Ralph Compton the Evil Men Do

BOOK: Ralph Compton the Evil Men Do
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THE SHOT NOT TAKEN . . .

Fred pointed his Smith & Wesson. It would be child's play to shoot McCarthy in the back. His finger tightened, but he couldn't bring himself to squeeze all the way. Back-shooting just wasn't in him. For that matter, shooting anyone wasn't in him. He drew back, bowed his head, and closed his eyes. What good was a lawman who couldn't shoot anybody? The answer was obvious. The lawman wasn't any good at all.

Fred had never felt so worthless. He almost decided to get out of there while he still could and let the kid handle things alone. But no. That wouldn't be right either. He was the one wearing a badge.

Opening his eyes, he stared at the Smith & Wesson. He wasn't a gun hand. He hardly ever practiced. That old saw about not being able to hit the broad side of a barn—that was him. He holstered it.

Fred knew what he had to do. His mouth went dry and he broke out in a sweat. It was plumb loco. But he couldn't see any other way. Jamming his hat back on, he took a deep breath and stepped into the aisle and over to the other stall.

McCarthy didn't hear him until he was almost on top of him. Wheeling on his heels, McCarthy pointed his Colt at Fred's head. “No, you don't! I will by God shoot you dead.”

SIGNET

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Copyright © The Estate of Ralph Compton, 2015

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA
REGISTRADA

ISBN 978-0-698-17896-0

PUBLISH
ER'S NOTE

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.

Version_1

Contents

Title page

Copyright page

 

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

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

 

Excerpt from
DOOMSDAY RIDER

T
HE
I
MMORTAL
C
OWBOY

T
his is respectfully dedicated to the “American Cowboy.” His was the saga sparked by the turmoil that followed the Civil War, and the passing of more than a century has by no means diminished the flame.

T
rue, the old days and the old ways are but treasured memories, and the old trails have grown dim with the ravages of time, but the spirit of the cowboy lives on.

I
n my travels—to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona—I always find something that reminds me of the Old West. While I am walking these plains and mountains for the first time, there is this feeling that a part of me is eternal, that I have known these old trails before. I believe it is the undying spirit of the frontier calling me, through the mind's eye, to step back into time. What is the appeal of the Old West of the American frontier?

I
t has been epitomized by some as the dark and bloody period in American history. Its heroes—Crockett, Bowie, Hickok, Earp—have been reviled and criticized. Yet the Old West lives on, larger than life.

I
t has become a symbol of freedom, when there was always another mountain to climb and another river to cross; when a dispute between two men was settled not with expensive lawyers, but with fists, knives, or guns. Barbaric? Maybe. But some things never change. When the cowboy rode into the pages of American history, he left behind a legacy that lives within the hearts of us all.

—
Ralph
Compton

Chapter 1

The homestead wasn't much. A cabin, a barn, and acres of corn.

Twilight had turned the sky slate gray when the three men drew rein on a low rise to the west. The tallest leaned on his saddle horn, his green eyes narrowing. “What do we have here?” His wide-brimmed brown hat and vest were caked with the dust of many miles. On his right hip in a triple-loop holster was a Remington with walnut grips.

“Nothin' much,” said the rider on his right. Short and stocky, he hadn't washed his hat and store-bought duds in a year of Sundays. Grime darkened his stubble. He pulled at his left ear where the lobe had been before he lost it to a Ute arrow and frowned. “Just another sodbuster.”

The last rider always wore black clothes to match his dark skin. It made him hard to see at night, which came in handy when people were trying to put lead into him. “Sodbusters got food,” he said. “Sodbusters got watches and rings.”

“That they do, Lute,” the tall rider agreed, and gigged his roan. “What say we go invite ourselves to supper?”

“Ah, hell, Dunn,” the short man said. “We've got grub.”

“You turnin' soft on us, Tucker?” Dunn asked, giving him a sharp glance.

“You know better,” Tucker said. “I was just hopin' to go a ways before we got the law after us again.”

“We do this right, they won't be.”

A yellow dog barked as they approached and the cabin door opened, framing the farmer. Skinny as a rail, he wore a loose-fitting homespun shirt and bib overalls. “Who's there?” he hollered. In his hands was a shotgun, and he wagged it menacingly.

“Look at him,” Dunn said, and laughed a cold laugh.

“Sheep come in all sizes, don't they?” Lute said.

“Don't let on,” Dunn warned. “You be friendly until I say it's time not to be. The same with you, Tucker.”

“When do I ever cause you grief?” Tucker replied.

“You know better,” Dunn said. “You ever did, you'd have a window in your skull before you could blink.”

“You never threaten Lute like that,” Tucker said.

“Lute and me been together a good long spell,” Dunn said. “We're like peas in a pod, him and me. There's nothin' we like more than snuffin' wicks and helpin' ourselves to what other folks have.”

