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The Colorado Kid
By Dale Mike Rogers
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2005 Dale Mike Rogers
All rights reserved.
Lightning forked down from the heavens far off in the distance as thunder rumbled all around the handsome grey mount. There was a chill in the air but the six-feet-six-inch-tall horseman astride his mount did not appear to notice. For he was from a place where the extremes of climate had toughened his soul and spirit long before he had reached this place. The sun raced across the shallow stream as if vainly attempting to defy the gathering storm clouds.
The lone rider drew back on his reins and stopped the tall mare.
His keen blue eyes darted around from beneath the wide brim of his Stetson and studied the unfamiliar terrain. Keeping the long Winchester gripped firmly in his right hand, he slowly dismounted in one well-practised flowing movement. There was a nervousness about the tall rider which kept his wits honed like a straight razor. The dried bloodstain on his sleeve and the crude repair to the fringed buckskin shirt showed that he had a right to be wary of any new place that he ventured into. For the bullets of unseen enemies had sought and found him many times before.
He loosened his grip on the reins and allowed the mare to drop her head and start drinking.
Yet he himself did not drink.
He continued to stand guard over the handsome animal as he continued to survey the trees and bushes which ran along the horizon ahead of him. His every instinct told him that there was someone or something out there. For he had been raised by people who had once lived unchallenged all over this land. A people who now numbered fewer than the buffalo.
His blue eyes looked up at the troubled sky. He could see the black clouds were gathering together as if they required union before they could unleash their fury. There were no birds to be seen or heard anywhere near the fast-flowing stream.
That concerned the giant man and he cradled his rifle in the crook of his arm. There should be birds, he thought. A lot of them near this place, and yet there were none at all.
Something had frightened them away from the countless insects that danced over the top of the water in the last defiant rays of the sun.
He knew that it was not he who had done so. He could walk within feet of most birds without disturbing them. They did not fear him for they knew that he would not harm them.
Neither was it the approaching storm.
It had been something else which had caused them to flee this rich source of food.
The crystal-clear water stretched for more than twenty yards until it reached the six-foot-high swaying grass. An army could be concealed out there and no one would ever suspect, he thought.
No one but him.
He still had the instincts that he had learned in the high country from the Sioux; survival instincts which had been taught to him by the people who were now nearly extinct.
It was as if he could actually sense the danger he knew lay out there ahead of him.
He removed his water-bag from the saddle horn and removed its wooden stopper with his teeth. He held on to the rawhide strips which girdled the bag and lowered it into the stream. He remained upright and alert as the stream slowly filled the three-gallon capacity of the Indian water-container.
For more than ten years since he had emerged from the wilderness as a youth, the tall horseman had drifted hundreds of miles north of his birthplace. Yet he could still not understand how a people who had lived in the lush forests since time itself had begun, could simply vanish.
But he had left them before the gold had been discovered and the white men had tried to buy their land from them. Before the battles and the ultimate destruction of practically an entire race had occurred.
Never having read any of the newspaper reports about Custer's last stand at the Little Bighorn or the vengeance of the cavalry, he had no way of knowing that the reason the forests had emptied was because most of the Sioux were dead.
He moved his moccasins and looked upstream and then down. It was as if he was searching for clues as to who it was whom he knew lay in wait across the stream.
There were no clues.
Few people who had encountered the quiet giant during the years that he had roamed the West ever forgot him. For he was unlike all other men. His sheer height and build made it impossible for anyone ever to allow his image to drift far from their thoughts. But it was also the fact that he was unique. Not quite a white man and yet not an Indian either. A man who saw both sides of the coin. Slow to temper and yet faster than most to react when attacked.
But no one knew his real name.
It was said that he had no real name.
Or that he had forgotten what it was after being raised by the Sioux.
The only thing that those who had met him agreed upon was that he was known as the Colorado Kid.
A strange name which was neither accurate nor descriptive, for he had never been anywhere near the territory called Colorado, nor was he the sort of man who could be thought of as ever being young enough to be described as a kid.
He seemed to be carved from granite.
Every inch of his awesome stature demanded respect. For he looked as if he were capable of tearing trees out of the ground with his bare hands.
The Colorado Kid was the size of a grizzly bear and yet no sculptor could have created a more perfect physique. There was not an ounce of spare fat on his entire being. Shoulders that were solid muscle and a trim waist made it hard to imagine that this man had once lived with the far smaller Indians of the Great Basin. The only hint of his past was his straight black hair which was well-groomed, yet slightly longer than most white men wore it.
