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BLOOD BOND ARIZONA AMBUSH
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Are we in Arizona or New Mexico?" Matt Bodine asked with a puzzled frown.
Sam Two Wolves shook his head.
"I don't know. We might've even strayed over the line into Colorado or Utah. That's why they call this area the Four Corners."
"You don't know exactly where you are? You're an Indian, aren't you? Shouldn't you know these things?"
"I'm half Cheyenne, as you well know."
"Well, then, shouldn't you be at least half-sure where we are?"
"The Indians who live around here are not Cheyenne," Sam pointed out with the tolerant air of someone explaining things to a small child. "I believe most of them in these parts are Navajo."
Matt shook his head.
"Sounds like an excuse to me."
"What about you?" Sam asked. "You're blood brother to the Cheyenne. Shouldn't you know?"
"I'm blood brother to one Cheyenne—you. And since you're half Cheyenne, that makes me ..." Matt squinted as he thought. "I never was that good at ciphering. You're the one with the college education. You figure it out."
"Maybe we should just admit that we're lost."
"I'm not lost." Matt pointed south over the mostly flat, dry terrain through which the two young men rode. "That way's Mexico." He turned in the saddle and waved a hand northward. "And Montana and Canada are up yonder a ways. California's in front of us, and the Mississippi River's behind us. See? I'm not the least bit lost."
Sam just shook his head as Matt grinned.
The companionable relationship between them came naturally. Matt Bodine and Samuel August WebsterTwo Wolves had ridden together for a number of years, drifting across the frontier, and before that they had been childhood friends in Montana. That was where they had become blood brothers.
The link between them was even stronger than that. They were onihomihan, brothers of the wolf. The adventurous lives they had led made them brothers of the gun, as well. Theirs was the unbreakable bond of men who had fought side by side and saved each other's lives on numerous occasions.
At first glance they might have been mistaken for actual brothers. Both young men were tall, broad-shouldered, and powerfully built. The differences between them were apparent on a second look, however.
Matt's close-cropped brown hair was lighter than Sam's shaggy black hair, which was as dark as a raven's wing.
Sam also had the slight reddish tint to his skin which was also part of his legacy from his father Medicine Horse, as were the high cheekbones.
Matt wore jeans and a faded blue bib-front shirt. His battered brown Stetson was thumbed back on his head most of the time, as was the case now.
Sam wore jeans and a fringed buckskin shirt, although the fringe was strictly utilitarian, not gaudy like that on the outfits of Wild West Show performers. His black hat had a wide brim and a slightly rounded crown.
Another difference was in the way they were armed. Sam wore only one holstered revolver while Matt sported a pair of Colts. Sam was fast on the draw and accurate in his aim, but Matt was in a whole other league when it came to lead-slinging. His speed rivaled that of famous gunfighters such as Smoke Jensen, JohnWesley Hardin, and Frank Morgan. Matt's name wasn't quite as well known as those others, perhaps because of his relative youth.
Matt and Sam both owned lucrative ranches in Montana, but except for brief visits, they hadn't been home in years. The ranches were run by top-notch managers, and that allowed Matt and Sam to do the thing they loved best—drift. Both were fiddle-footed hombres, always eager to see what was on the other side of a river or over the next hill.
The fact that they didn't know exactly where they were wasn't going to stop them from riding on. The destination mattered less than the getting there, and as long as they were moving, Matt and Sam were happy.
But that didn't mean they weren't alert. Matt suddenly stiffened in the saddle and said, "I just saw the sun reflect off something on that bluff over yonder."
He nodded toward an upthrust of rocky ground several hundred yards northwest of them.
"So did I," Sam agreed. He looked around in case they needed to find some cover. The reflection could be nothing ...
But it could also be the sun glinting off a pair of field glasses, or worse, a rifle barrel.
"There's an arroyo off to our left," Sam began. "Maybe we'd better—"
A buzzing sound, like a giant bee that had just flown between them, interrupted him. Both young men recognized the sound, having heard similar ones all too many times in the past. That buzz was a heavy-caliber slug cutting through the air, and it was followed an instant later by a distant boom.
"Head for the arroyo!" Sam finished as he and Matt kicked their mounts into a gallop. The horses, big, strong animals with plenty of sand, raced toward the gully that twisted its way across the arid landscape.
Matt saw dust fly in the air as another bullet struck the ground to their right. The arroyo was about fifty yards away, and it wouldn't take the racing horses long to cover that much ground.
Even so, several more slugs whipped past the heads of Matt and Sam as they leaned forward in their saddles to make themselves smaller targets. There had to be more than one rifleman up there on the bluff shooting at them.
Why they were being bushwhacked like this was a whole other question, one that didn't really matter at the moment. They could worry about who the would-be killers were and why they wanted Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves dead once they were safely behind some cover.