“I know that,” Tucker said.

The farmer stepped out and raised his shotgun to his shoulder. “Who are you and what do you want?” he called out.

“Friendly cuss,” Dunn said so only Lute and Tucker heard. Then, raising his voice, he yelled, “We're plumb friendly, mister. Just passin' through. We'd be grateful for some food and coffee if you have any to spare.”

“That's close enough,” the farmer said, putting his cheek to the shotgun. “A man can't be too careful these days.”

Drawing rein, Dunn smiled and held his hands up, palms out. “Didn't you hear we're friendly?”

“You seem to be,” the farmer said.

Dunn gazed about them. “Nice place you have here. Didn't expect to find a farm this far from anywhere.”

The farmer lowered the shotgun but only partway. “I'm James. James Larn. Out of Springfield.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Dunn said. “These are my pards, Lute and Tuck. Tuck is short for Tucker and Lute for Luthor.”

“Gents,” James Larn said.

“How about that food?” Dunn said, and patted his stomach. “Would you happen to have any to spare? We're low on supplies and haven't hardly ate in two days.”

“We can pay you,” Tucker quickly said. “Not much, mind. But I have a dollar and it's yours.”

James Larn let the shotgun's muzzle dip toward the ground. “Shucks, we'd feed you for free, but I won't say no if you want to give us that dollar.”

“We?” Dunn said.

“My wife and my boy are inside,” Larn said, switching the shotgun from his hand to the crook of his elbow. “Fayette is my missus. The boy ain't but a few months old and we can't make up our minds what to name him.”

“Can't wait to meet them,” Dunn said. Swinging down, he let the reins dangle and stretched.

“Been on the trail awhile, have you?” Larn asked.

“Feels like forever,” Tucker said. He dismounted and scratched at his stubble. “What is that I smell?”

“Soup,” Larn said. “Potato soup, to be exact. With carrots and peas. We ate the last of our meat a couple of days ago. I've been meanin' to go huntin' but haven't had the time.”

“Soup is great,” Tucker said. “A bowl would do me right fine.”

“I usually have three or four,” Larn said.

“As thin as you are?”

“I could eat five meals a day and not gain a pound,” Larn boasted. “It's just how I am.”

Lute alighted and wrapped his reins around his saddle horn. Turning, he took a step, but the farmer held out his hand.

“You'll have to eat out here, I'm afraid,” James Larn said.

Dunn was swatting dust from his shirt and stopped. “Why's that? He's as hungry as we are.”

“Likely so,” Larn said, “but he's not the same color.”

“Well, now,” Dunn said. “You're one of those who doesn't cotton to blacks, I take it?”

“It's not me so much,” Larn said. “My wife is a mite finicky about who she lets inside.”

“So she's one of those?” Tucker said.

“Don't think poorly of her,” Larn said. “She lost her grandpa to some colored soldiers back during the War Between the States, and to this day she can't look at a black without gettin' all teary-eyed.”

The female of the place chose that moment to emerge, holding an infant bundled in a cloth. Only the baby's face poked out. “How do you do, gentlemen?”

Tucker gave a slight start. “Mrs. Larn. That's a cute sprout you've got there.”

James Larn said with fatherly pride, “He hasn't given us a lick of trouble. Doesn't cry a lot or keep us up nights, or nothin' like that.”

“Good for him,” Tucker said.

Dunn came over and smiled at the baby. “Look at him. Some say babies are cute, but I'd never want one of my own.”

“Never say never,” Fayette Larn said. “If my pa taught me anything, it's that each day brings its own surprises.”

“Listen to you, ma'am,” Dunn said. “But ain't it the truth?” He motioned at Lute. “Which reminds me. Your husband told us you'd rather our friend here should stay outside. I'd take it as a favor if he could come in with the rest of us.”

“I'm sorry. No,” Fayette said. “It would bring back painful memories. I've shed enough tears over my grandpa. He was near and dear to me as a person can be.”

“Lute is my pard,” Dunn said.

“I'm sorry. I can't help how I feel.”

“Makes two of us,” Dunn said.

Tucker glanced sharply at him, then said to the woman,
“The war was more than twenty years ago, ma'am. I should think you'd be cried out by now. Can't you make an exception in our case?”

“Some sorrows run too deep,” Fayette said. She mustered a smile for Lute. “Nothin' personal, you understand, mister?”

Lute didn't say anything.

“Did you hear me?” Fayette asked.

“He heard you, ma'am,” Dunn said. “Didn't you, Lute?”

“I heard her,” Lute said.

James Larn took his wife's arm and ushered her indoors, saying, “Come on in, gents. The soup will be a few minutes yet and we can get better acquainted.”

The cabin's furnishings were as plain as the occupants. In addition to an oak table and chairs, a rocking chair sat by the stone hearth. A bear-hide rug lay on the floor and the skin of a bobcat hung on a wall.

