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Flintlock a Time for Vultures
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
"I don't like it, Sam," O'Hara said, his black eyes troubled. "Those women could be setting us up. Their wagon wheel looks just fine from here."
Sam Flintlock shook his head. "You know what I always tell folks about you, O'Hara?"
"No. What do you always tell folks about me?"
"That you let your Indian side win through. I mean every time. If you were looking at them gals with a white man's eyes you'd see what I see ... four comely young ladies who badly need our help."
Now there were those who said some pretty bad things about Sam Flintlock. They called him out for a ruthless bounty hunter, gunman, outlaw when it suited him, and a wild man who chose never to live within the sound of church bells. At that, his critics more or less had him pegged, but to his credit, Flintlock never betrayed a friend or turned his back on a crying child, an abused dog, or a maiden in distress. And when the war talk was done and guns were drawn he never showed yellow.
Thus, when he saw four ladies and a dog crowded around what looked to be a busted wagon wheel, he decided he must ride to their rescue like a knight in stained buckskins.
But his companion, the half-breed known only as O'Hara, prone to suspicion and mistrust of the doings of white people, drew rein on Sam's gallant instincts.
"Well, my Indian side is winning through again," O'Hara said. "It's telling me to stay away from those white women. Sam, it seems that when we interfere in the affairs of white folks we always end up in trouble." He stared hard at the wagon. "There's something wrong here. I have a strange feeling I can't pin down."
"You sound like the old lady who hears a rustle in every bush." Flintlock slid a beautiful Hawken from the boot under his left knee and settled the butt on his thigh. "This cannon always cuts a dash with the ladies and impresses the menfolk. Let's ride."
The four women gathered around the wagon wheel watched Flintlock and O'Hara ride toward them. They were young, not particularly pretty except by frontier standards, and looked travel-worn. Colorful boned corsets, laced and buckled, short skirts, and ankle boots revealed their profession, as did the hard planes of their faces. Devoid of powder and paint, exhausted by the rigors of the trail, the girls showed little interest in Flintlock and O'Hara as potential customers.
Flintlock touched his hat. "Can I be of assistance, ladies?"
A brunette with bold hazel eyes said, "Wheel's stuck, mister."
"I'll take a look," Flintlock said.
One time in Dallas he'd watched John Wesley Hardin swing out of the saddle in one graceful motion and he hoped his dismount revealed the same panache. And it might have had not the large yellow dog decided to attack his ankle as soon as his foot touched the ground. The mutt clamped onto Flintlock's booted ankle, shook its head, and growled as though it was killing a jackrabbit.
"Git the hell off me," Flintlock said, shaking his leg.
The little brunette grabbed the dog by the scruff of the neck and yelled, "Bruno! Leave the gent alone!"
But the animal seemed more determined than ever to bite through Flintlock's boot and maul his flesh. Bruno renewed his attack with much enthusiasm and considerable savagery.
All four women pounced on the dog and tried to drag the snarling, biting creature away while Flintlock continued to shake his leg and cuss up a storm. As the epic struggle with the belligerent Bruno became a cartwheeling, fur-flying free-for-all, O'Hara's voice cut through the racket of the melee.
A moment later guns slammed and O'Hara reeled in the saddle. He snapped off a shot, bent over, and toppled onto the grass. His horse, its reins trailing, trotted away. Flintlock, dragging Bruno like a growling ball and chain, stepped around the horse and looked toward the tree line. Four riders were charging fast, firing as they came. Cursing himself for choosing fashion over common sense and leaving his Winchester in the boot, he threw the Hawken to his shoulder and triggered a shot. Boom! Through a cloud of gray smoke he watched a man throw up his hands, his revolver spinning away from him. The rider tumbled backwards off his horse and hit the ground hard, throwing up a cloud of dust. Flintlock dropped the Hawken and clawed for the Colt in his waistband.
A big, bearded man drove his mount straight at Flintlock and the impact of horse and man sent Flintlock flying and convinced Bruno that he'd be a lot safer somewhere else.
Winded and sprawled on his back, Flintlock stayed where he was for a moment, then he sat up and looked around for his fallen Colt.
There! A few yards to his right.
He staggered to his feet and for his pains, the bearded man charged again. He swung his left foot from the stirrup and kicked Flintlock in the head, the boot heel crashing into his forehead. For a moment, it seemed that the world around him was exploding in blinding arcs of scarlet and yellow fire.
Flintlock's head tilted back and he caught a glimpse of the sky spinning wildly above him ... and then his legs went out from under him and he saw nothing ... nothing at all.
* * *
Sam Flintlock regained consciousness to a pounding headache and a sharp pricking in his throat. From far off, at the end of a long tunnel, he heard a woman's voice.
"What the hell are you doing, Buck?"
Buck Yarr stopped, his bowie knife poised. "Gonna cut that heathen thunderbird offen his throat, Biddy. Make me a tobaccy pouch, it will."
"Morg wants him alive," the woman said. "You know who he is?"