The arroyo was only about twenty yards away when Matt was hit by what felt like a giant fist punching him in the right side. The terrible impact drove him so far to the left that he couldn't stay in the saddle.
He was stunned, but a part of his brain continued working. He had been shot before, so he knew one of the rifle bullets had hit him and reacted accordingly.
When he felt himself slipping off the horse, he kicked his feet free of the stirrups so neither of them would catch and hang up when he fell. If that happened, he would wind up being dragged over the rough ground, and probably that would be just as bad or worse than being shot.
Suddenly there was nothing under him but air, and a split second later he crashed into the ground, landing on his left shoulder. Momentum tumbled him over and over as more bullets kicked up dust and gravel around him.
Chapter TwoZack Jardine was down by the wagon, keeping an eye on the unloading, when rifle shots began to crash from the top of the nearby bluff.
Jardine's head jerked up and he grated out a curse. He saw powder smoke spurting from the places in the rocks where he had posted guards to keep an eye on the semi-arid landscape around them.
The men seemed to be shooting at something southeast of the spot where the guns were being unloaded. Jardine swung around, looked in that direction, and saw two men riding hellbent-for-leather, several hundred yards away.
Rifle in hand, Jardine broke into a run toward the trail leading to the top of the bluff. He was a big man, heavily muscled and handsome in a rugged, cruel way, and he didn't like running in the hot sun.
He glanced toward the men on horseback when he was halfway up the trail and saw one of them tumble off his horse, probably hit. The other one was still mounted, though.
Jardine reached the top. Angus Braverman was one of the riflemen, Doyle Hilliard the other. Jardine figured Braverman was the one who'd started shooting. He was impulsive, reckless ... a damned fool, some might say.
"You opened the ball," he shouted at Braverman and Hilliard. "You'd better kill both of them. I don't want either of them getting away!"
To help ensure that, Jardine lifted his own rifle to his shoulder. He sighted at the distant figures and started cranking off rounds as fast as he could work the repeater's lever.
He paused only long enough to wave an arm at the men he'd left below and yell, "Kill them!"
Everybody forgot about the crate of rifles they had just lifted down from the wagon and got busy trying to ventilate those two unlucky hombres who had wound up somewhere they shouldn't have been.
From the corner of his eye, Sam saw his blood brother go down. He hauled back on the reins as hard as he could, but by the time his horse skidded to a halt, he was already a good ten yards past the spot where Matt had fallen.
Sam threw himself out of the saddle and ran toward Matt, holding the reins and pulling the horse with him. Bullets thudded into the ground and kicked up dust.
As he ran, Sam felt a hot streak on the side of his neck and gritted his teeth. He knew a slug had just come within an inch or so of ending his life.
But the thought of abandoning Matt to his fate never entered Sam's mind. Not even when Matt lifted his head and bellowed, "Blast it, Sam, get out of here!"
Sam ignored that and stooped to get an arm around Matt. He had been blessed with great strength, so he was able to lift Matt without much trouble.
"Can you run?" he asked.
By way of answer, Matt lurched toward the arroyo.
Sam ran alongside him, still leading the horse. Matt's mount had bolted off somewhere. They could find the horse later—if they were still alive.
Sam's horse let out a shrill cry and leaped ahead, pulling loose from Sam's grip on the reins. As the horse galloped down the arroyo's bank, Sam spotted the bloody streak on its rump where a bullet had creased it.
He'd been using the horse as makeshift cover. Now he and Matt were left out completely in the open. Sam slipped his arm around Matt's waist and half-carried, half-dragged him toward the shelter of the arroyo.
Sam felt a bullet tug at his buckskin shirt as he and Matt reached the bank and tumbled over it. The slope wasn't too steep, about a forty-five-degree angle.
When they reached the bottom, Sam lifted his head and looked to make sure the bank cut them off from the view of the riflemen on the bluff. He couldn't see the bluff at all anymore, so that meant they were out of the line of fire.
Sam turned to Matt and asked, "How bad are you hit?"
Matt's face was pale under the permanent tan. He had his hand pressed to his right side. A dark stain had spread beyond it on his shirt.
"Think the slug caught me at an angle ... and went on through without penetrating too deep," he answered in a voice taut with pain. "I'm bleedin' like a stuck pig, though."
The booming of the rifles on the bluff had stopped. The men hidden up there must have realized they'd just be wasting bullets if they kept shooting. They couldn't hit Matt or Sam from where they were.
Sam pulled up Matt's shirt and saw the two puckered, bloody holes in his friend's torso. The smaller hole was in Matt's side, the slightly larger one that marked an exit wound on Matt's back only a few inches away and a little lower.
