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BLOOD BOND Moonshine Massacre
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2010 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe sound of gunfire somewhere ahead of them made the two young men rein their horses to a halt.
"We could always go another way," Sam August Webster Two Wolves suggested.
"We could," Matt Bodine agreed with a solemn nod. "But what do you think the chances of that are?"
"Well ... slim and none, I'd say."
A grin suddenly broke across Matt's ruggedly handsome face. "More like none."
With an excited whoop, he dug his heels into the flanks of his horse and sent the animal leaping forward at a gallop. Sam was right behind him.
They were somewhere in western Kansas. At least, they believed they had crossed the Colorado border, but it was hard to be sure out here on these rolling plains. The terrain was mostly flat, with a few low hills and ridges scattered here and there. The gunshots that boomed flatly through the warm air came from the other side of one of those ridges.
Matt and Sam rode with the grace and skill of men who had learned to ride before they learned to walk. Both had been born and raised in Montana-Matt the son of a successful rancher, Samthe son of a Cheyenne warrior and the beautiful white teacher that Medicine Horse had met when he was sent back East to school. They hadbeen best friends and blood brothers since childhood, having gone through the ritual that made them onihomihan, or brothers of the wolf. Those who knew their reputation knew them to be brothers of the gun as well ...
Because, to put it plain and simple, Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves were fightin' fools, the sort of fiddle-footed hellions who were always ready for a scrap. Sam liked to pretend that he was more restrained than Matt and more likely to try to avoid trouble, but nobody could tell that now from the eager expression on his face as his horse pounded alongside Matt's, heading for the sound of guns.
They were about the same size, both tall and ruggedly muscular, both deeply tanned from a life spent outdoors, although Sam's skin held the reddish tint of his Cheyenne blood. His long hair was as black as a raven's wing, while Matt's was closer cropped and dark brown in color. Sam's concho-studded black hat was pushed back so that it dangled behind his neck by its chin strap. Matt reached up to pull his battered old brown Stetson down tighter on his head so that the wind wouldn't blow it off.
Both men wore jeans. Sam sported a fringed buckskin shirt with a few discreet beaded decorations on it. Matt's bib-front shirt was a faded blue. He carried two Colts and wore crossed cartridge belts supporting the weapons' holsters. Unlike some men who carried two irons, Matt was blindingly swift and deadly accurate with either hand. His speed put him in the same league as Smoke Jensen, Frank Morgan, and John Wesley Hardin. Sam wore only one gun and handled it well, too, although he was a shade slower on the draw than Matt. He was an expert, though, with the razor-sharp bowie knife sheathed on his other hip. Each of them had a Winchester in a saddle boot, and they could make those long guns sing and dance if they needed to.
In other words, they were armed for bear and ready for any other varmints that came their way as well, including the two-legged variety.
They charged up the ridge that separated them from the powder smoke ruckus that was going on, slowing their horses as they neared the crest so they could see what was happening before they found themselves in the middle of it. They could be a mite reckless at times, but they weren't foolish.
As they drew their mounts to a halt at the top of the ridge, they looked down on the prairie spread out before them and saw a sod cabin next to a narrow, twisting creek. Gun smoke puffed from the cabin's windows as more shots rang out. The defenders inside the cabin were aiming at a dozen men who had scattered around the place, taking advantage of whatever scant cover they could find as they returned the fire.
"What do you think?" Matt asked.
"We don't know which side is in the right here," Sam pointed out. "For all we know, neither side is."
"Yeah, but my sympathies lie with the folks inside the cabin."
Matt frowned. "Hell, I don't know. Because they're defending their home?"
"Yes, but they could be outlaws."
One of the men outside the cabin jumped up from behind the little knoll where he had been lying and dashed over to a parked, empty wagon. Bullets from the cabin kicked up dust around his feet as he ran, but he made it safely. That brought him a little closer to the cabin and gave him a better angle to aim at one of the windows. The man lifted a rifle to his shoulder and blasted several shots through the window as fast as he could work the weapon's lever.
"Looked like that hombre has a badge pinned to his vest," Sam went on. "I saw the sunlight reflect off it when he ran behind that wagon."
"You're saying those fellas are lawmen?"
Sam shrugged. "I'm not sure, but that's the way it looked to me."
Matt frowned. They had clashed with crooked badge-toters in the past, but for the most part, he and Sam tried to stay on the right side of the law. They didn't like being locked up, which had happened a few times.
"Well, hell!" he said in exasperation. "What do we do now?"
Sam shook his head slowly. "I think we're just going to have to wait and see what happens here."
"That's a hell of a note. I don't like sittin' on my rear while there's lead flyin' around, Sam."
"I know. But we can't just get mixed up in every single ruckus that comes our way."
"Want to bet?"
Sam considered, and then shook his head again. "No, not particularly."