“Nice home you have here, missus,” Tucker said.

“Shucks, it's nothin' special,” Fayette said. “But it's ours, free and clear, and that counts for something.”

Nodding, James Larn leaned his shotgun against the wall. “Or it will be once we've paid it off.” He claimed the chair at the head of the table. “Have a seat, fellers. Make yourselves comfortable.”

“Don't mind if we do,” Dunn said.

Tucker couldn't take his eyes off the bundle in Fayette's arm. “A baby, by golly. I hardly ever get this close to one.”

“Folks have babies all the time,” James Larn said.

“We haven't run into any with a tyke as little as yours,” Tucker said. “Kids, yes. But we've been lucky with no babies.”

“What a strange thing to say,” Fayette said, bending to kiss the baby's cheek. “That's not luck. Babies are the sweetest darlings on God's green earth. Just holdin' one makes a body feel good.”

Tucker looked across the table at Dunn, whose face might as well have been chiseled from granite. “A baby changes everything.”

“I don't see what,” Dunn said.

Fayette laughed. “That's only because you've never been a papa. Trust me. When a baby comes into your world, nothin' is ever the same. Your whole life is rearranged forever.”

“I like mine as it is.”

James Larn held out his hands. “Why don't you give him to me, hon, so you can ladle out the soup when it's done?”

“It almost is.” Fayette gently deposited the baby in her husband's arms and went to the big-bellied stove.

Tucker sniffed, and beamed. “Sure smells good, Mrs. Larn. I can't recollect the last time I had home cookin'.”

“It's just soup,” Fayette said.

Dunn leaned back in his chair, tilting it so it balanced on its back legs. “How long have you been farmin'?”

“Going on three years this fall,” James Larn answered. “Hard to believe. Time flies so damn fast.”

“No cussin',” Fayette said.

“Sorry, dear.”

“Got any neighbors hereabouts?” Dunn asked.

“Not for five to six miles,” Larn said. “We hankered to be off by ourselves where we can do as we please.”

“You did,” Fayette said while stirring. “I'd have been fine closer to Springfield or some other town.”

“I like my privacy,” Larn said.

“I miss going to a general store or a dress shop. I miss talkin' with other ladies.”

Larn grinned and winked at Tucker and Dunn, then said to his wife, “You're female. You can't help missing it.”

“My ma had her own millinery shop years ago,” Tucker revealed. “Worked herself to the bone. Dawn till dusk, six days a week. She'd even sneak in to work on Sundays. To tell the truth, she was the hardest worker I ever knew.”

Dunn stared at him.

“What?” Tucker said.

“I think that was fine of her,” Fayette said. “Too many
gals these days would rather lie abed half the mornin' or sit around doing next to nothin'.”

“See?” Tucker said to Dunn.

James Larn cooed to the baby and slowly rocked it back and forth. “My son will be a hard worker, just like me. I'll leave him this farm, and by then have it paid off. He'll have a better start than I did.”

“Now, now,” Fayette said. “We've done all right.”

Dunn gazed about their cabin. He fingered the edge of the table and watched Mrs. Larn commence to ladle the soup. “I never could savvy a life like this. Tied to one place. Doing the same thing day in and day out.”

“Workin' land that's yours gives you a warm feelin',” Larn said, and tapped his chest. “Right here.”

“If you say so,” Dunn said.

Fayette brought over a wooden bowl filled to the brim, and a large wooden spoon, and set them in front of Dunn. “Guests first. Here's yours. Now I'll get your friend's.”

“Don't forget my pard outside,” Dunn said.

“I'm not likely to,” Fayette said. Smiling, she returned to the stove.

Dunn regarded the bowl and the spoon and placed his right hand on his hip. “I reckon we should get to it.”

“Somethin' wrong with the soup?” James Larn asked.

“It smells good,” Dunn said, “but I'd rather get this over with and then eat. I can relax better not havin' it to do after.”

“Not havin' what to do?” the farmer asked.

“This,” Dunn said. He pulled his Remington and cocked it while pointing it at Larn's face.

“What's this?”

“The part I like best,” Dunn said.

Over at the stove, Fayette turned and gasped. “Here, now. We were nice and invited you in and now you're fixin' to rob us?”

“Who said anything about just rob?” Dunn said, and shot James Larn between the eyes.

Fayette screamed.

That was when the door opened and in strode Lute. He had his revolver out, and without saying a word, he shot her.

Tucker saw the bundle in James Larn's limp hands start to fall. Lunging, he caught it before it could hit the floor. “Got you,” he said, and smiled.

“Your turn,” Dunn said.

Tucker's smile faded. “What?”

“I did the husband and Lute did the wife. Now it's your turn.”

“You want me to kill the
baby
?”

Dunn cocked his revolver. “I don't say things twice.”

BOOK: Ralph Compton the Evil Men Do
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