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Authors: William W. Johnstone

Rebel Yell

BOOK: Rebel Yell
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William W. Johnstone
with J.
. Johnstone
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
—Note posted on property abandoned by those
who left Dixie for points west after the war
“Trust! That's the heart and soul of the gunrunner's trade,” Honest Bob Longford said. His statement was subject to doubt if the reaction of his listeners was any gauge.
Sully bridled, stiffening as if insulted. Hunchbacked Hump Colway sneered, muttering under his breath. Lank looked surprised. Fitch choked on his whiskey. He was drinking from a brown bottle, head tilted back, throat working as he guzzled.
Honest Bob's remark sank in, throwing Fitch off his rhythm. He coughed and sputtered. The whiskey was raw, pungent. It went down the wrong pipe, burning like fire.
Fitch's head felt like it was exploding. Brown liquid spewed from his mouth and nostrils. He staggered, wheezing, gasping, eyes tearing. He was careful not to drop the bottle, though.
Some of the outlaw gang laughed at him.
Fitch would have cursed them, but he lacked the breath. He sat down hard in the dirt, still mindful to hold the bottle upright.
“You made me choke on my redeye, Bob,” Fitch said, wiping tears from his eyes.
“Reckon his remarks was a bit hard for you to swallow, eh, Fitch?” Half-Shot said slyly, working the needle.
“I'm gonna have a little fun with Fitch,” Lank said, nudging Half-Shot in the ribs with an elbow. “Watch this.”
“Uh-oh,” Hump Colway said.
Lank went to Fitch and snatched the bottle from him. “Gimme that before you waste any more, hombre.”
“Hey! Gimme that back,” Fitch wheezed.
Lank raised the bottle to his mouth and started drinking.
Fitch struggled to his feet. “Gimme that, you! I ain't playing—” He lurched toward Lank, groping for the bottle.
Lank warded off Fitch's fumbling attempts with his free hand.
“Don't be like that,” Fitch growled.
“Better break this up before it gets out of hand.” But Hump made no move to interfere. He knew better.
Fitch lunged, grabbing for the bottle. Lank sidestepped, evading. Fitch stumbled. He nearly fell but recovered.
Lank upturned the bottle. He gulped, gurgling and draining the last of the whiskey.
Fitch crouched, breathing hard. “I'm ain't funning, damn you.”
“Give him the bottle,” Hump said.
Lank lowered the bottle, his face red and flushed. “Sure. Catch!” He tossed the bottle underhand at Fitch.
Moving with surprising speed, Fitch grabbed it out of the air. He held it upside down, a last scant few drops dribbling from the bottle. “Empty!”
Lank's shrug said,
What of it?
“You drunk it all to spite me,” Fitch accused.
“I drunk it because I was thirsty,” Lank said. “Besides, you had enough—”
Fitch threw the bottle at him. Lank dodged in time to keep from getting hit in the head.
Fitch charged, barreling into him and knocking him off balance. He launched a looping roundhouse right, slamming Lank's jaw with an audible thud. Lank went down, taking a pratfall.
Some of the outlaw gang laughed, mainly those standing where Lank couldn't see them. He was a bad man to cross. They all were.
Lank sat up, dazed. Fitch stood ready, fists upraised.
“You hit me!” Lank said wonderingly, rubbing the side of his swollen jaw. His eyes shone with a wild light. He grabbed for his gun.
“Don't!” somebody cried, but it was too late. It was always too late.
Fitch drew first, firing before Lank's gun cleared the holster. He pumped a couple quick shots into Lank.
The reports were loud in the oven-like air, the smell of burnt gunpowder heavy.
“Damn!” Half-Shot whispered, awed.
A hush came over the gang.
Lank flopped back down in the dirt, raising a small cloud of dust. His chest was shattered by three bullet holes. Blood pooled from them, so dark it was more brown than red, soaking his shirtfront.
His eyes were open, unseeing. He looked puzzled, abstracted, as if trying to work some complicated sum in his head. His right leg kicked a couple times and then was still.
“That tears it,” Honest Bob said. “He's done.”
“Ya reckon?” Sully said sarcastically, because he was that kind of hombre. Never an encouraging word.
