Read Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) Online

Authors: James J. Griffin

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Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) (13 page)

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
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“I couldn’t
win
either, you
chucklehead,” Quincy retorted. He pulled his pistol from its
holster and pointed it into the air.

“Andy, are you ready?”

“Ready, Cap’n.”

“Nate?”

“Ready, Cap’n.”

“Good. Bring your horses up to the
line.”

Diablo and Big Red were moved into
place.

“Good. Set. Go!”

Quincy fired, and both horses broke into a
dead run. Diablo was slightly ahead when they reached the base of
the rise, but Red overtook him and pulled ahead slightly as they
climbed the hill. When they turned to race across the top of the
ridge, they were neck and neck, manes and tails flying, both riders
low over their necks, slapping them with the reins and urging them
on.

Shouts of encouragement rose from the
Rangers.

“Go, Andy!”

“C’mon, Nate!”

“You’ve got him now, Nate!”

“Stay with him, Andy!”

The yells grew louder as the horses rounded
the cottonwood and pounded for the finish line. Diablo had the
inside when they rounded the tree and moved ahead, but Red pulled
even once again. It was still anyone’s race. The Rangers yelled
louder, clapping and cheering as they urged the riders on.

There was a boggy stretch at the bottom of
the hill, a shallow, mostly dry creek. Andy and Nate pushed their
horses even harder as they neared the finish. Diablo and Big Red
hit the edge of the creek, and at the same moment, planted their
hooves and stopped without warning. Andy and Nate sailed over their
horses’ heads, landing on their backs, the wind knocked out of
them. Nate ended up in a patch of prickly pear, while Andy slid
through the mud and hauled up against a large clump of ocotillo.
Their horses stood on the edge of the creek, snorting and
blowing.

Nate and Andy were still lying where they
fell, struggling for breath, when the other Rangers rushed up.

“Andy! Nate! You all right?” Captain Quincy
called.

“Yeah… yeah, I think so,” Andy answered.
“Dumb horse.”

“Neither one of those horses ain’t so dumb,”
Ken said. “Can’t blame ’em for stoppin’ like that, since they
weren’t sure what the footin’ would be when they hit that mud.”

“Boy howdy, that’s for certain,” Tim added.
“They had no idea how deep the water in that creek was, either.
With the clouds and sky reflectin’ in that water, it probably
looked ten feet deep to your broncs. Heck, I’d have stopped short
and sent you boys flyin’ if I’d been Red or Diablo. That’s why
folks say horses have horse sense. Most of ’em know better than to
get themselves into a pickle they can’t get out of.”

“I reckon these two don’t need a lecture
right about now,” Captain Quincy said. He offered Nate a hand
up.

“How about you, Nate? You hurt?”

“Nah. I think… everything’s in one
piece.”

“Jim, we’d better get both these youngsters
back to the camp so you can check ’em over, just to be sure,”
Quincy ordered. “Ken, Tad, Tim, Tom, give Jim a hand. Bill, Hank,
get their horses.”

Andy and Nate were pulled to their feet.
Both moaned. They walked stiffly back to the camp. When they sat
down, both cried out in pain.

“Just what I expected,” Jim said,
laughing.

“What?” Quincy asked.

“Both these boys ended up in some cactus.
Their backsides are full of needles. I’m gonna have to pull those
out.”

“Oh, no you ain’t,” Andy protested.

“Same goes for me,” Nate added.

“Neither of you have a choice,” Jim
answered. “If I don’t pull those spines out they’ll only work their
way in deeper, which’ll hurt a lot more. And, if they fester,
you’ll be in real trouble. Now, drop your denims and drawers and
lie on your bellies while I get my instruments.”

“Cap’n?” Andy said.

“Jim’s the doctor. Do what he says.”

Reluctantly, their faces red, Andy and Nate
did as instructed. To their chagrin, the rest of the Rangers
couldn’t resist poking fun at their predicament.

“You two both look like pincushions, there’s
so many spines stuck in your backsides,” Jim said. “I guess I’ll
start with you first, Nate.”

With tweezers and pliers, he began to remove
the offending spines from Nate’s bottom. Nate yelped and winced
with every tug. Blood oozed when Jim removed some of the deeper
spines.

“Hey, Nate, Andy. You don’t mind us
needling
you a little, do you?” Lieutenant Bob asked.

“These boys got stuck, no ‘
butts

about it,” Joe added.

“Got a little
behind
in their work,”
Shorty said.

