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Authors: Savage Texas

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BOOK: William W. Johnstone
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“Weren’t me, Brock! If I was shooting at you I wouldn’t have missed,” Fenner said.
“Not that I ever would,” he added quickly.
“You’re damned right about that, you Ozark peckerwood.” Harper swung down out of the saddle. Relieved of his weight, his horse seemed to gain several inches in height.
The empty holster at his hip nagged at him. “Somebody give me a gun,” he said.
Most of the gang carried more than one six-gun. Somebody handed Harper a pistol.
“Here go, Brock.”
“Thanks.” Harper checked to make sure it was loaded—he took nothing on faith. Loaded it was. He weighed it in his hand, checking the balance. He fired a test shot, knocking a pinecone off a tree.
The gun passed muster. Harper stuffed it into his empty holster. He looked around, his eye falling on the nearest of his men. He called them out by name.
“Wilse! Gordy! Digger! Mart! Mount up and round up those army horses! They’re loot. Any of them gets away, it’s like throwing away money,” he said. Those singled out by him went down the trail to the clearing around the bend to get their horses.
Harper shucked off the blue tunic, throwing it to the ground. “Feels good to be rid of that. It was as tight as a sausage skin.”
“You just about busted out of the seams,” Reese Kimbro said.
“We were lucky to get those uniforms at all, thanks to our inside man at Fort Pardee. But they don’t hardly field troopers in my size.”
“No they don’t, and that’s a fact.”
“That reminds me,” Harper said, “where’s the lieutenant?”
“The one you gut-shot? Somewhere in with the rest of ’em,” Reese said.
Harper went down to the edge of the creek. A row of bodies lay sprawled along the muddy bank, twisted by the contortions of violent death. Harper went along the line from one victim to the next, searching. Sometimes he used the toe of his boot to turn a body faceup.
He stopped when he found Lieutenant Greer. The body lay there dripping, pale, white-faced. There was a big dark blotch from the hole in its belly and another one in the side where Harper’s first bullet had tagged him.
Harper squatted down, tearing open Greer’s right breast shirt pocket. He didn’t bother opening the pocket; he just tore it loose from the shirt. A square of sodden folded paper tumbled out. Harper picked it up.
“What’s that, Brock?” somebody asked.
“A fake document my friend at Fort Pardee gave me to establish my bona fides with the shavetail.” The paper tore as Harper unfolded it. The handwriting was blurred and smeary from the water, but the Army letterhead and Fort Pardee red stamp were still legible.
He tore up the paper into little pieces and threw them away. “That’ll protect our inside man at the fort. I might need him again.” Some of the fragments stuck to his thick strangler’s fingers. He wiped them clean on his pants.
Riders on horseback, the men Harper had singled out earlier, came down the trail out of the woods. They rode into the creek, fanning out to round up the wagon guards’ stray horses.
“Long as I’m in this neck of the woods, might as well make a thorough job of it,” Harper said, turning out the rest of Greer’s pockets. He came up with a thin wad of greenbacks and a few—not many—gold coins.
The search also yielded a pocket-watch. It was still ticking. Harper opened the watch. On the inside of the lid was an oval miniature painting of a young woman, an attractive brunette. A couple of outlaws crowded in to take a look.
“What’s that, Brock?”
Harper shrugged. “I dunno. His sweetheart, maybe. Pretty gal.”
“Let’s see,” somebody said.
Harper closed the watchcase lid with a snap. The money he pocketed.
“What happened to sharing out the profits equally like we always do?” asked Kimbro, frowning fiercely.
“That’s my bonus for nearly getting shot by my own compadres,” Harper said.
“I ran the same risk,” Kimbro said, “so I’ll take the watch.”
Harper shrugged massive shoulders. He tossed Kimbro the watch. Kimbro snatched it out of the air. “Thanks,” he said.
A number of outlaws rushed toward the bodies. Harper barked at them, “Back off, you buzzards!”
The others halted in mid-stride.
