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Authors: Len Levinson

Devil's Creek Massacre

BOOK: Devil's Creek Massacre
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Johnny Pinto feinted his blade toward Duane, but Duane was as tense as a puma about to strike. Then Johnny shoved his knife toward Duane's belly, but Duane danced to the side and whipped his edge through Johnny's forearm. Blood spurted;

the blade had sliced to the bone and Johnny howled. Duane saw three openings, but chose not to kill Johnny at the moment.

Tendons had been severed and Johnny's knife dropped from his numbed right hand. Lips quivering with pain, he picked it up with his left hand. He didn't have to say anything—his eyes told the story. He was prepared to kill Duane Braddock or die in the attempt.

Also by Len Levinson

The Rat Bastards:

Hit the Beach

Death Squad

River of Blood

Meat Grinder Hill

Down and Dirty

Green Hell

Too Mean to Die

Hot Lead and Cold Steel

Do or Die

Kill Crazy

Nightmare Alley

Go For Broke

Tough Guys Die Hard

Suicide River

Satan's Cage

Go Down Fighting

The Pecos Kid:

Beginner's Luck

The Reckoning

Apache Moon

Outlaw Hell

Bad to the Bone

The Apache Wars Saga:

Desert Hawks

War Eagles

Savage Frontier

White Apache

Devil Dance

Night of the Cougar



Book 5



This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1994 by Len Levinson.  All Rights Reserved.

Ebook © 2013 by AudioGO.  All Rights Reserved.

Trade ISBN: 978-1-62064-862-9

Library ISBN: 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

HE DESERT GLIMMERED spectrally in the moonlight, as Duane Braddock rode south to Monterrey. His trail led through the Apache homeland, and he relentlessly scanned shadows for suspicious shapes and movements, his Colt .44 tight in his right hand, cocked and loaded, ready to fire.

He'd lived among Apaches and knew their tactics well. They could be tracking him at that very moment, coveting his fine horse, weapons, saddle, and equipment. And if Apaches weren't enough, the Fourth Cavalry wanted him dead or alive for the alleged killing of a federal marshal in Morellos, although Duane considered it self-defense. Posters displaying his youthful countenance were nailed all over west Texas, and he was running for his life.

He also was alert for lost wandering banditos, cutthroat Comancheros, and the Mexican Army itself.
Constant guard duty and insufficient sleep were making him jittery and anxious. He looked forward to Monterrey, where he could relax in a cantina, drink a glass of mescal, and observe sloe-eyed dancing señoritas.

Duane detected sudden lateral movement in thick cholla and ocotillo to his right. Maybe it was a desert swallow, rabbit, or buzzard, but it could be an Apache setting up a bushwhack. Duane drew his Winchester and jacked a round into the chamber, just in case.

It wasn't the first time he'd noticed possible danger during the past twenty-four hours. While he'd slept that afternoon, his ear pressed against his makeshift pillow, he'd heard muffled hoofbeats in the distance. At sundown, something flashed on a distant ridge, possibly the worn barrel of an Apache rifle catching the last rays of sunlight. And that very night, Duane thought he'd seen movement in dark moonshadows. It could've been an antelope or mule deer, but there was no way of knowing for sure. Duane wondered if a raiding party had cut his trail.

Duane Braddock was tall, rangy, eighteen years old. He wore black jeans, black shirt, and a wide-brimmed black hat, with a red bandanna tied around his neck. He hadn't shaved since Texas, and his only conversations were with his horse, Nestor. “How's it going, boy?” asked Duane, as he patted the black mane of his big russet animal. He'd paid one hundred dollars for Nestor about two weeks ago, and they still didn't know each other well. Nestor was muscular, powerful, with plenty of bottom, but no horse could outsmart Apaches once they picked up a poor unfortunate white eyes' trail.

Apaches were the best trackers in the world, but Duane had learned tricks from the masters them-
selves. He was about to put the spurs to Nestor when a little voice said in his ear: Are you
you saw something?

The flash of light could've been a lump of mica or malachite that caught the sun, and the desert was full of living creatures that moved about. I've been in the saddle so long, I'm going loco, he thought as he eased forward the hammer of his Winchester and dropped the weapon into its scabbard.

Duane wanted to light a cigarette, but its glowing red dot would be seen for miles. He was tired of eating raw meat, but no trailside restaurants were available on the Coahuilian desert. He hoped he'd reach civilization before the Apaches got him.

