Longarm and the Diamondback Widow

BOOK: Longarm and the Diamondback Widow
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Lead for Breakfast?

Longarm rose quietly in the dark room and dressed. As he strapped his gunbelt around his waist and headed for the door, Meg stirred.

“Longarm?” she said drowsily, still almost asleep.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

Longarm went back and kissed her warm, soft cheek. “My honor as well as my pleasure.”

“You'll find him?” she asked, opening her eyes and gazing up at him gravely. “Des's killer.”

“Count on it.”

He kissed her cheek once more and then strode out of the bedroom into the sitting room. He retrieved his rifle from where he'd leaned it against the wall by the door, and left.

He'd no sooner drawn the door closed behind him than something cold, round, and hard was pressed behind his right ear. There was the crisp, decisive sound of a gun hammer being ratcheted back.

“I'm about to save this town a whole lot of misery,” a raspy voice said into the same ear . . .

DON'T MISS THESE ALL-ACTION WESTERN SERIES FROM THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

THE GUNSMITH by J. R. Roberts

Clint Adams was a legend among lawmen, outlaws, and ladies. They called him . . . the Gunsmith.

LONGARM by Tabor Evans

The popular long-running series about Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long—his life, his loves, his fight for justice.

SLOCUM by Jake Logan

Today's longest-running action Western. John Slocum rides a deadly trail of hot blood and cold steel.

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An action-packed series by the creators of Longarm! The rousing adventures of the most brutal gang of cutthroats ever assembled—Quantrill's Raiders.

DIAMONDBACK by Guy Brewer

Dex Yancey is Diamondback, a Southern gentleman turned con man when his brother cheats him out of the family fortune. Ladies love him. Gamblers hate him. But nobody pulls one over on Dex . . .

WILDGUN by Jack Hanson

The blazing adventures of mountain man Will Barlow—from the creators of Longarm!

TEXAS TRACKER by Tom Calhoun

J.T. Law: the most relentless—and dangerous—manhunter in all Texas. Where sheriffs and posses fail, he's the best man to bring in the most vicious outlaws—for a price.

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.

LONGARM AND THE DIAMONDBACK WIDOW

A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2013 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Jove Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

JOVE
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61007-7

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Jove mass-market edition / August 2013

 

Cover illustration by Milo Sinovcic.

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.

Contents

More All-Action Westerns

Title Page

Copyright

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Epilogue

Chapter 1

Dan Garvey shook his head as he said, “They ought not to have done that. No sir, Sheriff Rainey—they ought not to have killed them poor people!”

“What're you talkin' about, Dan?” the sheriff said, bringing his buckskin to a halt on the desert trail in front of Garvey's old mule. “Who killed who?”

“Calvin didn't say?”

Des Rainey shook his head. “He just came into the office bright and early this morning and said you wanted to meet me about something important—a matter of life and death, he said—out here at the Diamondback Springs crossroads. Then he turned heel so fast that he damn near left his boots in my office and bolted off for the Dragoon Saloon.”

“Goddamnit—I told Calvin no drinkin' in town! I told him to just deliver the dadgummed message to you at the sheriff's office and to head right on back to the ranch!”

“Dan,” Sheriff Rainey said wearily, lifting his red neckerchief to mop sweat and dust from his brow. “Please tell me what poor people you think were murdered. That's why I rode all the way out here from Diamondback, after all.”

The sheriff squinted a washed-out blue eye at the brassy sun hovering over the mountains in the west.

It was hot out here on the desert flats south of the Ramparts, the sun straight up in the air. It would be a good several hours before it got any cooler.

The heat was hard on a man the sheriff's age. Des Rainey was sixty years old and due to retire. The only problem was he didn't have the money to retire. He probably had enough for himself, but not enough for both him and his wife, Meg. He wanted to provide a good life as long as he could for the girl, almost half his age.

Fortunately, the town of Diamondback and the entire Rampart County had been relatively quiet since the Sioux had been run to ground by the U.S. Army. So quiet, in fact, that Rainey couldn't quite wrap his mind around the idea that someone had been murdered out here near Diamondback Springs.