Fred Sullivan was his real name. Sullen Fred Sullivan, they called him. Sully.
Fitch stood still, motionless, a line of gun smoke curling from the barrel of the gun in his fist. He shook his head as if trying to clear it.
He turned, facing the rest of the gang. The gun turned with him, pointing at the outlaws but not at anyone in particular. Those in his line of fire were careful to keep their hands away from their guns and avoid making sudden moves. Or any moves at all.
“You all seed it. Lank went for his gun first . . .”
“We saw it, Fitch. Now put down the gun before anybody else gets hurt,” Honest Bob said.
Drunk though he was, Fitch couldn't help but see the humor in the sweet talk. He giggled. “Hurt? Hell, he's daid!”
“Easy does it, bo,” said a voice behind Fitch. “You don't want to kill nobody else. You don't want to get killed yourself.”
It was the voice of Sefton, standing with a gun to Fitch's head. Fitch's eyes widened when he felt the muzzle of the gun against the back of his skull.
“Nothing personal, Fitch, but I surely will blow your head clean off if you don't drop that gun. And I mean right now,” Sefton said calmly. He could afford to be calm—he had the drop on Fitch.
Fitch swallowed hard, letting the gun slip from his fingers. It fell into the soft sandy soil without going off.
Sefton swung the gun barrel hard against Fitch's head. It hit with a
Fitch staggered, going wobbly in the knees. He stayed on his feet, though. Sefton hit him harder, frowning. Fitch went down. Sefton's frown smoothed out.
Bending down, Sefton picked up Fitch's gun. “He did enough damage with this already. Too much.”
“Hang on to that gun. Fitch is gonna want it later,” Honest Bob cautioned.
“So what? Who gives a damn what he wants?”
“We're gonna need every gun we've got when the Comanches show. Drunk or sober, Fitch can shoot.”
“He sure proved that!” Half-Shot said.
“We'd be in a fine fix if them savages showed now,” Honest Bob added. “They'd sure 'nuff catch us with our pants down!”
That struck home with the others, because it was true. They looked around, scanning for Comanches, finding none. But that didn't mean they weren't somewhere near, hiding.
A couple outlaws stood over Lank, eyeing him. Honest Bob went down on one knee beside the body for a closer look.
“Dead?” somebody asked casually.
“Dead as they come,” Honest Bob said.
A harsh metallic smell of fresh-spilled blood came off the corpse. The bullet holes in Lank's chest were closely spaced together.
“Nice target grouping,” Honest Bob murmured admiringly.
“I said that boy could shoot!” Half-Shot cackled.
“Yeah, if he gets any better, we won't have any men left,” Sully said sourly.
“Can't say I cared too much for Lank. He was always trying to get at a fellow, like a burr under the saddle.” Half-Shot said.
“Him and you both,” Hump Colway cracked.
Half-Shot gave him a dirty look, but Hump ignored it.
“Lank won't play no more of his sly tricks,” Half-Shot mused.
“He tried them on the wrong man this time, that's for sure,” Hump agreed.
Honest Bob rose, brushing dust off the knees of his pants. “Got to get that body out of sight. Can't let the Comanches see that. Dead white man's liable to give them ideas.”
“They don't need to see Lank for that. They already got plenty of ideas on that score,” Sully said.
“Some of you men get some shovels and bury him,” Honest Bob ordered. He was the leader of the gang, at least out on the plains where the day's mission was concerned.
Hump Colway drifted away, making himself scarce, a habit of his when hard work was involved.
Honest Bob's beady-eyed gaze fell on Half-Shot and Sully. Although there were plenty of men in the gang, they were the nearest to hand. And their gun-handling skills were only fair to middling compared to some of the others, an important consideration.
“Get to it, you two,” Honest Bob snapped. “Don't plant him near the water or the horses.”
Half-Shot and Sully stayed in place, not moving.
“What's the problem? You deaf or something?” Honest Bob demanded.
Half-Shot held his hat in his hands, turning it around by the brim, fidgeting. “It's too damn hot for any grave digging,” he said at last. Sully nodded in sullen agreement.
Honest Bob thought it over and decided not to push it. There'd already been one senseless killing. “What do you suggest?” he asked, throwing it back to them, trying in vain to keep the harshness out of his voice.