How he had come to be raised by the noble tribesmen of the vast forests, no one knew. Not even Colorado himself. Yet he was one of them.
A blood-brother to the people. That was what the many tribes of the Sioux nation called themselves. They were the people. Their father was the Great Spirit of the sky and their mother the earth itself.
Colorado accepted the nickname that the white men had given him for he knew that they would never be able to pronounce his Sioux name. If he had ever had a name before being adopted by the people who raised him as one of their own, he did not know it.
The six-feet-six-inch-tall horseman accepted that he would always be the Colorado Kid. Until, that was, he returned to the forests far to the north.
Until he found one of his people again.
He pulled the water-bag out of the cold water and returned the wooden stopper back to the neck of the leather container. He hung it on to the saddle horn and then stepped into the stream and narrowed his eyes.
There was definitely something a mile or so ahead.
He had caught subtle hints of its aroma on the morning air in his flared nostrils, but still could not tell what it was or see anything.
As the mare raised its head from the stream, Colorado stroked its neck, grabbed its flowing mane and then swiftly threw himself on to the saddle without using the stirrup. He gathered up the reins and urged the horse across the shallow water.
Lightning continued to trace across the blackening sky as the sun disappeared behind the storm clouds. A deafening explosion of sound erupted above the rider but neither the Kid or the horse flinched.
It took more than that to deter them.
The grey strode confidently through the stream as its master continued to study everything around him. The cool water lapped over the hoofs of the animal, washing away a score of miles of trail dust.
Whatever it was that had caused his senses to alert him to the possibility of danger, the Colorado Kid was determined to find it before it found him.
The mare started to gather pace as it raced through the stream and into the tall swaying grass on the riverbank.CHAPTER 2
For more than three miles Colorado had aimed his tall mount deeper and deeper into the uncharted land. The storm was growing more and more violent with every step that hisobedient horse took through the softening ground. The vicious rain lashed down and cut into the rider and mare like the whips of a million unseen enemies.
Yet Colorado still saw nothing except the mocking rain as he steered his mount through the tall swaying grass. The expert horseman knew that the danger was still out there, waiting like a coiled rattler ready to strike. For a decade he had ridden into one bushwhacking after another as he roamed the West that the law had yet to discover.
For a while he had wondered why there were so many men who lived by killing and stealing. Then he had realized that these were not real men at all, but mere animals in human form. Scum who craved anything that others had. They would kill to steal the beef jerky in a stranger's saddle-bags. The temptation of laying their hands on a horse and its tack was irresistible to their breed. Add the guns and ammunition to the pot and it was amazing that anyone ever managed to get from one remote town to another without being either wounded or killed.
Colorado had worked hard to obtain his meagre possessions and was not going to give them up without a fight. The scars on his body were proof of that.
Lightning lit up the heavens again.
The Kid teased the reins back in his large hands and then sat motionless astride the obedient mount. The deafening storm was now directly overhead and he could feel the driving rain on his chiselled features as it cut through the cold air.
It was hard for the horseman to believe that it was still only half-way through the morning. The rays of the sun had been completely blotted out. It had grown increasingly dark as the black thunderclouds swirled around in the heavens above him. The deadly forks of lightning grew more and more frequent as they cut down and struck at the ground all around him.
Yet neither Colorado or his bedraggled horse flinched.
Even as the storm reached its height, his well-trained grey mare remained perfectly still as its master stood, balanced in his stirrups and surveyed the surrounding land from his high vantage point.
Suddenly, his eyes focused on something metallic a quarter of a mile ahead of him as sheet lightning flashed and illuminated the sea of tall moving grass for a few seconds.
It was only a brief glimpse but enough to confirm Colorado's suspicions.
Slowly he lowered himself on to his saddle and wrapped the reins around his left wrist. He knew that whoever it was out there, he had a Winchester.
The question was: was the rifleman waiting for him? Or was there other prey in this quagmire?
The Colorado Kid slapped the loose ends of his reins across the mare's shoulders and urged it to continue walking. The horse responded immediately.
As the mare climbed higher ground he wondered how close the sniper was. Then, as another twisted fork of lethal lightning cut down from the brooding black clouds and hit the ground a mere hundred yards from his mount, Colorado heard something to his left.
It was an unmistakable sound that he recognized.
It was the hammer of a Winchester being pulled back until it locked fully into position.
There was no time to lose, he thought.
All Colorado's questions had been answered.
The rifleman was not waiting to try and kill himself a meal, he was waiting to kill him. The Kid shook his reins free of his wrist, removed his feet from the stirrups and then rolled off his high saddle.