“It's the Bear-Runners, Sheriff!” Dan Garvey threw an arm out to his right, pointing to a line of cottonwoods running along the base of the chalky buttes where Rainey knew that the spring-fed Diamondback Creek ran.

Squinting south, Rainey thought he could see tendrils of black smoke rising among the dusty trees, around where the Bear-Runner place sat, on the other side of a low rise.

A cold stone dropped in Rainey's belly as he turned his sorrel onto the trail that led south. He kicked the gelding into a trot, his eyes riveted on what could only be smoke rising through the cottonwoods. Garvey put his mule onto the trail behind Rainey, and the beast gave an anxious bray. Apparently, it didn't care to head back toward the Bear-Runner place.

Rainey felt the sorrel's muscles tighten beneath the saddle. The horse could smell the smoke and maybe something more that it didn't like any more than Garvey's mule did.

“Sarah seen the smoke last night,” said Garvey, who had a small ranch about three miles up the creek from the Bear-Runner place. “I didn't get home from pushin' my beeves into the Ramparts till late, but Calvin an' me headed out this way first thing this mornin' to investigate.”

Calvin Johnson was Garvey's only hired hand. Garvey had had a son old enough to wrangle cows and horses, but the poor boy had been killed when a rough-string bronc had thrown him against a gatepost. Now Garvey just lived on his little shotgun ranch with his second wife, Sarah, their baby, and their hired hand, Johnson.

Rainey rode up and over the low rise. As he started down the other side, he checked the sorrel down, and as Garvey stopped his mule beside him, the sheriff cast his gaze through the thin cottonwoods and across the narrow, meandering stream toward a ranch house sitting on the stream's far side, about seventy yards back from the water, in a little horseshoe gap in the chalky buttes.

Now it was no longer a ranch house, Rainey thought, heart thudding. Now it was merely a pile of charred, smoldering logs.

Rainey yelled, “Hee-yahh!” then whipped the sorrel's right hip with his rein ends and galloped on down the rise and through the cottonwoods. The gelding splashed across the stream, as did Garvey's mule, and thudded up the opposite bank and into the barren yard.

Rainey stared at the Bear-Runner's log cabin that looked as though it had been split down the middle by a giant, burning axe. The front wall was partly intact, though the roof and the bulk of the other three walls were burned to smoking ash-gray and black mounds. The large stone hearth stood against the remains of the right wall, also badly fire-blackened.

Two corrals stood to the right of the cabin. The barn was behind the corrals, as were a couple of other small log outbuildings and a farm wagon. The barn had been burned, though the corrals and the wagon appeared to have been untouched by the flames.

None of that interested Rainey.

The sheriff's attention was glued to the two charred bodies visible through the gray tendrils of wafting, fog-like smoke. One body lay in the yard. Another hung half out a front window to the left of the still-closed, halved-log front door that had a board nailed across it, locking it from the outside. Both people were so badly burned that it was impossible to distinguish their sexes, much less which members of the Bear-Runner family they were.

The family included the full-blood Hunkapa Sioux Bear-Runner himself; his half-breed wife, Pearl; and their two sons, Nathaniel and George. They were wild horse hunters who also ran a few beeves, and Bear-Runner had been known to pan for gold, as well. The corral gates were open. It looked like someone had run off the Bear-Runner stock.

Rainey swung down from his jittery mount's back. He raised his neckerchief to his nose. The stench of burned logs and flesh was nearly palpable, causing Rainey's eyes to sting as he moved slowly toward the body lying in the yard before him.

He dropped to a knee beside the fire-blackened corpse, put his gloved hand to a shoulder, and rolled the body over. There wasn't much left of her face or her hair, but he could tell that the corpse belonged to Pearl Bear-Runner. A pasty black substance oozed out of her middle. She'd been shot.

“The woman?” Garvey asked, still sitting atop his mule and holding his forearm across his nose and mouth.

Rainey nodded. Feeling sick, he walked over to the second body, hanging out the window left of the door. Rainey dropped to a knee to the right of the corpse and lowered his head to angle a look up at the face.