During the previous day, Duane had dreamed of a skeleton cowboy in rags, riding a skeleton horse across the endless plain. The cowboy had a feather in his hatband, a Colt .44 in his hand, and a maniacal smile wreathed his skull. There was something familiar about the skeleton cowboy, and Duane wondered if he was the ghost of his father.

Duane's father had been a rancher killed in a range war, according to information that Duane had uncovered. Duane knew who'd paid for the killing: Sam Archer of Edgeville, Texas. Duane planned to even the score with Mr. Archer at the first opportunity, but had more pressing problems. Duane Braddock, alias the Pecos Kid, was considered a threat to every man, woman, and child in west Texas.

Duane jerked around suddenly and thought he saw an Apache lurking in the shade of a prickly-pear cactus seventy-five yards away. The thick desert foliage was still, and Duane wondered if he was imagining Apaches. You've been alone so long, pretty soon you'll
see circus clowns dancing out here. You're not happy unless you're worrying about something.

He smiled wryly, aware of his weaknesses and shortcomings. Duane Braddock had spent sixteen of his eighteen years in a Benedictine monastery orphanage high in the Guadalupe Mountains. He'd intended to become a priest, but then began noticing pretty Mexican girls who came to Mass at the monastery on Sundays. Shortly thereafter he'd got into a fight with another orphan, and the old abbot had chucked Duane unceremoniously out the gate. In the secular world for the first time, the naive and impractical ex-acolyte had fallen into one serious jam after another. He understood theology and philosophy, but had huge gaps in his practical knowledge of the world.

He smelled water, his nose twitched, and he hoped a stream or well was in the offing. He had a half canteen of water left, as he pulled back Nestor's reins. “Be still,” he said softly.

Nestor stopped, his large round eyes glowing lumi-nescently in the darkness. Duane listened carefully, and his Apache ears picked up the faint music of a stream, but it could be wind whistling over cactus spines. There it was again, far in the distance, the
of an unshod hoof against grama grass. A chill went up Duane's back, because he didn't know what was real anymore. A war party of Apaches might be aiming their arrows at him, or it could be the music of the night.

A row of cottonwood trees lay beyond thickets of cholla and paddle cactus straight ahead. He was headed in a southwesterly direction and didn't think he was lost. To stop at the stream or keep moving on, that was the question for the cowboy Hamlet. The stream
was an ideal spot for a bushwhack. Just when he bent over, slurping cool clear liquid, that's when they'd shoot an arrow into his back.

But there were some things an Apache couldn't know, such as which spot in the stream he'd choose. Who am I, what am I, and what do I want from the world? he mused as he rode toward water. His monastic studies had marked him for life, and he measured himself on a scale that permitted no folly, unless it be holy folly, and no dishonesty, regardless of how seductive.

Duane angled Nestor's approach to the stream, to befuddle possible trackers. He glanced around furtively, then bent over Nestor's long flowing mane. “We can't waste time here for obvious reasons,” Duane whispered into Nestor's upthrust ear. “Drink up and let's get out fast, okay?”

Nestor twitched his hairy ear to show that he understood, or at least that's what Duane thought. Sometimes Duane had the uncanny notion that Nestor understood English perfectly and communicated in his own subtle language of winks, snorts, neighs, and the movement of his ears, not to mention his hooves. But Duane didn't know what he was conjuring and what was true.

In fact, Nestor understood the situation far better than Duane. Nestor also had pulled a hitch with Apaches, and smelled them faintly in the night. They'd been tracking him and his boss for two suns, but hadn't yet come close. The last thing Nestor wanted was recapture by Apaches, because Apaches rode horses till they dropped, then butchered and ate them, sometimes raw, on the spot. Grisly memories haunted his horse mind.

Duane and Nestor headed toward the stream glittering through thick desert foliage. A bat darted over their heads, searching for mice and rats. Duane held his Colt cocked and loaded, his sharp eyes inspecting every shadow as Nestor trod toward silvery waters. Needles and spines slashed Duane's jeans, and he poised himself to give Nestor the spurs at the first hint of danger. The only sound was a coyote howling mournfully in a far-off cave, except it might be an Apache signaling. Again Duane couldn't say for sure.

Nestor approached the stream as Duane gathered his canteens together. The horse slowed, lowered his great snout, and Duane slid down from the saddle. Glancing around nervously, his mind taut as a guitar string, he plunged both canteens into the cool clear water. Bubbles sang gaily as Nestor slurped cool limpid water. The canteens stopped gurgling, Duane screwed on the caps, then vaulted into the saddle and gave Nestor the spurs. The huge russet beast splashed across the stream, his belly full of water. Skittish and fearful, he carried his boss southward, as night air thickened with the pungent fragrance of Apache warriors on a raid.