“Me and Kimbro took ours off the top as a bonus for running the extra risk. The rest of the spoils will be handled in an orderly fashion. Dump it all in a hat and we’ll divvy up later at the hideout,” Harper said.
He knew his men. They were like kids, greedy kids. A full-course meal was laid out on the table and all they could think of was getting their grubby hands on the penny candy. Whatever pittance lay in the pockets of the dead men was as nothing compared to the wagon’s cargo. But if the badmen didn’t have at it they’d be sore and bellyaching. Better to get it over with now, the quicker to get at the real job at hand.
“Get to it and make it fast, we haven’t got all day,” Harper said. “And remember—anybody dragging down loot for himself is robbing the rest of you. Having you scavengers watching each other is the best way to keep you honest—you should pardon the expression,” he went on, chuckling to himself.
The outlaws fell on the corpses like starving dogs on a juicy bone. They turned out the dead men’s pockets, divesting them of their valuables, such as they were. They weren’t much.
Something tugged on Harper’s sleeve. “What do you want, Fenner?” he asked.
“What about me, Brock?”
“What about you?”
“I deserve something, I took a risk, too.”
Harper laughed, without humor. “Risk? You were safe here on the far side of the creek while Kimbro and me were in the thick of it.”
“Aw, Brockie, don’t be like that . . .”
“Shaddup.” Fenner wore a high-crowned hat. Harper snatched it off his head.
“Hey! What’re you doing?!—”
“Take it easy, Fenner. This hat of yours will fit the bill,” Harper said. He turned it upside-down. “Here, men, put the loot in Fenner’s hat. Anybody holds out, I’ll shoot him. And make it quick! There’s work to do and daylight’s burning.”
Scavenging the dead men’s pockets yielded a meager take. “Them soldier boys don’t carry much in the way of hard currency,” somebody said.
“Pay’s almost as little as cow punching,” another groused.
The corpses’ yield of money, watches and such was not enough to fill the inside of Fenner’s hat to the brim.
“Kaw, get up here,” Harper said. Kaw came forward. He was a full-blooded Kiowa, an outcast from his tribe who now rode the outlaw trail. Harper handed him the hat filled with loot.
“Take care of this, Kaw. Put it in your saddlebag,” Harper said.
“Why him, Brock?” somebody asked.
“Because he’s the only honest man here. Everybody knows Kaw’s not in it for the loot, but for the pure hell of it. He’s the only one you can trust not to steal from you because he doesn’t give a damn about money.”
Nods and murmurs from the men indicated their general agreement with the statement.
“Stow it away now, Kaw. We’ve already wasted too much time on this chicken feed,” said Harper.
“Every little bit helps, Brock,” Kimbro said.
Kaw turned, starting down the trail toward where the horses were picketed. Fenner trotted after him.
“Where you going, Fenner?” asked Harper.
“I want my hat back. It’s my hat and I want it.”
Kimbro said, “Watch him, Kaw, and make sure none of that loot sticks to his fingers.”
A new voice made itself heard:
“That’s penny-ante stuff. How about a looksee at what’s in the wagon?”
The speaker was Hap Englehardt. Balding, with a beaky nose and vulture face, he was lean, spare and as tough as a strip of beef jerky. A lifetime in the saddle had left him so bowlegged that a hogshead barrel could have passed lengthwise between them without touching the insides of his thighs.
He was in his late fifties, old for an outlaw. That meant he was good at what he did because he’d been at the business of robbing and killing since boyhood days, and few men in his peculiar trade lived long enough to grow ripe and full in years. “Hap” was short for “Happy,” a moniker that had been hung on him long ago by some sagebrush wag, in the same humor as calling a big man “Tiny.”
He looked around at some of the others. “We’d like to see what we been working so hard for,” Englehardt said.
“You speaking for this bunch now, Hap? What do you think is in the crates, eggs?”
“I sure as hell hope not, Brock. If we come all this way for nothing—” Engelhardt broke off, swearing, swiping a fist in the air.