This corpse wasn't in much better shape than Pearl's, but despite the long, charred black hair hanging straight down to the ground with the outstretched arms, Rainey could tell it was one of the boys—either George or Nathaniel. In the three years that the Bear-Runner family had lived out here, Rainey had seen the boys only a couple of times in town, but even if he'd known them well, it would have been impossible to tell which one this was, so badly burned was this young man's face.

“How do you suppose they got there?” Garvey asked, his voice muffled by his arm. Rainey's sorrel sidled away from the cabin, wickering its distaste for the stench. The horse started to head back toward the creek, but Garvey reached over and grabbed its bridle.

Rainey straightened and pondered the body hanging out the window. “Looks like they were shot inside the cabin. Someone set it on fire from inside, locked the shutters, nailed that board across the door. Pearl and the boy must've had enough life left in 'em to bust out. Only they were on fire by the time they finally got out. Died right here. Poor folks.” The sheriff made a face and shook his head, deeply grieved. “Who on earth would do this?”

“Suppose the other two are still inside,” Garvey said gravely.

Rainey didn't answer that. Instead, he walked around the cabin's left side, peering over what remained of the charred wall to inspect the inside. He could make out bits and pieces of the Bear-Runners' crudely fashioned but sturdy furniture and a black range, some pots and pans. He identified a broken hurricane lamp and part of a snowshoe that lay on the floor near the seat and arm of a burned, broken rocking chair.

Near the rocking chair was what at first glance looked like a tree branch jutting up from a mound of gray and black ashes, but which Rainey realized, after a closer look, was in fact a burned human arm. The outstretched hand had a charred gold ring on its ring finger. Rainey remembered seeing a thick gold ring on Bear-Runner's finger and vaguely thinking it odd to see such a white man's ornament adorning a full-blooded Indian's hand.

Seeing the ring stung Rainey, filled his belly with even more bile. The ring seemed to make the murders here—and what else could they be?—even more definite and real, in a surreal sort of way, than had the badly burned, unidentifiable bodies he'd already seen. The fact was he'd liked Bear-Runner, and he was genuinely sad to see to see the man and his family come to this.

Rainey continued walking to the back of the cabin. He was looking around at the ground for tracks between the singed sage clumps and rocks. There were plenty—boot prints as well a woman's shoe prints and horse tracks. Impossible to distinguish one man's prints from another's, though the tracks of whoever had killed the Bear-Runners had to be here somewhere.

The sheriff walked off behind the cabin, past a privy and a woodshed and an old, orange-painted farm wagon flanking the privy. Rainey knew the Bear-Runners had hauled firewood in the wagon. They often hauled a few loads to town in the fall to sell to the banker, Alexander Richmond, and attorney Charles Mulligan as well as a few other local mucky-mucks who could afford to hire their firewood cut and stacked for them, so they wouldn't have to get their hands dirty or endure a backache.

Rainey snorted at his own sour grapes. He was too old to harbor grudges against men better off than he. He'd never made much money and that had never bothered him—he'd enjoyed life anyway—until he'd been fortunate enough to marry a beautiful woman whom he loved and who loved him back.

Having a woman to provide for made money seem a whole lot more valuable . . .

Rainey walked around the burned barn and the corrals, looking for tracks. He didn't see any that stuck out from the others. But then, walking around behind the corral, he spied something on the ground between a small sage and a yucca plant. He stooped and picked up the cartridge casing.

A Spencer .56.

He frowned as he rolled the brass casing between his thumb and index finger. A common enough cartridge, though most men carried .44 Winchesters these days.

“Most men,” the sheriff muttered, looking thoughtfully into the distance beyond the casing in his hand.

“Sheriff!”

Garvey's voice caused Rainey to drop the cartridge. Her jerked to his left, the direction from which the shout had come.

“What is it?”

“Oh, Jesus,” Garvey screamed. There was a slight pause, and then the rancher's voice rose again—strained, garbled, as though he were out of breath or throwing up. “Come . . . come quick, Rainey. Hurry!”

BOOK: Longarm and the Diamondback Widow
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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