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MacCallister The Eagles Legacy Kill Crazy
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
The sound of a shot rolled down through the gulch, picked up resonance, then echoed back from the surrounding walls. Emile Taylor, who was holding a smoking pistol, turned to the others with a smile on his face. He had just broken a tossed whiskey bottle with his marksmanship.
"I'd like to see somebody else here who can do that," he snarled.
Emile was one of six men who had made a temporary camp in an arroyo that was about five miles west of the town of Chugwater.
"Emile, there ain't nobody said you wasn't good with a gun, so there is no need for you to be provin' yourself to us," Johnny said. Johnny was Emile's brother. "Anyhow, that don't really matter all that much."
"What do you mean, it don't matter?"
"Hopefully, we ain't goin' to be gettin' into no gunfights. The only thing we're goin' to do is ride into town, rob the bank, then hightail it out of there before anyone knows what hit them. And if we pull this off right, there won't be no shootin'."
"What if someone tries to shoot at us?" Emile asked.
"Then you can shoot. But I don't want no shootin' unless we absolutely have to."
Emile was about five feet four inches tall, with ash-blond hair and a hard face. Johnny was two inches taller, with darker hair. Johnny was missing the earlobe of his left ear, having had it bitten off in a fight the last time he was in prison. Although the two men were brothers, they didn't look anything alike until one happened to look into their eyes. Their eyes were exact duplicates: gray, flat, and soulless.
"After we do the job I think we ought to split up ... ever' man for hisself," Al Short said. "That way, if they put a posse together they won't know which one to follow."
"No, but they might choose to follow just one of us," Julius Jackson pointed out. "And whoever the one is they choose to follow is goin' to be in a heap of trouble."
"Besides which, if we do that, where at will we divide up the money amongst us?" Bart Evans asked.
"I don't know," Short said. "I didn't think about that."
Evans chuckled. "You didn't think about it? Hell, man, the money is what this all about. How can you not think about it?"
"What we ought to do is, once we leave town, just wait behind a rock and shoot 'em down," Clay Calhoun suggested.
"You mean you'd shoot them from ambush?" Emile asked. "That ain't a very sportin' thing to do."
"Hell yes. I ain't like you, Emile. I ain't tryin' to build myself no reputation. If someone is comin' after me, I don't need to kill the son of a bitch fair and square.... I just want to kill him."
"Clay has a point," Evans said. "The best way to handle a posse would be to set up an ambush. Besides which, most of 'em will be nothin' but store clerks and handy men anyway. Prob'ly ain't none of 'em ever used a gun more 'n once or twice in their life anyway, so even you faced 'em down there wouldn't be nothin' you could call sportin' about it."
"Well, then if we're goin' to do that—ambush 'em, I mean—maybe it would be better for us to all stick together," Jackson said.
"No," Short replied. "I still think it would be best if we split up. I think we'll have a better chance that way."
"All right," Calhoun said. "How about this? Instead of all of us separatin', what if we was to break into two groups? That way the posse will still have to make a choice as to who to follow. And if they decide to split and follow each group, it will cut their numbers in half, which means we would have a better chance."
"Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good idea," Short said.
"No need for any of that," Johnny said. "I've got an idea that will throw them off our trail, once and for all, so that we all get away clean. Only we're going to need different horses."
"What do you mean, we are going to need different horses?" Jackson asked. "We got horses already. We got good horses."
A big smile spread across Johnny's face. "Yeah," he said. "But these ain't the horses we're goin' to use when we hold up the bank. These horses ain't even goin' to get close to town."
"That don't make no sense to me a'tall," Evans said.
"Then let me explain it to you," Johnny said. "The way I got it planned out, we're goin' to steal us some horses from several different places. Then, just before we go into town to hold up the bank, we'll hobble our horses in some place out of the way, and when we go into town to rob the bank, we'll be ridin' the stolen horses."
"I don't understand," Jackson said. "Why would we take a chance on ridin' stoled horses when the ones we got is perfectly good? What if we have to leave town at a gallop? We won't know nothin' a'tall 'bout the mounts we'll be stealin'."
"All they have to do is get us into town and out again, and any healthy horse can do that," Johnny said. "Then when get to a place that we will have picked out, we'll dismount, take off our saddle and harness, then send the stolen horses on their way."
"Why would we do that?" Short asked. "I mean, if we go to all the trouble to steal 'em, why would we just turn 'em a' loose?"
"You said it yourself, Al. Like as not after we rob the bank, the marshal will be rounding up a posse," Johnny said.
"I reckon he will, but what does that have to do with stoled horses?"
"The posse will be trailin' us by followin' the tracks and such we leave when we ride away from the bank, right?"
"All right, now follow me while I try to explain. When we turn them horses loose, where do you think they will go?" Johnny asked.
