cost The Loner his life...
The Past Won’t Let Him Go. The Future Is Even Deadlier.
Jared Tate is an aging U.S. marshal who has saved lives, made enemies, and planted a lot of bad men in hallowed ground. But Tate is in deep trouble, the kind that comes from a troubled mind. Not remembering as much as he wants to, not forgetting as much as he should, Tate has one person to trust. Because the Loner has made Tate’s enemies his own, taking on Tate’s demons and Tate’s fight. In the lawless and violent Kansas territory, a young wanderer and an aging lawman will journey side-by-side one last time—into a fight that will take every bullet they have...
Texas was a long way behind him now, and with it the dangers he had faced while carrying out an undercover assignment for a friend of his in the Texas Rangers.
For the last few years, the man known as Kid Morgan had spent most of his time wandering the southwestern states and territories. True, he had crossed the country once during that time, going to Boston and from there all the way west to San Francisco, but at that time he had been involved in a quest that ultimately proved to be futile.
He didn’t like to think about that anymore.
From Texas he had drifted north, through the territory of Oklahoma and on into Kansas, veering slightly west of north and heading away from the endless plains devoted to farming in the eastern part of the state.
Some goodsized ranches were out there, The Kid had heard, and he was toying with the idea of becoming a cowboy.
Why not? he had asked himself when that thought came to mind. A few years earlier, he had decided he was going to be a gunfighter, hadn’t he? Millionaire businessman Conrad Browning had disappeared, and Kid Morgan, the Scourge of the Plains, the Pistoleer from Nowhere, the Deadly Shootist with the Tragic Past, had been born.
The thing of it was, he did have a tragic past, and his new identity as Kid Morgan had been designed to help him gain revenge on the men responsible. He had quickly discovered it wasn’t just a pose, either. From his father, the notorious gunfighter Frank Morgan, he had inherited the speed, the coordination between hand and eye, and the cool nerves under fire that allowed him to be a dangerous gunman in his own right.
Kid Morgan had begun as fiction, but now he was fact.
That was fine with The Kid. Nothing was drawing him back to his old life as Conrad Browning.
So if he wanted to be a cowboy, indeed, why not?
There was, however, one distinction between the two situations. He had possessed the skills he needed to survive as a gunfighter. Other than being a good rider, he had no idea if he could handle the job of working on a ranch.
There was only one way to find out, he’d told himself, and so he rode aimlessly across the prairies of western Kansas, looking for a suitable spread where he could ask for a job.
The terrain was low, rolling hills, virtually treeless except for the places where a creek twisted its way across the landscape. The banks of those creeks were often lined with small cottonwoods.
The Kid spotted a line of those trees in the distance during the late afternoon and pointed his buckskin toward them, leading his pack horse. He could probably push on for another hour or so, he thought, but what reason did he have to do that? The creek up ahead would provide a good place to camp, and he was going to take advantage of it.
He was still a couple hundred yards from the trees when he heard a single gunshot. The pistol’s roar was repeated in diminishing echoes rolling away across the hills.
The Kid reined in. He didn’t think the shot had been directed at him, but still gave some thought to circling wide around the spot. He wasn’t looking for trouble.
A pistol shot didn’t always mean trouble. Somebody could have shot a snake. It was possible the person was hurt and was trying to attract attention, although three evenly spaced shots was the accepted frontier signal for a plea for help.
Mostly, though, Kid Morgan wasn’t the sort of hombre who rode around anything. He hitched the buckskin into motion again and headed for the creek.
If trouble was waiting for him, he was well armed to meet it. A holstered Colt .45 rode on his hip, and in his righthand saddlebag, within easy reach, was a semiautomatic Mauser C96 pistol, fully loaded with a tenround clip. He had carried the Germanmade weapon for a while, but recently switched back to the old reliable Colt. The broom handle Mauser made a mighty fine second gun, though.
In addition, the butt of a Winchester Model 1894 carbine in .3030 caliber stuck up from a saddle boot on the left side of the horse. The Kid had an old Sharps buffalo rifle strapped to his pack horse for longdistance shooting.
And if there was close work that needed to be done, a razorsharp Bowie knife was sheathed on his left hip.
Some people might have said he was armed for bear, but The Kid wasn’t really worried about bears, especially on the Kansas prairie.
Men, on the other hand . . .
As he drew closer to the creek, he was able to see several figures moving around on the near bank. A couple men moved to the edge of the trees and watched him approach.
He lifted a hand in greeting and to show he was peaceful. He counted four men, but only three mounts were visible. That didn’t bode well, especially considering the single shot he’d heard.
The Kid reined to a halt about twenty feet from the two men keeping an eye on him. One was painfully skinny, dressed in a threadbare town suit, a collarless shirt with no tie, and a battered old derby. The other was shorter and stockier, with a closecropped dark beard peppered with silver. He spoke, nodding to The Kid. “Howdy, mister.”
“Are you fellas planning on camping here?” The Kid asked. “Because I don’t want to intrude.”
“No, we just stopped to water our horses and let ’em rest for a spell.” The stocky man thumbed back the black Stetson he wore. “Too bad, though.
My pard Jeff’s horse couldn’t make it. Poor critter was plumb worn out.
Jeff had to shoot it. It was hard on him, too. He’d had that horse for a long time.”
“Yeah,” one of the men standing by the edge of the creek called. “Hate to lose that animal, but there wasn’t nothin’ else to do.”
The Kid could see the dark shape of the dead horse on the ground beside the man. “Sorry,” he acknowledged, without feeling much real sympathy. The three horses still standing were covered with drying sweat lather. Their heads hung low, and their sides were heaving. They hadn’t been there long.
Men didn’t come so close to killing their horses— by running them into the ground—unless they were in an awful big hurry. And men in that big a hurry usually had trouble hard on their heels.
The Kid kept his face expressionless and didn’t let on that he understood that. Maybe he could still ride away without any gunplay, but he doubted it. He lifted the buckskin’s reins with his left hand. “I guess I’ll be moving along. Hope your luck takes a turn for the better.”
“Oh, I reckon it already did.” The stocky man tried to look like he wasn’t doing anything, but his hand moved closer to the gun on his hip.
luck changed when you came along, mister. You’ve got two good horses there, one to replace Jeff’s and one for a spare for the rest of us.”
“Yeah,” The Kid said, “but they’re my horses.”
The stocky man dropped the act. His hand flashed to his gun. Next to him, the skinny man in the derby clawed at a Smith & Wesson he wore in a crossdraw rig. Back in the trees, the other two men slapped leather as they split up and spread out.
The Kid took care of the problem right in front of him first. He palmed the Colt from its holster and fired, sending the bullet into the middle of the stocky man’s chest, which was admittedly a pretty goodsized target. The man had barely cleared leather and hadn’t gotten off a shot.
The buckskin was accustomed to the roar of shots, but even so the horse moved a short distance to the left. The Kid took advantage of that, lining himself up for a better shot at the derbywearing gent.
The man in the derby triggered the Smith & Wesson, and it cracked wickedly. The shot was pretty accurate, coming close enough The Kid felt the pulse of the slug passing through the air near his ear.
An instant later his second shot ripped through the skinny man’s body, spinning him around and knocking him off his feet.
Dealing with the other two was going to be trickier. They had gone in opposite directions and had the cottonwoods to use as cover. Muzzle flashes stabbed at The Kid from both directions. He had to choose, so he swung his Colt to the right.
Something struck him in the chest with stunning impact from the left. He felt himself falling and knew he was sliding from the saddle. He kicked his feet free of the stirrups and smashed into the ground, stunned and helpless.