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Hot Iron

Hot Iron

5.0 1
by Elmer Kelton

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In the early days of the Texas panhandle, starting a new life is hard--but keeping it is even harder.

Espy Norwood is a troubleshooter who's got troubles of his own--and more troubles find him when he lands a job on a ranch on the Texas plains. Bitter landowners plot against him, determined cattle thieves sneak right under his nose, and his own son refuses to


In the early days of the Texas panhandle, starting a new life is hard--but keeping it is even harder.

Espy Norwood is a troubleshooter who's got troubles of his own--and more troubles find him when he lands a job on a ranch on the Texas plains. Bitter landowners plot against him, determined cattle thieves sneak right under his nose, and his own son refuses to trust or even know him. Can he catch the thieves, save the ranch, and win his son's love?

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“One of the best of a new breed of Western writers who have driven the genre into new territory.” —The New York Times

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Tom Doherty Associates
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4.21(w) x 6.65(h) x 0.61(d)

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Hot Iron

By Elmer Kelton

Forge Books

Copyright © 1998 Elmer Kelton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812551198

Hot Iron
OneESPY NORWOOD found Matt Ollinger's herd just about the way he had figured he would. He put his horse down the gentle slope in an easy trot and rode in toward the railroad shipping pens. His bay horse shied off like a raw bronc and rolled its nose excitedly at the steaming locomotive which waited there, a tendril of coal smoke spiraling up from its high smokestack into the open Kansas sky. A long string of stock cars stretched out behind it on the cinder-stained spur track.Norwood edged his horse through the shadow of the tall water tower and circled around the sprawling railroad pens. Five years under the blazing sun had bleached the raw color from the rough-sawed lumber and left it a leaden gray.Spring grass inside the pens had made its full growth and now was curing under the summer sky, undisturbed by trampling hoofs. These out-of-the way penswere not used much, Norwood observed. That would be Ollinger's reason for bringing the cattle here.Beyond the corrals Norwood saw what he had expected, a dusty veil hovering brown over a bunched-up herd of rangy cattle. There was little bawling. Had there been, the easy drift of the earth-warm breeze would have carried it to him. No, this was a quiet bunch, a steer herd.Norwood stood in his stirrups, squinting his gray eyes to count the men who ringed the cattle. Dressed in saddle-worn, brush-ripped range clothes with the dust and grime rubbed deep into the fabric, he was a medium-tall man with back as straight as the barrel of a Winchester. His unshaven chin set rigid and grave. His uncompromising gray eyes right now were blunt as bullet ends. He looked his thirty-five years and more, a man on whom the years had burned a deep brand.With one quick glance behind him, he reached down and pulled the saddle gun out of its scabbard. He loaded it, placed it across the pommel in front of him, and gently touched spurs to the bay's grain-swelled sides. Out yonder, on the near side of the herd, he saw the man he wanted.Warily watching the riders who held the herd, Norwood nevertheless let his eyes search over the gathering of steers. They were stockman's eyes, appraising the cattle out of long habit and the knowledge accumulated through years on horseback. These were Texas stock, not what the settlers called "American cattle." They were long of leg and horn, and sprinkled with every color a beef animal could have. Likely they had come up the trail from Texas the year before and spent the winter on a northern range. They didn't carry the flesh that a full summer would give them. But they were fat enough to do.Norwood's gaze searched over the brands he saw on the rangy hips and stretchy sides. He pulled up shortat the sight of one. It was meant to be a cloverleaf. For the time it takes to draw a deep breath, Norwood's gray eyes narrowed with the promise of anger.Burnt cattle, he thought.Then he edged away again, eyes leveling on the man who rode out to meet him.Matt Ollinger reined up so that his horse and Norwood's were touching heads. Ollinger was a heavy-shouldered man with a bristly black beard sprinkled gray by dust, and with washed-out eyes that seemed to look through a man. His hostile gaze dropped to Norwood's saddle gun.Its muzzle pointed at his stomach.His expression never altered. He cupped huge hands over the high horn of his saddle."We're grown men, Norwood," he said evenly. "There's no reason for us to pretend anything to each other. I don't like you and you don't like me. I'm working cattle here. I'd be much obliged if you just kept a-riding."Espy Norwood leaned forward, his hand tight on the saddle gun. "I figure on doing a little cattle work myself. With these cattle."Ollinger's eyes were bottomless pools. His hands eased backward on the saddle horn. He bore a hard name, and he knew it better than anyone. The name Matt Ollinger brought a quiver of fear to many men. There were five notches on his gun, some said. Others declared it was more.Ollinger said, "There's no call for trouble between us, Norwood."Norwood gave him