“Dump him behind some rocks out of sight,” Sully said.
Half-Shot looked like he was thinking it over. “That'll do for a start, but pile some rocks on top of him so wild animals can't get at him.”
“Want to hold services over him, too?”
“Hell, Sully, that's the least we can do. After all, Lank was one of us.”
“Didn't you just get done saying you didn't like him?”
“Haul him out of sight and pile some rocks on him,” Honest Bob said. “Get two more men to help you out. Tell them I said so.”
That seemed reasonable. Half-Shot and Sully dragooned two of the gang's smaller fry, lesser even than they, into helping. Each took hold of a limb by ankle or wrist, lifted Lank off the ground, and lugged him a stone's throw away, behind some boulders.
There was no shortage of boulders at the secret meeting place under the cliffs on the Texas plains. Numerous rockfalls and landslides had peeled off from the scarp. The burial detail picked up rocks from the ground, covering up Lank.
Fitch lay sprawled flat on the ground, stunned, groaning. Honest Bob and Sefton carried him to the wagon and rolled him under it, out of the sun. Half-Shot joined them. They stood for a moment looking down at Fitch, who lay twitching and breathing heavily through his mouth.
They turned, looking east across the wide open plains. Sefton pushed back his hat brim, wiping the sweat from his forehead on his shirtsleeve.
“What was that you was saying before about trust, Bob?” Half-Shot asked slyly, starting up. He was a needler. He liked to pick at people if he thought he could get away with it. He was not unlike Lank on that score. “Something about trust and gunrunning, I do believe?” he pressed.
Honest Bob cut him a sharp side glance but then condescended to reply. “I was about to make some remarks on that subject, now that you mention it.”
“Looks like your proposition got shot down along with Lank.”
“How so?”
“Lord knows Lank wasn't the easiest person in the world to get along with, but he and Fitch seemed to get on all right. Yet Fitch burned him down quick as winking!”
Sefton spat. “What choice did he have? Lank was reaching. What the hell!”
Half-Shot flinched, fearing he might have irked Sefton. He wasn't one you wanted to rile. He was moody, unpredictable. He stalked off, to Half-Shot's evident relief.
Honest Bob caught the play, chuckling. The other's momentary fright put him in a good mood. “Fitch gunning Lank proves my point.”
“Which is?” Half-Shot asked.
the basis of the gunrunner's trade.”
“You're loco, Bob,” Sully said, walking up. “What a damn fool thing to say!”
“What's got you in an uproar, Sull?” Honest Bob asked mildly. “It sure ain't Lank getting killed. You never had any use for him.”
“Lank was an idjit, pulling a damn-fool stunt like that on Fitch. But at least Fitch had a skinful of hooch,” Sully said, spitting out words like a snapping turtle going after live bait. “What's your excuse?”
Greatly amused, Honest Bob gave Half-Shot a wink that only he could see.
“Trust?” Sully said. “
? Maybe you forget who we're dealing with!”
“I ain't forgetting nothing, Sull.”
“Comanches, that's who! Them red devils would cut all our throats given half a chance, and you talk about
!” Sully went on, warming to his theme. “Never mind about them heathens, though. Take a look closer to home. Look at Fitch killing Lank over a bottle of rotgut whiskey . . . and not even a full bottle, neither! Trust? Hell, we don't even trust each other!”
“Speak for yourself. Personally, I trust all the boys. Trust them with my life. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here now.” Honest Bob smiled.
“Sometimes you talk like a politician,” Sully sneered.
“There's no call for that kind of abuse,” Honest Bob said sharply.
“That was out of line, I admit,” Sully said, backing down.
“See that it don't happen again.”
Two more of the gang, Melbourne and Chait, drifted over to see what all the jawing was about, as did Santa Fe Comancheros Felipe Mercurio and his pistolero bodyguard Rio.
Honest Bob was mindful that he was drawing an audience and began playing to them. “You know what your trouble is, Sully?”
“I'm sure you're gonna tell me, Bob.”
“You're a man of little faith. Me, I trust the Comanches!”
That provoked a lot of loud protests from the others, dirty laughs, groans, eye-rolling expressions of disgust.
BOOK: Rebel Yell
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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