"Don't give a damn who he is," Yarr said.
"He's the outlaw Sam Flintlock," Biddy said. "Morg thinks maybe there's a price on his head, his head and the breed's."
Yarr said, "Morg didn't tell me that. I want the thunderbird. Now git the hell away from me lessen you aim to watch the cuttin'."
"I seen a cuttin' or two before and they didn't trouble me none," Biddy said. "One time down Forth Worth way I seen Doc Holliday cut a man, damn near gutted him. But Morg wants that Flintlock one alive."
"All I want is some skin, Biddy. He'll still be alive after I'm done."
"He'll be dead after you're done, Buck. Look, there's Morgan, ask him your own self," Biddy said.
Flintlock opened his eyes. He tried to move but his arms were tightly bound to one of the wagon wheels. A few feet away O'Hara, his bloody head bowed, was tied to another. Opposite Flintlock, a kneeling man in greasy buckskins held a wicked, broad-bladed knife, his mouth under a sweeping red mustache stretched in a grin. The man's hat — a tall, pearl gray topper, its high crown holed by a bullet — caught Flintlock's attention.
"Morg, the whore says I can't cut on this man," Yarr said. "What do you say?"
Morgan Davis was a tall, cadaverous man with black hair and penetrating black eyes. He affected the sober dress and measured speech of a country parson but the Colt in the shoulder holster under his left arm gave the lie to that image.
"Not now, Buck," Davis said. "I've heard of this ranny. His name is Sam Flintlock on account of the old smoke pole he carries and he makes his living as a bounty hunter and bank robber. There's some say he's real sudden on the draw-and-shoot and has killed a dozen men. Others say he's just plumb loco and talks to his dead kinfolk, but I ain't so sure about that. He looks like a mean one though, don't he?"
"He ain't so tough," Yarr said. "I want the big bird on his throat. Slice it offen him and make a pouch for myself."
"It will make a fine pouch, a crackerjack pouch, Buck," Davis said, patting the man on the shoulder. "But hold off on the cutting until we see if there's a price on his head. If he's wanted dead or alive, then he's all yours. But if the law wants him in one piece, then you can wait until after he's hung."
"Long wait." Yarr looked sulky.
Davis smiled. "Be of good cheer, Buck. There's a settlement close to Guadalupe Peak with a tough sheriff. We can take Flintlock and the breed there. If there's a dodger on them, once the lawman pays the reward I'm sure we can talk him into a quick hanging."
"What town? What sheriff?" Yarr said. "I steer clear of lawmen."
"Town's called Happyville and the sheriff's name is Barney Morrell," Davis said. "Me and Barney go back a ways, to the time me and him rode with the Taylor brothers and that hard crowd during their feud with the Suttons. Barney killed a couple men and then lit out for the New Mexico Territory ahead of a Sutton hanging posse. He married a gal by the name of Lorraine Day and for a spell prospered in the hardware business. But Barney never could settle down for long and he worked as a lawman in Fort Worth and Austin and then, the last I heard, became the sheriff of Happyville."
"He still there?" Yarr said.
"I haven't heard other wise," Davis said.
"Then I guess I'll wait." Yarr slid his knife into its sheath. "But there's one thing I need to get straight, Morg."
"I want to cut this man afore he's hung. Don't set right with me to go slicing a big bird offen a dead man's throat. It ain't proper."
Davis nodded. "I'm sure that can be arranged, Buck. Easy thing to cut a man before he gets hung."
"What about the sheriff? What's his name?"
"I'll take care of Barney. Kick back a share of the reward money and he'll cooperate."
Buck Yarr grinned, slapped off Flintlock's hat, grabbed him by the hair, and shook him. "Hear that, musket man? You'll get your throat cut afore a noose is tightened around it. I wonder how that will feel? Bad painful, I think. Real bad painful."
Flintlock's wrists were knotted to the wagon wheel at either side of his head. But to his joy his legs were untied. He measured the distance between the toe of his right boot and Buck Yarr's chin. Perfect! Gritting his teeth, he powered his leg upward, arching his back to increase the force of the kick.
The result was all he hoped it would be.
With a sickening thud, like a rifle butt hitting a log, the toe of his boot hit Yarr just under his chin. The man's head snapped back, his mouth spurting strings of blood and saliva. Kneeling on one knee and off balance, he fell heavily onto his right side.
"Never trust a wolf until it's been skun, idiot," Flintlock said, staring at the groaning man with merciless eyes.
Yarr was hurting but he wasn't done.
Big and strong and snarling like a wounded animal, he got to his feet and charged Flintlock, his knife raised for a downward, killing thrust.
"Buck, no!" Davis yelled.
The enraged man ignored him, but the knife blow never came. Somewhere in Yarr's primitive, reptilian brain he decided that a stabbing was a much too merciful death. His eyes glittering, he switched his attention to the thunderbird on Flintlock's throat. Giggling, he concentrated on his task. The point of his knife pierced skin and drew a thin rivulet of blood and then slowly, carefully, like an eager bride cutting her wedding cake, he began to ... saw.