“Should’ve turned the other cheek… I mean,
cheeks
,” Ed put in.

“Men, I’d like to propose a toast to our two
flyin’ comrades,” Jeb said. He raised an imaginary glass.

Bottoms up
!”

“If y’all would just shut up, we’d
appreciate it,” Andy muttered. “Better still, why not just leave
me’n Nate alone in our misery?”

“Not a chance,” Jeb answered. “We couldn’t
leave our pardners all alone and without companionship when they’ve
been hurt so bad, could we, fellers?”

“No, not a chance.”

“Not at all.”

“Wouldn’t be fittin’.”

“There you have it, boys,” Jeb said. “We’ll
be stayin’. Only one question. Who won the race? I guess it was a
tie.”

“I dunno,” George said. “Nate flew farther
before hittin’ the dirt, so I’d say he won.”

“But Andy slid farther, so I’d say it was
him,” Hoot replied.

“No sure way to tell,” Captain Quincy said.
“Of course, we could have Jim count the number of cactus needles he
pulls out of their backsides. Man with the most needles wins.”

“I sure ain’t sittin’ here countin’ how many
spines I pull out of these two idiots,” Jim said. “Their horses are
smarter than they are.” He paused. “And that’s enough
cracks
about ’em.”

“Then we have no winner. Tex, just give
everyone back their money,” Quincy ordered. “Jim, finish up here.
Rest of you, back to work or whatever you were doin’. You men on
sentry duty, back to your posts. We’ve left the camp unguarded long
enough.”

“All right, Cap’n.”

Jim finished pulling the spines out of Andy
and Nate, then coated their wounds with ointment.

“You can pull your pants back up now,” he
said. “But you won’t be sittin’ real easy for a couple of days,
that’s for certain. I’d recommend you sleep on your bellies, too.
Keep from irritatin’ your butts more’n necessary. G’wan, get outta
here.”

“Whose bright idea was this, anyway?” Andy
asked, as he and Nate redressed.

“It was yours,” Nate pointed out.

“Oh. Yeah. It was. Want a rematch?”

“Not a chance. Let’s leave it as it was.
We’ve both got real fast horses.”

“Sounds good to me. You ran a good race,
Nate.”

“So did you, Andy.”

***

Nate had trouble sleeping that night,
between the pain in his backside and assorted bruises he had from
hitting the ground. Still, he did manage to fall asleep after some
time. He woke up about two in the morning, got out of bed, and
walked over to where Hoot lay snoring.

“Hoot.” He shook Hoot’s shoulders.
“Hoot!”

“Huh? What you want, Nate?”

“Not me. Cap’n Quincy. Hank saw some
Comanches prowlin’ around. The captain wants you right now. He’s
gettin’ up a patrol to go after ’em.”

“Comanches?” Hoot jumped out of bed and
grabbed his boots. He stepped into one. His foot pushed into a
soft, squishy, smelly mass.

“What the…” Hoot pulled his foot out of the
boot and looked with disgust at the slimy substance coating his
foot. “Horse manure. Nate, you…”

“I reckon that makes us even, Hoot. No more
snakes?”

“No more snakes. No more manure? Deal?”

“Deal.”

9

 

Nate’s shirt had been torn when he was
thrown off Big Red during the race. Jeb showed him how to use a
needle and thread.

“Can’t rely on your mama out here to patch
up your clothes, Nate,” he said. “You should always carry a spool
of thread and a needle or two in your gear.”

Nate was sitting on his bunk, mending the
shirt, when Jeb returned from giving Dudley leftover biscuits from
breakfast.

“Nate, put that shirt aside for now,” he
ordered. “Time to see if you can use your fists.”

“What?”

“You’re gonna fight in a boxing match. It’s
the only way we can tell if a new man can handle a fist fight or a
saloon brawl. Come with me.”

Nate put down the shirt and stood up.

“You mean I’m really gonna fight
someone?”

“Yep. Hoot Harrison. He’s closest to you in
size and age, so Cap’n Dave figures you and him’d be the most even
match.”

“But I like Hoot. I don’t want to fight
him,” Nate objected. “Matter of fact, I don’t want to fight anyone
here.”

“That doesn’t matter. You have to prove
yourself, Nate. You don’t want to wait until you’re tryin’ to face
down two or three drunken cowboys in a bar to find out that you
don’t have the stomach for a fight. We’ve all been in these
matches. In fact, sometimes we set one up just for fun, and of
course a chance to make some money by bettin’ on the outcome.
Sometimes, two men’ll want to fight each other just for the heck of
it, or out of pride. No one’ll think less of you if you lose, but
if you refuse to fight, you won’t have any chance of bein’ a
Ranger. You comin’ or not?”

