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The Man From Boot Hill: Reaper's Fee
Middle Cross, Oregon
Lester Peterson was a wanted man.
Although he'd gotten into his fair share of fights, Lester hadn't used his gun for anything more than doling out flesh wounds and killing a few horses. Then again, one of those horses was the cause for some of Lester's biggest headaches.
Back in eighty-one, Lester had needed to get out of Texas faster than his feet could carry him, and a horse was his only means of transportation into greener, northern pastures. Because of his lack of funds, Lester needed to be a little more creative when it came to getting his hands on a horse, so he stole one from a saloon outside of San Antonio. That horse had belonged to a wealthy rancher who, Lester figured, would easily see his way past the loss.
Lester was not only wrong about the rancher's forgiving nature, but he also underestimated the rancher's memory. A price was put on Lester's head, which only grew every month that he wasn't found. No matter how many other horses or how much money he would steal, Lester found himself running from that one mistake he'd made in Texas those years ago.
Some of the heat had died down since he'd made his way into Oregon. Even so, Lester figured that letting his guard down, even for a second, would be his undoing.
He was right.
A second ago, Lester had been strolling along the quiet street while savoring the cigar he'd just purchased after an overcooked steak. Before he knew what was happening to him, the cigar was being forced down his throat by a fist slamming into his face.
Lester staggeredback until his shoulders bumped against the side of a building. His senses reeled from the shock of getting punched in the mouth. Red haze crept into the edges of Lester's vision and he felt as if the ground were tilting under his boots.
When he tried to breathe, Lester choked on his cigar.
When he reached up to dig the cigar from his mouth, Lester's fingers found a mess of blood.
"Howdy," someone said from just out of Lester's sight.
Even though Lester couldn't see the other man, he didn't have to guess the man's intentions. The loosened teeth in his jaw told him all he needed to know in that regard.
"You shon of a bidge!" Lester grunted through his aching jaw and mouthful of blood.
The other man laughed as if he'd just heard an amusing little joke. A second later, his hand clamped around Lester's neck so he could hold the newly bloodied face directly in front of him.
Now, the other man was all Lester could see. He might have only been an inch or two taller than Lester's five feet, ten inches, but the man seemed to loom over him like a mountain coated in battered denim. His face was narrow and his features were like shallow etchings scraped into the surface of a rock wall. His cheeks were all but flat, making his eyes look like deep gouges dug out of that same wall of stone. There was something glinting deep within them, and it wasn't anything Lester wanted to think about.
Holding Lester out a few inches away from him, the man nodded and looked him over the way a fisherman examined whatever hung at the end of his line. "Don't bother giving me any bullshit names, either. I know it's you, Peterson."
Realizing his mouth was hanging open, Lester closed it and swallowed the salty mix of blood and spit that had pooled on his tongue. When he tried to scowl, it hurt. When he tried to speak, it hurt even more. "Who the fug are you?"
The other man grinned and replied, "I'm the fellow that's going to be hauling your ass back to Texas." He waited for a few seconds and then nodded again when he saw the look of panic spread across Lester's face. "That's right. You know exactly where you're going and why you're headed there."
"All this trouble for that goddamn horse?"
The man shrugged. "I guess he really cared for that horse."
"The vugging thing is dead, for Christ's sake!"
"Oh, now I wouldn't mention that when we get into Texas." He thought for a moment as he adjusted his grip so he had a hold of Lester's collar. "On second thought, maybe you should bring it up. It might just bump up the reward that's being offered for you."
Suddenly, Lester's eyes lit up. He was being hauled away from the wall, but there wasn't anything he could do about that. "I know something you might want to hear."
"You got a gun on you?" the man asked as he flipped open Lester's jacket. "Ah, there it is."
Lester reached for the pistol tucked under his belt, which caused the other man to respond.
In the blink of an eye, the man shoved Lester back with one hand, while drawing his own gun with the other. He stooped slightly with his pistol tucked in close to his body. His other arm was still outstretched to keep Lester at a distance.
Looking as if he didn't know what was going on, Lester shook his head and sputtered, "I was gonna give you my gun. Honest!"
"You'd better do that and be quick about it. I doubt that rancher would have much of a problem paying to see your corpse."
Lester's hand trembled as he moved it closer to the grip of his pistol. Extending his thumb and forefinger, he pinched the handle and wrangled it from under his belt. "See? Nice and easy."
The other man's eyes remained focused on Lester and the gun dangling from his fingers. The man's own hand snapped out to take the gun away from Lester so quickly that it took Lester a moment to realize that the gun was no longer in his possession. Now holding a gun in each hand, the other man let out the breath he'd been holding.The Man From Boot Hill: Reaper's Fee. Copyright © by Marcus Galloway. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.