"Buck, get the hell away from him!" Davis yelled.
Yarr ignored the man, intent on cutting out the skin of Flintlock's throat.
Yarr's head exploded as Davis's bullet entered the man's right temple and exited an inch above his left ear, blowing out a gory fountain of brain and bone. For long moments Yarr remained where he was, perfectly still, knife in hand, face expressionless. Then slowly ... slowly ... he opened his mouth wide, fell back, and lay still.
Davis kicked Flintlock hard in the ribs. "Now see what you done? You made me kill one of my boys and you already shot another." Davis shoved the hot muzzle of his Colt between Flintlock's eyes. "Mister, count yourself a lucky man. At the moment you're worth more to me than Buck. Well, maybe. If Barney Morrell tells me he's got no paper on you, I'll cut the bird off your throat myself."
Pain spiking at his ribs, Flintlock said, "Hell, you got our horses and traps. That's enough for any damned two-bit thief like you."
Davis shook his head. "No it ain't, not for me." He stared at Flintlock. "You got a big reputation, feller, but right now you sure as hell don't stack up to much."
"A lot of men have thought that," Flintlock said. "I killed most of them."
The man thumbed his chest. "Well, I ain't so easy to kill, feller. Name's Morgan Davis. That mean anything to you?"
"Seems to me I heard tell of a pimp by that name," Flintlock said. "They say he has a reputation for beating up on whores."
Davis smiled. "You're a funny man, Flintlock, a real knee-slapper, but there's something you should know." The man leaned closer and his voice dropped to a whisper. His breath smelled like rotten meat. "I was spawned in the lowest regions of hell and I've lived in a bottomless pit of depravity and violence since. Don't ever say something is funny again or I'll cut your tongue out."
Flintlock saw only hate, malevolence, and loathing in Davis's eyes, as though they were stricken with a foul disease. The pimp was a man to be reckoned with and Flintlock wisely kept his mouth shut.
After a final kick at Flintlock's unprotected ribs, Davis stepped away. He stopped at O'Hara, got down on one knee, and buried his fingers in the breed's bloody hair. He jerked up O'Hara's head and stared into his face. "Hey Flintlock, your breed friend is dead."
Davis let O'Hara's head go and it lolled lifelessly onto O'Hara's chest. Sam Flintlock felt a devastating sense of loss ... and then a spike of white-hot anger.
No matter what it took, how long it took, even with his last breath and final ounce of strength, he would kill Morgan Davis.CHAPTER 2
The man named O'Hara opened his eyes to darkness.
For a moment he thought his soul had traveled southwest to that cold, misty limbo where in the time after time he would become part of the spirit world. But as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw the sky and the stars — the same sky, the same stars he had known in the physical realm. Was he alive or dead?
Then came pain ... a pounding drumbeat in his head. There is no suffering after death, and in that moment of realization, O'Hara knew he remained in the land of the living.
Reluctant to rise, he stayed on his back, his eyes tight shut against the tom-tom beat of the pain in his head. He would lie where he was and sleep for a day, a week, whatever it took to restore him to health and strength ... unless his ancestors came to take him away.
What was that?
He heard it again, a soft patter on the ground like the sound of falling leaves. The noise grew louder, more insistent, but O'Hara already knew what it was, the timid start of what would soon become an aggressive downpour. He stayed where he was, determined to sleep his pain away. But the rain fell harder and to the northwest thunder echoed among the canyons of the Guadalupe Mountains.
He was indignant.
What right had rain to interrupt a man's sleep? His head hurt even worse, an incessant thumping. Well, he'd soon put an end to this. Someone somewhere had to be responsible for such an outrage.
O'Hara rose to his feet and promptly fell down again. The rain-lashed darkness cartwheeled around him and the pounding in his head made him feel sick. It was only then that he noticed the rain running from his head onto his white shirt was the color of red rust. And he discovered why he'd fallen. He shared the noose looped around his ankles with a man lying beside him. Rivulets of rain streamed across the man's gray face, a dead white man with open, staring eyes, his mouth wide in a silent scream.
O'Hara stared at the man and then punched his beefy arm. "Are you to blame for this rain? Speak up now and state your intentions."
The dead man made no answer.
O'Hara kicked off the loop, stood, and dragged the body to its feet. "Answer me!" he yelled. "Why did you make the rain? Make it go away so I can sleep."
With unseeing staring eyes and a screaming mouth, the dead man made no answer. Lightning seared across the sky, shimmering on the cadaver's face, and thunder crashed.
In that hell-firing moment, as the blazing heavens conspired to destroy him, O'Hara realized what he had become ... a raving madman.
O'Hara let go of the dead man and dropped to his hands and knees as the storm raged around him. He sank to the ground and plunged headlong into a bottomless pit.
Excerpted from Flintlock a Time for Vultures by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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