Read an ExcerptThe Bloody Texans
By Kent Conwell
Copyright © 2008 Kent Conwell
All right reserved.
The cold winter sun dropped behind the dark pines, casting an icy shadow over the dogtrot cabin in East Texas. With a leering grin of satisfaction, Luis Salado swung into his saddle. "Vamanos! We go, amigos."
His cousin, Alfredo Torres, laughed as he mounted his pony and jerked the animal about. Blood ran down a fat cheek where the desperate woman had clawed him. He winked at his cousin. "Better than puta, si?"
Salado's leer grew wider. "Si primo, my cousin. Si."
Inside the cabin, Red Davis shoved to his knees, staring at the limp woman on the floor before him, her dress pulled up about her waist. With a cruel grunt, he rose to his feet and pulled his woolen trousers up. "You one of the best I ever had, missy," he muttered. "Nice and-arghhhhh!"
The supine woman mustered the strength to kick him in the groin. Teeth bared in a savage snarl, she leaped off the puncheon floor and dug her nails into his bearded cheek. Her black eyes blazed fury.
Red grimaced in pain. "You bitch!" he growled, backhanding her across her tanned face. In the same movement, he shucked his sixgun and blew a neat black hole in her forehead. The back of her head exploded, and he grabbed at his crotch, moaning in pain.
Dwarfing the grulla on which he was mounted outside the cabin, Frank Selman, a large, bearded man with shoulders the width of a double-bitted axe, called out. "We're pulling out, Red. We had enough fun. You want to go with us, catch up." He wheeled his pony about and shouted to the three riders at his side. "Let's go, boys." He dug his heels into his pony and sent the startled animal heading up the narrow trace for Injun Bayou.
Red paused in the open doorway, looking back into the room. Smoke poured from a coffee pot in the edge of the coals, the burned coffee filling the cabin with a acrid odor. Over the fireplace, stew was bubbling over, and on the floor sprawled a young boy, a young girl, and a voluptuous woman, their eyes staring unseeing at the wood-shake roof overhead.
Slowly the evening shadows settled over the cabin deep in the forest, covering the brutality and savagery witnessed by the cold afternoon sun.
A north wind howled out of the dark, rolling clouds, battering the adobe huts and stick jacales of San Antonio de Bexar. Sheets of rain obliterated the far side of the narrow calle. Water cascaded off roofs, and in its rush to the Rio San Antonio, coursed down muddy streets cutting channels that criss-crossed like spider webs.
Inside a dimly lit bar, guttering candles cast eerie shadows across the rock-hard faces of two rugged men seated at a wood-slab table. One hunched thoughtfully over a clay mug half-filled with whiskey; the other stared intently at the first. Overhead, the dirty canvas ceiling sagged in several spots where water collected and dripped to the dirt floor.
A low murmur of conversation, punctuated by an occasional laugh, filled the shadowy room as roughhewn cowpokes poured cheap whiskey down their gullets, their protection against the winter night.
Sam Walker cleared his throat and spoke to the man bent over the mug of whiskey. "Forget about Cooper, Jack. If he wanted to go with us, he'd be here."
John Coffee "Devil Jack" Hays lifted his cold, hazel eyes into the steady gaze of his friend. "Like hell I will. Nathan Cooper doesn't go, I don't go."
Sam clucked his tongue and shook his head at his old friend's cussedness. "That ain't what the governor said. He appointed you to take a ranger company to Zack Taylor down on the Nueces."
Hays leaned back in his chair and permitted a faint smile to play over his boyish face. "Well then, the Right Honorable J. Pinckney Henderson can damned well unappoint me." He paused, and his smile broadened. His tone issued a challenge. "You remember the Mier Expedition and Perote Prison. You really want to go into Mexico and face up to Santa Anna without Nathan, Sam?"
Sam downed the remainder of his drink and a look of pure hatred clouded his square face. "How could I forget? I lived in that lice-ridden prison. I buried a dime under the flagpole them greasers made us raise. With or without Nathan Cooper, I swore that one day I'd pocket that dime and see a Texas flag flying on that pole. And I reckon on doing that very thing." He paused and drew a deep breath. "If I had a choice, Jack, you're mighty right I'd want Nathan Cooper, one arm and all. But if he was goin' with us, he'd be here now."
Jack Hays stared at the mug in his hands, his youthful face a study of concentration. "You're probably right." A new leak oozed from the canvas ceiling and began dripping steadily on the middle of the table. Absently, Jack shoved his empty cup under it. "Of course, we can do it without Nathan, but the whole job would be one hell of a lot easier with him. Even if he is getting long in the tooth and has a wooden arm, he's sure no cripple. He's rode the river more times than you and me can count. He fought pirates with Lafitte, trapped in the Rockies, and lived with them cannibal Karankawas." He paused and grinned. "I reckon he's what they call a white Indian. He's the most uncivilized white man I ever met. Or he was until he got himself married up. You got to admit, he was a big help out in Laredo in forty-one."
The mention of Laredo brought a smug grin to Sam's face. He patted the worn handle of his Paterson Colt. "Reckon I do. You, me, and Nathan had the only full grown Colt Patersons in the republic, thanks to Sam Colt." He refilled his clay cup. "I don't reckon I'll ever forget the face of that Mexican captain-what was his name? I forget. I remember the face, but I forget the greaser's name."
Jack grinned. "García. Captain García."
Sam laughed. "That's right, García. You remember the expression on his face when you sent him back to Laredo with our demand for their surrender?"
A faint blush tinged Jack's ears. "Yeah. He'd been mighty happy to cut our throats right there, but he's like them Mexican honchos. They don't mind pushin' little people around, but let someone stand up to them, and suddenly they catch a case of the gallopin' grunts."
Sam laughed. "The alcalde from Laredo sure came out early next morning. Reckon he took your warning serious."
The faint smile on Jack Hays' face faded. He changed the subject. "I got doubtful feelings about this Mexico business Polk is stirrin' up."
The leather-and-plank door swung open, and a gust of rain swirled through the small room, drawing curses from the other cowpokes in the cantina. A tall, heavily bearded cowboy stepped through the doorway. His face was rock hard, and his eyes colder than the north wind outside. He looked around the room. When he spotted Jack and Sam, a grin split his square face. He stomped across the floor and shook his head. "Only five more rangers showed up, Colonel. At this rate, we'll never get our full complement."
Jack Hays studied the newcomer, finally nodded, rose, and hitched up his gunbelt. "We got a couple weeks. You take care of things around here, Rip. I'll be back sooner or later."
John Salmon "Rip" Ford, adjutant to "Devil Jack" Hays, nodded tersely. "Where you going, Colonel?"
Jack looked at Sam Walker. "Well, Sam here's going to New York. Since Zack Taylor has requested four regiments of Texas Rangers in this here war, we're going to arm our boys with new Colt revolvers, and Sam is going to see that they get built."
Sam Walker gulped his drink. "Yes, sir."
"An' me," added Jack Hays, "I'm headin' to the redlands of East Texas. If we're taking on Mexico, I'd sure cotton to having Nathan Cooper on our side, and the only way he won't be at our side is if he's gone and got hisself killed on us." He grinned at Sam Walker and dumped the rain water from his cup. "Pour us another drink, Sam, and stick a full bottle in our saddlebags. It's a mighty cold night to be horseback."
Excerpted from The Bloody Texans by Kent Conwell Copyright © 2008 by Kent Conwell. Excerpted by permission.
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