Kateynah sat on his strawberry roan war pony and peered into the night. He knew that the lone white-eyes rider on the fabulous horse was out there somewhere, but didn't know his precise location. It was too dark for reliable tracking, and the white eyes constantly changed direction, covering his trail whenever possible, and carrying his pistol ready to fire.

Kateynah and six other Apaches were returning from a fruitless raid on a Mexican settlement, and they'd lose prestige if they arrived at their rancheria
empty-handed. It would reflect especially poorly on Kateynah, their leader, but a mount like the one belonging to the white eyes could buy Kateynah's first wife. Kateynah was twenty-three years old, and tired of sleeping with a moth-eaten stolen U.S. Army blanket.

He heard the approach of a rider and held his stolen old army carbine ready to fire. It was Tandor, bristling with arrows, knives, and his silent bow, an ocher war stripe painted horizontally across his cheeks and nose.

“We have lost him,” Tandor reported, “but we will find his trail at the stream, I am sure.” Tandor was second in command, only nineteen years old, and had thick curly black hair, because his mother had been a Negro captive. “The sun will be up soon, and then he will rest,” said Tandor. “Even if he sees us, he will be ours alone. I look forward to receiving his rifle.”

Tandor, Kateynah, and the others had carefully surveyed the merchandise. They would've killed the white eyes on the spot at numerous junctures, but he'd been alert, armed at all times, and the horse was unquestionably swift. They'd have to be subtle and silent as a pack of coyotes, which in a sense they were.

Duane saw the dawn's red glow, time for another difficult decision: sleep or keep going. He longed for his simple monk's life, where decisions had been inconsequential. Whether St. Bonaventure was right or Abelard wrong, Duane could always recline on his safe little cot at night, protected by ponderosa-pine log walls and the prestige of Holy Mother Church. But a wrong decision in Apache country could end your life suddenly, silently, irrevocably.

Duane had lived with Sister Death so long, she was
a gaunt youthful ghost dancing before him in a ragged black dress, grinning maniacally, enticing him toward his doom. The end could come in the form of a bear lurking behind that boulder or a rattlesnake about to snap at his leg at any moment. Duane had studied the great Stoics, and it all boiled down to grin and bear it, or as the Epicureans alleged, live life to the hilt, and when you die, have a bottle of good wine in one hand, a beautiful woman in your arms, and one last laugh for the scurrying dark minions of Sister Death. Duane had learned to be hard, because inner pain hurts more than getting punched in the mouth, and he'd had a few of those too. It seemed that whenever he rode into a new town, somebody wanted to mess with him.

The red glow brightened on the horizon, and Duane didn't have endless time to ponder. He was too tense to sleep, but decided to stop for the day. Thick swarms of scraggly desert foliage to the east looked like a good bet, and he steered Nestor toward them, his Colt in hand as he glanced about constantly.

There were no signs of other human beings, and for all he knew, no white man had been in the valley since the dawn of time. It looked pristine, untouched, the desert of Eden being reborn in the first rays of morning. I'll bet it was like this when Christ wandered the wilderness for forty days and forty nights, tempted by the devil, but he held on and so will I.

Duane examined thickets at close range and settled on one with protective boulders piled around and open stretches in every direction for at least twenty yards. If Apaches want to take me, let them try, he thought bravely.

He pulled back the reins, then climbed off Nestor. Should I leave him saddled or not? A saddle would be
best for a quick getaway, but if Duane were killed, a saddle could impede Nestor's efforts to save himself. What the hell, Duane thought, as he unfastened the cinch. He pulled the saddle off Nestor's back, then picketed the animal inside a ragged arc of boulders interspersed with cactus.

From the sheltered position, Duane could hold off a sizable war party with his rifle, or so he wanted to believe. He cut some juniper branches and proceeded to cover his trail all the way back to where he'd turned off his main route.

The first red molten sliver of sun lay on the horizon when he returned to his hiding spot by a circuitous route, and Nestor watched him warily, chomping grass. Duane laid out his bedroll, took a sip of water, made sure his weapons were ready to fire, and sat cross-legged on his blanket. The sky lightened, and a gray-breasted martin flew overhead, glancing at him curiously. Higher in the sky, Duane spotted a lone black buzzard circling about, waiting for something, anything, to fall.

BOOK: Devil's Creek Massacre
9.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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