Matt was right about the bullet going all the way through. The angle of its flight had been shallow enough that Sam hoped the slug had missed any vital organs.
Even if that were true, the bullet had still done plenty of damage. And Matt could easily bleed to death if Sam didn't get those crimson streams stopped—soon.
* * *
Up on the bluff, Zack Jardine cursed bitterly again as over the barrel of his rifle he saw the two strangers disappear. From this height, Jardine could see the dark line of the arroyo zigzagging its way across the ground, and knew they had taken cover in it.
Jardine lowered his rifle.
"Get down there," he told Braverman and Hilliard. "We're gonna have to go after those two."
"One of 'em's hit bad, Zack," Braverman said as he straightened from behind the rocks where he had been crouched. "Did you see the way he fell? He's bound to be dyin'."
Braverman was a short, quick man with red hair who never tanned in the desert sun, just blistered. He looked harmless, but Jardine had seen him kill more than one man in cold blood without batting an eye. Hilliard was bulkier, with a drooping mustache and what seemed like a permanent week's worth of beard stubble. "Those fellas ain't worth gettin' killed over, Zack," he rumbled.
"Well, then, you shouldn't have opened fire on them in the first place!" Jardine's words lashed at the two men. "Why the hell didn't you just let them ride on past? They probably didn't even notice us over here."
A number of boulders littered the ground along the base of the bluff, huge chunks of sandstone that had broken off and rolled down the slope in ages past.
The wagon and the horses were down there among those big rocks, easy to miss if somebody wasn't looking for them. That was the main reason Jardine had picked this isolated place to deliver the rifles.
"They was actin' funny, Zack," Braverman said. "Lookin'this way and all. I think one of 'em pointed. I was watchin' 'em through my spyglass."
Jardine's jaw clenched in frustration. It was all he could do not to walk over there and stove in Braverman's stupid skull with the butt of his rifle.
It wouldn't do any good, he told himself. Braverman was too dumb to realize that a reflection off the lens of the telescope was probably what had alerted the two strangers that somebody was over here.
"Come on," he ordered as he started down the trail.
Braverman and Hilliard fell in behind him, thumbing fresh cartridges into their rifles as they followed their boss.
When Jardine reached the parked vehicle, he snapped at the other men, "Put that crate back in the wagon with the others."
"But we haven't got the money yet, Zack," Dave Snyder protested.
"And we're not going to today. We're calling off the swap." The men didn't look happy about that, so Jardine went on, "Don't worry, we'll get our payoff, and it'll be just the first of many. But I don't like the way this is playing out, so we'll set up another meeting."
The other men exchanged glances. They knew that Zack Jardine was something of a superstitious man by nature. If a deal didn't feel right to him, he wouldn't go through with it until it did.
So there was no point arguing with him. Anyway, arguing with Jardine was dangerous, and they knew it. They were a hard-bitten bunch, but Jardine was the worst of the lot.
He knew that, too.
As several of the men gathered around the long, heavy crate to lift it back into the wagon bed with its brothers, Jardine leveled an arm and pointed toward the arroyo he had spotted from the top of the bluff.
"Those two hombres are over there in a gully, on foot, and at least one of them is wounded. I want them both dead. That shouldn't be too hard. I'm going back to Flat Rock with the wagon. The rest of you go take care of those two ... and don't come back until they're buzzard bait."
Chapter Three"Give me your bandanna," Sam said.
Matt reached up to the blue-checked bandanna tied around his neck.
"This is my favorite bandanna!" he protested. "You remember that girl who gave it to me—"
"Yes, and she seemed quite taken with you, at least at the time, so I doubt that she'd want you to lie there and bleed to death. Hand it over."
With a sigh, Matt took off the bandanna and gave it to Sam, who used the Bowie knife he carried in a sheath on his left hip to cut it into two pieces. He wadded up each piece and shoved them into the bullet holes.
Matt grunted in pain.
"Take it easy," he said. "I just got shot, you know."
Sam lifted his head as he heard the swift rataplan of hoofbeats somewhere on the prairie not far away.
"And you're liable to be again," he said, "because unless I'm mistaken, those bushwhackers are about to pay us a visit and try to finish us off."
Sam looked both ways along the arroyo, at least as far as he could see. That wasn't very far, because of the way the gully twisted and turned, less than a hundred yards in either direction. But he spotted his horse a short distance away and whistled for the animal. He wanted the Winchester in the saddleboot.
As the horse trotted toward him, Sam stood up and got both hands under Matt's arms from behind.
"I can stand up!" Matt said.
"Faster this way."
Sam dragged Matt along the floor of the arroyo toward a pile of brush that had washed up against a rocky outcropping during some past flash flood.
Excerpted from BLOOD BOND ARIZONA AMBUSH by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2011 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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