a brittle smile. "There needn't be any, Matt. But somebody stole a bunch of Colonel Judkins' steers up north. I'm checking this herd for them."Ollinger's hand edged back toward the six-shooter that rested in a greasy holster at his hip. It liftedquickly again as Norwood's knuckles whitened against his saddle gun."You'll find no Judkins cattle here," Ollinger gritted."Maybe not. But we're going to look."Color squeezed into Ollinger's face. "Nobody's cutting this herd. I got six men here, besides myself. You can't buck seven of us, Norwood. Not alone."Norwood said, "I'm not alone." He pointed his chin northward.Ollinger turned in the saddle, then stiffened. Down from a low ridge eight men came riding. Eight men, riding abreast. Even through the restless dust, it was easy to tell that they were well-armed.Yes, Matt Ollinger had a reputation. Man with nerves like rawhide, they said. Fearless. A killer.But Espy Norwood could smell the fear that rose in the man, that rippled just beneath the skin. And he knew the reputation for what it was--a hoax.Norwood said, "Four hundred and fifty head, maybe five hundred, the colonel lost off of his winter range in Wyoming. You took them, Matt. You didn't know it, but we've watched you. We let you winter them, let you drive them down here."You were afraid to risk loading them at Dodge, where somebody might take too close a look. So you picked this place."Ollinger shook his head. "You're wrong, Norwood. All wrong."Norwood's eight men had reached the herd. They scattered, one man reining up beside each of Ollinger's men. Espy could see the guns drop. The two extra riders jogged around to Norwood. One of them pointed his long jaw toward the cattle."That cloverleaf or whatever it is--looks to me like somebody took a running iron to the JB Connected that was on them Texas steers the colonel bought last fall."Norwood nodded. "That's the way I saw it. Rope one out, Tommy. We'll make sure."Tommy Jensen shook down his rope and settled the loop around the horns of a rangy, mottley-faced steer. The steer crow-hopped, slinging his head and fighting the rope as the cowboy dragged him away from the other cattle. The second man roped the steer's heels. They stretched him out.Kneeling on the steer's side, Jensen fingered the brand, peering closely at it. He looked up, frowning. "Hard to tell, Espy.""If the brand's been altered, it'll show under the hide. Shoot him."Ollinger exploded. "Them's my cattle, Norwood. Kill one and I'll have the marshal on you."Norwood said evenly, "If we're wrong, we'll pay you for him. If we're right ..."He let it hang there. Ollinger's jaw ridged under a dirt-crusted beard.Tommy Jensen aimed at the base of the steer's horns. The animal jerked and fell limp. Jensen skinned down a big flap of hide, exposing the back side of the brand. He swore gently, then cut off the piece of hide."You don't owe him a nickel, Espy."Norwood's eyes hardened. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small book. "How many steers in this herd, Matt?"Ollinger hesitated. "Seven hundred and thirty."Norwood handed him the book and a stub pencil, keeping one hand on the saddle gun all the time."Write out a bill of sale to the colonel. Seven hundred and thirty steers."Ollinger's eyes crackled. He hurled the book to the ground. "You can't get away with this. I know you, Espy Norwood. You're nothing but a sodden, whisky-soaked ..."The butt of Norwood's saddle gun struck him acrossthe mouth. The sound of it was like the breaking of a dry mesquite stick. Ollinger tumbled from the saddle, landing in a heap. Groggily he struggled to his knees, the blood trickling down his beard in a crooked, dirty line."Get up, Matt," Norwood breathed. Slowly Ollinger got to his feet, his face aflame. He flexed his gun hand, weighing his chances.But he saw something in Norwood's eyes, something that stopped him. He saw death pushing hard against a restraining will.And Ollinger's counterfeit metal crumbled before the keen steel of Norwood's stare. His shoulders slumped. He reached down and picked up the book where it had fallen. He took the pencil and began to scrawl.Norwood reached into his pocket and withdrew two gold pieces. "Make it for ten dollars and considerations," he said.In a minute Ollinger handed him the book. Norwood pitched the coins to the ground at his feet.Futile anger rippling in his face, Ollinger asked, "What about the considerations?"Norwood stared levelly at him. "The considerations are that we don't leave you hanging from that water tower yonder. We ought to. Now take your men and get away from here, Matt."Ollinger looked at the steers, his shoulders sagging in defeat. Six months he had spent working up to this day. Now he had lost everything in six minutes. Frustration and anger darkened his face. But outweighing them was the realization that he was whipped. "All right, Norwood," he spoke quietly, rubbing his mouth where blood still trickled, and a deep blue splotch was growing. "But there'll be another time.""There'd better not be," Norwood told him. "Next time, I'll kill you."Copyright © 1956 by Elmer Kelton


Excerpted from Hot Iron by Elmer Kelton Copyright © 1998 by Elmer Kelton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men's Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. Hot Iron was his first novel and was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years, and served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.

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