“Yeah, I’m comin’. Might as well get it over
with.”

“You’ll do just fine. Nothin’ to worry
about.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You ain’t the
one about to get his head knocked off.”

“I reckon you’re right.”

“How long’s this fight gonna last?” Nate
asked, as they headed for the center of the camp.

“Hard to say. Until one of you is knocked
out or quits, or the captain stops it. Only advice I can give you
is do your best. This won’t be as bad as a saloon fight, or even
one with some renegade you’re tryin’ to bring in. In those,
everything’s fair. A man’ll try to poke you in the eyes, mebbe even
gouge ’em out, or throw dirt in your face to blind you. He’ll
scratch and claw, do anythin’ he needs to win. He’ll kick you in
the shins, or put a knee in your belly or groin. Whatever he has to
do to take the fight out of you. You understand?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. This’ll be a straight up fight.
Punches only. It’s just a way to find out if you can take a punch…
and give one. Just remember one thing. That’s not your pard Hoot
Harrison you’ll be fightin’, but an hombre who’s a wanted man, and
who’s tryin’ his best to keep outta jail. Hoot’ll be thinkin’ the
same way. I’d suggest you think back to when he put that snake in
your boot and get good and mad about that.
Comprende
?”


Comprende
?”

“Means ‘do you understand?’”

“Yeah, I understand. I’m still not happy
about it, but I understand.”

“Good. Just keep thinkin’ about that
snake.”

“I will. Only problem is will Hoot keep
thinkin’ about the manure I filled his boot with?”

“You filled Hoot’s boot with horse
manure?”

“I sure did. Figured it was a good way to
get even for the snake.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered. Sounds like this
might be a grudge match after all,” Jeb said. He chuckled.

***

The rest of the men were already gathered
around a sandy patch of ground in front of Captain Quincy’s tent,
forming a makeshift ring. Bets were quietly being made as to who
would win this fight. They parted to allow Nate inside, then closed
ranks. Hoot, stripped to the waist, was already in the ring, along
with Captain Quincy, who would act as referee.

“Good to see you here, Nate,” Quincy said.
“I’ve had more than one man wash out by refusin’ to fight. I knew
you wouldn’t be one of ’em. Are you ready for this?”

“I reckon I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,
Cap’n,” Nate answered. “Just give me one minute.”

He peeled off his shirt, pulled off his hat
and bandanna, unbuckled his gunbelt, and handed those to Jeb.

“Now I’m ready.”

“Good. Nate, as the other men already know,
since they’ve all been through this, there are only a few rules. No
biting, kicking, spitting or throwing dirt in your opponent’s face.
No poking or gouging at the eyes. No head-butting. However, any
type of punch is allowed, and any part of your opponent’s body is a
fair target. There will be no rounds. The fight will continue until
one of you is knocked out, one of you quits, or I stop it. Do you
have any questions?”

“No, Cap’n.”

“How about you, Hoot?”

“No, Cap’n.”

“Good. Now, shake hands and then come out
fightin’.”

Nate and Hoot shook hands, then backed away,
glaring at each other. They circled for a few minutes, each looking
for an advantage, then Hoot feinted a punch to Nate’s chin. When
Nate raised his arm to block the blow, Hoot sank his left fist into
Nate’s belly. Nate doubled over slightly, then staggered back,
gasping. Hoot aimed another punch at Nate’s chin. Again, Nate
raised an arm to parry the blow, and Hoot slammed another punch to
his belly. Nate jackknifed and dropped to his knees, holding his
middle and fighting for air. Hoot danced around him.

“You got him, Hoot!” Tim yelled. “Finish him
off!”

Nate struggled to his feet and weaved toward
Hoot. He got in a jab to Hoot’s jaw and hit him in the ribs. Hoot
countered with an uppercut to Nate’s chin, this time connecting,
knocking him back. He followed up with a right and a left to Nate’s
gut. Nate went down and curled up on his side, arms wrapped around
his middle. The men hooted and hollered, sensing a quick end to the
fight. Captain Quincy stood over the downed youngster.

“You want to quit, son?”

“Not… not yet,” Nate gasped. He rolled onto
his stomach, then pushed himself to his hands and knees.

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
13.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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