His feet hit the muddy ground as the sound of the bullet being fired filled the cold air.
His narrowed eyes saw its red-hot trail speed over the neck of the grey.
Too close! Colorado grabbed the reins and used every ounce of his incredible strength to drag the horse down until it was on its knees beside him. Colorado kept pulling until the horse was lying on its side. Resting on one knee, he ran a hand over the mare's face and then released his grip on the long leather reins.
'Stay there, girl!' he commanded the wide-eyed beast. As always, the horse obeyed its master.
He pulled his Peacemaker from its long holster and cocked its hammer as another shot rang out. His screwed-up eyes saw the tips of the grass disintegrate above him as the second rifle bullet searched vainly for its target.
Colorado looked all around him as if he were trying to find another way to get to the man who was intent on claiming his life.
But there was only one choice.
One way to attack an attacker, and that was head on.
The Kid leapt over the belly of the horse and ran through the driving rain and swaying grass straight toward the place from where he knew the rifle had been fired.
A third and fourth shot blasted out from the barrel of the rifle, sending its bullets over the head of the fast-moving Kid, who refused to slow his pace through the sodden ground.
He continued running until his keen instincts spotted the patch of dry grass. He stopped and knelt beside the place where he knew the sniper had tried to claim his life.
Colorado ran the palm of his left hand over the dry grass as his ears and eyes sought out the mysterious rifleman. He gripped his handgun firmly and then spotted the footprint depressions on the crushed-down grass.
The rifleman had moved away quickly, he thought.
The tall figure rose up to his full height and stared off into the half-light.
'You can run but you cannot hide!' he muttered under his breath. Then he started to follow the trail.
Even the blinding rain that mercilessly stung his eyes could not deter him.
Colorado was no longer the hunted.
He was now the hunter!CHAPTER 3
The ground seemed to slide away from beneath Colorado's moccasins as he forced his way through the driving rain and high brush to which the swaying grass was now giving way. The rifleman who had fled when he realized that the tables had been turned on him had left a clear trail to the trained eye.
Colorado stalked his way after the bushwhacker like a bloodhound on the trail of a raccoon. He paused and knelt on the wet uneven ground for a few seconds and listened.
The aroma of the sniper's mount hung on the cold air and had grown stronger in his flared nostrils the further down the slope he had travelled. The Kid knew that his prey was heading for his horse.
Colorado turned his head, cupped his left hand to his face and whistled. He then returned his attention to the broken brush ahead of him and rested the long-barrelled gun on his knee.
He could hear his grey mare following behind him as his whistle had instructed. It would take the tall animal at least five minutes to reach its master.
Then Colorado noticed that the rain had ceased.
He removed his hat and shook it as a shaft of sunlight managed to penetrate the black clouds.
It was as if some heavenly body was pointing to a place far below him. The tall man slowly rose to his full height and placed his hat over his well groomed black hair. His blue eyes trailed the light from the sky down to the ground.
Then he saw the flashing of gun metal again.
Colorado was about to move when he saw a plume of smoke and heard the crack of rifle fire. The bullet tore the Stetson from his head before the Kid had time to react.
He felt the warmth of blood trickling down from the top of his head and over his brow and face.
'Big mistake, stranger!' Colorado said as he fanned the hammer of his gun.
Three bullets cut their way through the brush and down the slope. Three deadly accurate bullets.
Colorado knew that the rifleman was dead before he slid his gun back into the holster and turned to see his mount coming through the undergrowth towards him.
The mare walked to his side and stopped.
Colorado held the flowing grey mane and threw himself on to the saddle. He leaned back and allowed the horse to walk down the slippery slope at its own pace.
'Easy, girl!' the Kid said as they found the crumpled figure lying beside his still-smoking rifle.
The mare stopped.
Colorado dismounted, pulled the dead man over and looked at the expressionless face. A trickle of blood seeped from the corner of the corpse's mouth.
Colorado shook his head, then straightened up.
Whoever this back-shooter was, he was unknown to the Kid.
His eyes searched for the horse that he knew was somewhere close. Then he saw it. Its reins were tied firmly to a stout tree branch.
Colorado stepped over the body and made his way over the wet ground to the skittish horse. He pulled a long-bladed knife from his belt and sliced through the reins. The horse shied away from the tall man, then galloped off into the dense brush.
Excerpted from The Colorado Kid by Dale Mike Rogers. Copyright © 2005 Dale Mike Rogers. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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