"Well, I reckon they would—" Short started. Then he stopped in midsentence as a huge smile spread across his face. "Son of a bitch! They'll more 'n likely go back wherever it was we stole 'em from."
"Yes," Johnny agreed. "And if we steal each horse from a different place, then the horses will lead the posse all over hell's half-acre. And while the posse is followin' them, we'll be takin' off on our own horses."
"Yeah!" Short said. "Yeah, that's real smart. Did you come up with that all by yourself?"
"Ha!" Emile said, hitting his fist in his hand. "I may be the best shot in the family, but there can't nobody say Johnny ain't the smartest. And that's why he is in charge."
"You need to get on into town now, little brother," Johnny said. "Look around, see what you can see. But don't get into no trouble."
"I'll have a drink for all you boys," Emile said as he started toward his horse. "One for each one of you."
"Just don't get drunk and foolish," Johnny cautioned.
Duff MacCallister's ranch, Sky Meadow, was fifteen miles south and slightly east of where Johnny Taylor and the others were plotting to hold up the Chugwater bank. Duff MacCallister had left Scotland four years earlier, and shortly after arriving in the United States he'd moved to Wyoming. Here, by homesteading and purchasing adjacent land, he'd started his ranch. Since that time, he had been exceptionally successful, and Sky Meadow now spread across some thirty thousand acres of prime range land lying between the Little Bear and Big Bear creeks.
Little and Big Bear creeks were year-round sources of water, and that, plus the good natural grazing land, had allowed Duff to try an experiment. The experiment had been to introduce Black Angus cattle. He'd been well familiar with the breed, for he had worked with them in Scotland. His experiment had been successful, and he now had ten thousand head of Black Angus cattle, making his ranch one of the most profitable in all of Wyoming.
Duff's operation was large enough to employ fourteen men, principal of whom was Elmer Gleason, his ranch foreman. In addition to Elmer, who had been with Duff from the very beginning, there were three other cowboys who had been with him for a very long time. These three men, Al Woodward, Case Martin, and Brax Walker, not only worked for him, but also were extremely loyal and top hands, occupying positions of responsibility just under Elmer Gleason.
Though the relationship between Duff and the three men was solid now, it had not gotten off to a very good start. Their first encounter had been at a community dance that had been held in the ballroom of the Antlers Hotel. The hotel was on the corner of Bowie Avenue and First Street in the nearby town of Chugwater.
On that night, Duff had escorted Meagan Parker to the dance, but Woodward, Martin, and Walker had shown up without women. Given the general disproportionate number of single men to single women in the West, it was not all that unusual for young cowboys to come alone. But Woodward, Martin, and Walker spent the first half hour getting drunk on the heavily spiked punch.
"I got me an idea," Woodward said. "Martin, let's me 'n' you join one o' them squares."
"We can't. We ain't got no woman to dance with us."
"That don't matter none," Woodward explained. "Once we start the dancin' and the do-si-do'n and all that, why, we'll be swingin' around with all the other women in the square."
"Yeah," Martin said. "That's right, ain't it?"
"No, it ain't right," Walker said.
"What are you talkin' about? What do you mean it ain't right?" Woodward asked.
"Well, think about it. Whichever one of you takes the woman's part will be do-si-do'n with all the other men when you get to swingin' around."
"Yeah, I hadn't thought about that," Martin said.
"Hell, that ain't nothin' to be worryin' about," Woodward said. "Next dance, why, we'll just switch around. Martin, you'll be the woman on the first dance, then I'll set the next one out, and Walker, you can come in and let Martin be the man. Then on the third dance, why, I'll come back in and be the woman. That way, all three of us can do-si-do with the other women."
"All right," Martin said. "But let's pick us a dance with some good-lookin' women in it."
When the next sets of squares were formed, Woodward and Martin joined the same square as Duff MacCallister and Meagan Parker.
"Well, lookie here, Martin," Woodward said, pointing toward Duff. "Looks to me like you won't have to do-si-do with all men. You'll get one man that's wearin' a dress. That ought to count for somethin'."
The "man in a dress" remark was prompted by the fact that Duff MacCallister had arrived at the dance wearing a kilt. But it wasn't just any kilt; it was the green and blue plaid, complete with Victoria Cross, of a captain of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, better known as the Black Watch, the most storied regiment in the British Army.
"Man in a dress," Martin said derisively, laughing just as the music started.
As the couples broke apart to swing with the others, Martin made a round with the men, including Duff. But on the next round he rebelled. Pushing one of the men aside, he started swinging around with all the women until he got to Meagan. That was when Duff stepped out into the middle of the square and grabbed him by the arm.
