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Chapter OneKansas, 1868
Elroy Brower slammed down his mug of beer in annoyance. The commotion across the saloon was distracting him from the luscious blonde sitting on his lap, and it was seldom Elroy got his hands on as tempting a creature as Big Sal. It was damned frustrating to keep getting interrupted.
Big Sal wiggled her hefty buttocks against Elroy 's crotch, leaning forward to whisper in his ear. Her words, quite explicit, got the results she'd expected. She could feel his tool swelling.
"Whyn't you come on upstairs, honey, where we can be alone?" Big Sal suggested, voice purring.
Elroy grinned, visions of the hours ahead exciting him. He intended to keep Big Sal all to himself tonight. The whore he sometimes visited in Rockley, the town nearest his farmstead, was old and skinny. Big Sal on the other hand, was a real handful. Elroy had already offered up a little prayer of thanks for having found her on this trip to Wichita.
The rancher's voice, raised in anger, caught Elroy's attention once more. He couldn't help but listen, not after what he'd seen just two days ago.
The rancher told everyone who would listen that his name was Bill Chapman. He'd come into the saloon a short time earlier and ordered drinks for one and all, which wasn't as generous as it sounded because there were only seven people there, and two of them were the saloon girls. Chapman had a ranch a little ways north and was looking for men who were as fed up as he was with the Indians who were terrorizing the area. What had caught Elroy's attention was the word "Indians."
Elroy had had no Indian trouble himself, not yet anyways. But he'd onlycome to Kansas two years ago. His small homestead was vulnerable, and he knew it -- damn vulnerable. It was a mile from his nearest neighbor, and two miles from the town of Rockley. And there was only Elroy himself and young Peter, a hired man who helped with the harvest. Elroy's wife had died six months after they arrived in Kansas.
Elroy didn't like feeling vulnerable, not at all. A huge man, six feet four and barrellike, he was used to his size getting him through life without problems, except for the ones he started himself. No one wanted a taste of Elroy's meaty fists. At thirty-two, he was in excellent condition.
Now, though, Elroy found himself worried about the savages who roamed the plains, intent on driving out the decent, God-fearing folk who'd come to settle there.
They had no sense of fair play, those savages, no respect for even odds. Oh, the stories Elroy had heard were enough to give even him the quivers. And to think he had been warned he was settling damn close to what was designated Indian Territory-that huge area of barrenness between Kansas and Texas. His farm was, in fact, just thirty-five miles from the Kansas border. But it was good land, damn it, right between the Arkansas and Walnut rivers. What with the war over, Elroy had thought the army would keep the Indians confined to the lands allotted them.
Not so. The soldiers couldn't be everywhere. And the Indians had declared their own war on the settlers as soon as the Civil War broke out. The Civil War was over, but the Indians' war was just getting hot. They were more determined than ever not to give up the land they thought of as theirs.
Fear made Elroy listen carefully to Bill Chapman that night, despite his longing to retire upstairs with Big Sal.
Just two days ago, before he and Peter had come to Wichita, Elroy spotted a small band of Indians crossing the west corner of his land. It was the first group of hostiles he had ever seen, for there was no comparing this band of warriors with the tame Indians he'd seen on his travels West.
This particular group numbered eight, well armed and buckskinned, and they'd been moving south. Elroy was concerned enough to follow them, from a distance, of course, and he trailed them to their camp on the fork of the Arkansas and Ninnescah rivers. Ten tepees were erected along the east bank of the Arkansas, and at least another dozen savages, women and children included, had set up home there.
It was enough to turn Elroy's blood cold, knowing this band of either Kiowa or Comanche were camped only a few hours hard ride from his home. He warned his neighbors of the Indians camped so close by, knowing the news would throw them into a panic.
When he arrived in Wichita, Elroy told his tale around town. He'd scared some people, and now Bill Chapman was stirring up interest among the regulars in the saloon. Three men declared they'd ride with Chapman and the six cowhands he'd brought with him. One of the regulars said he knew of two drifters in town who might be inclined to kill a few Injuns, and he left the saloon to go in search of them, see if they were game.
With three enthusiastic volunteers in hand and the chance of two more, Bill Chapman turned his blue eyes on Elroy, who had been listening quietly all this time.
"And what about you, friend?" the tall, narrow-framed rancher demanded. "Are you with us?"
Elroy pushed Big Sal off his lap but kept hold of her arm as he approached Chapman. "Shouldn't you be letting the army chase after Indians?" he asked cautiously.
The rancher laughed derisively. "So the army can slap their hands and escort them back to Indian Territory? That don't see justice done. The only way to insure a thieving Indian don't steal from you again is to kill him so he can't. This bunch of Kiowas slaughtered more'n fifteen of my herd and made off with a dozen...