Harper faced him, hands on hips. “Yeh? What’ll you do then, Hap?”
“. . . I’ll be purely disappointed, Brock,” Englehardt said, backing off.
Harper grinned. “What I thought. You were born sour, Hap, and whatever’s in that wagon, honey or horse turds, you’ll stay sour.”
He eyed the rest of the gang. They were taut, keyed-up. Feral dogs straining at the leash. “I suppose none of you will rest easy until you’ve had a look so let’s get it over with,” Harper said, growling.
He went to the wagon, the others swarming around it, crowding in. Their faces were eager, rapt, like players at a gambling table intent on a turn of the wheel. Some of them were breathing hard as if they were running a race.
Down came the freight wagon’s tailgate. The ropes tying down the canvas tarpaulin over the cargo were cut loose and the tarp folded back, baring stacked wooden crates.
“You like to brag on your strength, Neal. Get up there and haul one of those crates down.”
“Right, Brock.” Neal was a strongback, big, beefy, athletic. He clambered up on the tailgate. Squaring his stance, he took hold of one of the topmost crates and wrestled it loose from the stack.
“Easy does it. Lower it down, don’t drop it,” Harper said.
Words in big black letters were stenciled on the top and sides of the crate. A rail-thin gunman in his late teens squinted at it, Adam’s apple bobbing in a turkey neck. “What’s that say?”
“Whatsa’ matter, Dewey, can’t you read?” a badman demanded.
“No, can you?”
“Well . . . no.”
“It says, ‘Property of U.S. Army,’” Harper said.
“Not no more, it ain’t,” Kimbro said quickly.
That got a laugh all around. Neal manhandled the crate, red-faced, veins bulging, breathing hard. He started lowering it down from the tailgate and lost his grip. The crate fell heavily to the ground, breaking open a corner of the nailed-down lid.
“Damn it, Neal, I told you to be careful!”
“Sorry, Brock, it got away from me.”
“Use your knife to pry it open the rest of the way, Dewey,” Harper said.
Dewey used a long-bladed sheath knife to lever open the lid. It came undone with a shriek of pulled nails and a splintering of wood. Dewey threw back the lid, exposing the contents.
The crate was filled with brand-new repeating rifles.
The outlaws pressed inward, all avid, eager acquisitiveness. The prettiest young whore in the territory might have been stripped naked and sprawling before them, for all the oohs and aahs rising up from their number. A magical moment for the badmen.
Brock Harper himself was not immune to the lure of the loot, the seductive siren call of that much prime lethal hardware laid out at his feet. The corners of his eyes and mouth turned up. He reached into the crate and hauled out a weapon, holding it up for all to see.
“Take a look, boys: one brand-spanking-new Henry repeating rifle. Twelve to a box, twelve boxes in all. With thousands of cartridges in some of the other crates. There’s more massed firepower in that wagon than anywhere else on the frontier,” Harper said.
“Now—what kind of hell do you think you can raise with that?!”
All of the outlaw band were appropriately enthused and excited. There were shouts of appreciation, roaring laughter, backslapping. Even Hap Englehard’s sour-faced expression looked a little bit less funereal than usual.
Harper crowed, “What do I always say?—‘Trust Brock Harper.’ Well, seeing is believing. When Harper tells you something is so, it’s so! You can take it to the bank.”
He paused for effect, then went on:
“I should say, you can take the bank—every bank in the Southwest! And every town those banks are in! Bust them wide open like ripe melons and rip out all the meat and juices until you’ve had your fill!”
That raised a cheer.
“You said a mouthful, Brock!”
“You’re the bull of the woods, boss!”
“Sure called the tune on that one, Brock!”
Harper handed the rifle around so the others could examine it. It was passed from hand to hand, stroked with all the tenderness that none of these hard cases would ever expend on a lover. They fondled it possessively, caressing its smooth lines and well-wrought workings. When someone had held it for too long, the next in line was sure to demand his turn.
BOOK: William W. Johnstone
12.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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