"Get out of my way, girlie," Case Martin said to Duff. He reached for Meagan, but as he did so, Duff, using his thumb and forefinger, squeezed the spot where Martin's neck joined his shoulder. The squeeze was so painful that Martin sunk to his knees with his face screwed up in agony. The other squares, seeing what was happening in this one, interrupted their dancing. Then the caller stopped, as did the band—the music breaking off in discordant chords.
"If you gentlemen are going to dance in our square, you'll be for doing it correctly," Duff said, talking quietly to the man who was on his knees in pain.
"Missy, you done started somethin' you can't finish," Al Woodward said, throwing a punch at Duff.
As gracefully as if he were performing a dance move, Duff bent back at his waist and allowed Woodward's fist to fly harmlessly by his chin. Duff counterpunched with one blow to Woodward's jaw, and Woodward went down to join Martin, who was still on the floor.
Walker, who had been sitting this dance out, pulled his pistol and leveled it at Duff.
"No!" Meagan shouted.
Duff reacted before anyone else did. Pulling the sgian dubh, or ceremonial knife, from its position in his right kilt stocking, he threw it in a quick, underhanded snap, toward Walker. As he had intended, the knife rotated in air so that the butt, and not the blade, hit Walker right between the eyes, doing so with sufficient force to knock him down.
Marshal Ferrell and his deputies took charge then, escorting all three of the troublemakers out of the dance hall and down to the jail.CHAPTER 2
Within three months of that unpromising beginning, Woodward, Martin, and Walker had begun working at Sky Meadow. On this day, almost two years after the three had been hired, they were working the south range of the ranch. They weren't herding—they were just making certain that the cattle, which had a tendency to wander about as they were grazing, stayed within the confines of the ranch. As they were riding up a long, low hill, they heard a cow bawling.
"Listen to that," Woodward said.
"Listen to what? It ain't nothing but a bawlin' cow," Martin replied.
"That ain't no ordinary bawlin'. That's a-scared bawlin'," Woodward insisted.
The three cowboys urged their horses into a rapid lope up the rest of the rise and, when they crested the ridge, saw that a pack of wolves had brought down one of the animals.
"The sons of bitches! Look at that!" Martin said. He pulled his rifle from the sheath.
"No," Woodward said, holding his hand out to stop Martin. "You can't hit the wolves from here. We need to get closer."
Thinking the newly killed cow would keep the attention of the wolves, the three men rode down the hill as fast as they dared across the uneven ground, hoping to close the distance so they could come within range of the wolves.
Just before they got into range though, the wolves sensed their presence and darted off.
"The bastards are getting away!" Martin said, angrily. Pulling his rifle, he began shooting, though the range was too great and the bullets did nothing but kick up little dust clouds where they hit. The wolves escaped easily.
Dismounting, the three cowboys walked over to the steer. It was lying on the ground now, still alive, even though the wolves had already begun to eat him. Too weak to make any sound, the animal looked up at the three men with big, brown, pain-filled eyes.
"Damn," Woodward said. "Look at the poor bastard."
Pulling his pistol, he shot the animal in the head, putting it out of its misery.
"This is the third one we've found like this," Walker said.
"Yeah, well, now we know for sure what's causing it, 'cause we actual seen the wolves while they was doin' it," Martin said.
Woodward chuckled. "What did you think was doin' it, Case? Prairie dogs, maybe?"
"No, but I thought it maybe could have been a cougar or somethin'."
"Yeah, I guess it could have been. All right, come on, let's see if we can find them wolves before they get 'em another one."
The three cowboys hunted the wolves for the next two hours, but without success.
"What do we do now?" Martin asked.
"We need to tell Elmer," Woodward said.
"I ain't lookin' forward to tellin' him about a problem that we ain't took care of yet," Walker said.
"I know what you mean, but it's got to be done."
Back at the ranch, Elmer was supervising the half dozen or so men whose duties this day had not taken them out on the range. Cowboys—as Elmer explained patiently, almost patronizingly, anytime he hired a new hand—had to be jacks-of-all-trades.
"You got to be part carpenter so's you can keep the buildings up, and part wheelwright so as to keep the wagons repaired. You need to be some veterinarian too, so's you can take care of the animals, and even a little bit of a doctor to take care of wounds and such, seein' as we're so far from town that it ain't always that easy to get to a real doc."
At the moment, a couple of the cowboys, Ben and Dale, had one of the ranch wagons jacked up with the left rear wheel off. They were packing the hubs with grease, a job that was so dirty and unpleasant that it was passed around among the men so that one person didn't have to do it all the time. Elmer approached the two men, carrying two glasses of lemonade.
"I thought you boys might like this," he said, offering a glass to each of them."
"A cold beer would have been better," Ben said. "But this will certainly do. Thanks, Elmer."
The two men wiped as much grease from their hands as they could before they took the glasses.
Excerpted from MacCallister The Eagles Legacy Kill Crazy by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2014 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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