Table of Contents
Cuno's New Mission
The rancher turned to him slowly, his gray eyes glassy. Suddenly, he blinked, and recognition returned to his gaze. He removed his pipe from his teeth, knocked the dottle onto the wide-boarded floor, and lifted the coffee mug from the table.
“What would you say to hitchin' up one of your wagons and getting my daughter and the Lassiter kids the hell out of here?”
“Out of here?” Cuno almost laughed. The man really was crazier than a tree full of owls. “You're hemmed in by Indians on three sides, might even be some behind the house. Even if you aren't totally surrounded, in case you haven't checked recently, you've got one hell of a high granite ridge behind you. The only way outta here is to fly, and my wagons haven't sprouted any wings.”
PRAISE FOR PETER BRANDVOLD AND HIS NOVELS:
“Brandvold creates a fast-paced, action-packed novel.”
“Action-packed . . . for fans of traditional Westerns.”
“Recommended to anyone who loves the West as I do.”
“A writer to watch.”
âJory Sherman, author of
The Savage Curse
“A natural born storyteller who knows the West.”
âBill Brooks, author of
Berkley titles by Peter Brandvold
The .45-Caliber Series
.45-CALIBER WIDOW MAKER
The Sheriff Ben Stillman Series
HELL ON WHEELS
ONCE LATE WITH A .38
ONCE UPON A DEAD MAN
ONCE A RENEGADE
ONCE HELL FREEZES OVER
ONCE A LAWMAN
ONCE MORE WITH A .44
ONCE A MARSHAL
The Rogue Lawman Series
BULLETS OVER BEDLAM
COLD CORPSE, HOT TRAIL
The Bounty Hunter Lou Prophet Series
THE GRAVES AT SEVEN DEVILS
THE DEVIL'S LAIR
STARING DOWN THE DEVIL
THE DEVIL GETS HIS DUE
RIDING WITH THE DEVIL'S MISTRESS
DEALT THE DEVIL'S HAND
THE DEVIL AND LOU PROPHET
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley edition / September 2009
Copyright Â© 2009 by Peter Brandvold.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-13613-3
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For mi amigos in the
Fort Collins Comics Collective:
Jeremy de le Garza
CUNO MASSEY SAW the Indian a quarter second before the arrow careened toward him from a snag of brush and sun-bleached rocks. The razor-edged, strap-iron blade flashed wickedly in the high-altitude sunlight, moaning like a bobcat cub in a spring thunderstorm.
The Ute was hunkered down between two sun-blasted boulders, scowling, his face a russet, brown-eyed, war-painted oval. As he loosed the arrow, his right hand snapped back sharply from the bow. He gritted his teeth and pinched his coffee-colored eyes with fury.
The arrow traversed the thirty yards between Cuno and the Indian so quickly that Cuno had no time to do anything but wince as the feathered projectile seared a shallow trough along his left cheek before clattering and breaking against the rock scarp behind him. He'd been holding his cocked Winchester across his saddlebows. Now he raised the gun and squeezed off a shot toward the Indian.
At the same time, his skewbald paint, Renegade, startled by the clatter of the missile and the Indian's raucous yowl, skitter-stepped sideways. The sudden lurch threw Cuno's shot two feet wide of the still-howling Ute, who was thrusting a hand into the quiver down his back, reloading.
Another arrow whooshed past Cuno's ear to slice into the orange sand and gravel near the paint's right rear hoof, and a second brave loosed a savage howl behind him.
Renegade squealed and bucked. Cuno reached for the saddle horn, missed it, and holding his Winchester in his right hand, flew back over the paint's lurching hip.
He turned a somersault in midair as two more arrows whistled around him, one clipping his right calf with a searing burn. Then he was on the ground, rolling, dust from his own fall and from his horse's scissoring hooves wafting around him.
He rolled off his barking shoulder and, racking a fresh shell into the rifle's breech, swung toward the first Indian and fired three shots, shooting and levering quickly, the whip-cracks of the .44-44 echoing off the rocky scarps looming around him. Amidst the chipping rocks and powder smoke, the Indian's painted face disappeared.
Levering another round, Cuno wheeled. The Indian behind him was in midair, leaping straight down from the top of the northern scarp. He hit the ground on both moccasined feet, screeching like a demented brush wolf, then bounded toward Cuno, a stone club in one hand, his bow in the other.
Cuno aimed and fired. His slug sliced across the top of the Ute's right ear exposed by his back-buffeting, chocolate mane.
The Indian didn't blink. Raising the club, he lunged toward Cuno. The stocky blond freighter grabbed his rifle with both hands, set his feet, and smashed the Winchester's barrel against the brave's red-and-white-striped forehead with a dull smack.
The blow stopped the brave in his tracks. The ear-rattling war cry died on his lips, and he stumbled sideways, dropping his chin and dragging his toes, knees slackening.
The brave's cry was replaced by a low, eerie mewling, and the growing thunder of horse hooves. Cuno wheeled to his right. Beyond the near rocks and cedars, clay-colored dust rose in the waning afternoon sunlight. Cuno levered a fresh shell into the Winchester's breech and bounded toward the oncoming rider, leaping rocks and shrubs and wincing at the hitch in his shoulder.
He ran thirty yards and stopped.
A long-haired horseback rider in calico and deerhide appeared above the cedars and willows. The mewling rose into a deep-throated war cry as the brave, clad in a wolf-head cape, a medicine pouch dangling down his chest, aimed an old Springfield rifle straight out from his left shoulder. The brave's entire face, beneath the wolf snout atop his head, was painted the color of a Colorado sunset, the black eyes like chunks of coal beneath two bands of solid blue.
As the head of the brave's horse appeared above the brush and thickets, the rifle belched smoke and fire. The heavy slug thumped into a rock behind Cuno. The Indian's cry grew shrill and, stretching his lips back from his teeth, he reined his big Appaloosa toward Cuno, intending to run him down.
Heart thudding, feeling the throb of the pounding hooves in the ground beneath his boots, Cuno held his ground. He snapped his Winchester to his shoulder and drew a bead on the Indian's chest, just above the big stallion's bobbing, wide-eyed head and buffeting mane.
The horse was ten feet in front of Cuno when Cuno squeezed the Winchester's trigger and drilled a quarter-sized hole through the brave's breastbone. The horse screamed, drowning the Ute's grunt as he flipped straight back off the horse's rump, disappearing into the dust and cedars behind the horse's flying hooves.
At the same time, Cuno leapt off his boot heels, pivoting and diving left.
The horse's broad chest smacked his right airborne boot, twisting him slightly in the air just before he hit the ground on the same shoulder he'd landed on before, and he rolled. Looking back, he saw the stallion lunge on past him, reins trailing from the braided halter, leaping shrubs and boulders and disappearing behind a cabin-sized lump of black lava rock.
The horse's thudding hooves and angry whinnies dwindled into the distance. The dust sifted slowly.
Cuno looked in the direction the last brave had fallen. He saw only an indistinct hump in the brush, unmoving.
Cursing under his breath, he rolled onto a hip and climbed to a knee, the movement of his foot oddly restricted, though in all the excitement, he hadn't noticed it before.
A blue ash-wood arrow trailed from his right deerskin legging, the strap-iron head touched with blood. Cuno reached down, worked the arrow back out of the cuffâit had gone through two layers of deerskinâthen snapped it in half and tossed it into the brush. Now he could feel the strangely chill blood dribbling down his calf, but the ache was only slightly worse than that of a deerfly bite.