The two of them sat their saddles and watched the battle for a few minutes. The lawmen, if such they really were, continued working their way closer. They were going to have a hard time rooting out the hombres inside the cabin, though. Those sod walls were thick enough to stop anything short of a cannonball. All the attackers could do was aim for the windows and hope that the slugs would bounce around enough inside to find some targets.
Then one of the men made a dash that carried him all the way up to the cabin itself. He threw himself prone next to the wall and lay there where the defenders couldn't get a shot at him.
Matt suddenly leaned forward in the saddle and asked, "What's that he's got there?"
"I'm not sure," Sam said with a frown. "He's lighting a match, though ... Good Lord! I think it's a bomb!"
Sparks flew from the fuse attached to the round black object as the man held the match flame to it. He came up on his knees, leaned out, and tossed the bomb through a window into the cabin.
Several years earlier, Pinkerton detectives had thrown a similar bomb into a cabin in Missouri where they believed Frank and Jesse James were hiding out. Actually, the outlaw brothers weren't there at the time, but other members of their family were. The blast had killed their younger stepbrother and blown off one of their mother's arms. Most folks in the West knew about bombs because of what had happened that day.
The men inside this cabin certainly knew a bomb when they saw one. Even up on the hill, Matt and Sam heard their shouts and screams of terror. As the man who had thrown the explosive surged to his feet and dashed away, the cabin door flew open and the men inside started falling all over themselves trying to get out. The attackers held their fire as the men scrambled through the door.
Matt and Sam stiffened in their saddles as a sheet of fire suddenly filled the doorway and the cabin blew apart in a thunderous explosion that sent echoes rolling over the plains. The force of the blast knocked the fleeing men flat on their faces.
"Son of a bitch!" Matt exclaimed. "I hope everybody got out."
A thick column of black smoke rose into the blue Kansas sky from the place where the cabin had stood. The structure was completely destroyed. The sod blocks that formed the walls had disintegrated in the explosion.
"If anyone didn't make it out," Sam said, "there won't be enough left of them to bury."
The men who had surrounded the cabin moved in now, guns drawn, and swiftly disarmed and took into custody the erstwhile defenders, kicking guns away, jerking arms behind backs, and slapping on handcuffs.
"They're star packers, all right," Matt told Sam. "I can see the sun shining on their badges now, too." He lifted his reins. "Why don't we ride down there and see what it's all about?"
"It's none of our business, you know."
"I know, but I'm curious."
"There's an old saying about curiosity and a cat."
Matt grinned. "Yeah, but it ain't killed us yet, has it?"
"I suppose not." Sam hitched his horse into motion and started down the slope alongside his blood brother.
Some of the men saw them coming and must have warned the others. Now that the prisoners had been secured and still lay facedown with their hands cuffed behind their backs, their captors straightened and gathered to form a well-armed line that turned toward Matt and Sam.
"I'm glad we're just looking for information and not trouble," Matt said. "Those fellas look a mite proddy."
"They sure do," Sam agreed. "It's too late for us to turn back now, though. They've already seen us coming."
Matt and Sam rode to within about twenty feet of the line of men and then reined in. Most of the men were dressed in range clothes, but two of them wore sober dark suits and black derbies.
Matt nodded to the men and said, "Howdy."
One of the black-suited hombres said in a sharp voice, "What do you want here?" He jerked his head toward the prisoners. "Are you friends or relatives of these men?"
"Never saw them before in our lives, mister," Sam drawled. "We were just wondering what's going on here."
"Yeah, I reckon they heard that explosion all the way back in Abilene," Matt added.
The spokesman snorted contemptuously. He had an angular face with a nose like a hatchet over a thick black mustache.
"Then this is none of your business, and I suggest you move on," he said.
"No need to take that tone," Matt said. "We were just-"
"I don't care," the man snapped. "I'll take any tone I like. And if you don't ride on now, I'll tell my men to blow you out of your saddles!"
The rifles in the hands of the other men rose, and suddenly all hell was just one little spark away from breaking loose.
Chapter TwoThe other man in black suit and derby stepped forward and said, "There's no need for more violence, Ambrose. I don't think these young fellas have anything to do with why we're here."
"That's the truth, mister," Sam said. "We're just passing through these parts."
Both blood brothers knew they were outgunned. They were fast enough and good enough with their irons that they would get lead in several of the men if it came down to a fight, but at the same time, the rest of the lawmen would fill them full of holes. It was a losing bet.
But despite knowing that, both of them were itching to slap leather. They didn't cotton to having guns pointed at them. Not one little bit.
The less belligerent of the two black-suited gents continued. "Why don't we just put our guns down and let these boys go on their way?" He was shorter and stockier than his companion, with a broad, sunburned face and sandy hair under the derby.
"All right," the man called Ambrose said after a moment. "You heard the man. Git!"
"You know," Matt said, "I still don't like your tone-"
"Come on, Matt," Sam interrupted. He started to turn his horse. "We're leaving."
Showing obvious reluctance, Matt came with him. They rode slowly away from the destroyed cabin. Matt was seething with anger.
"That fella needs a lesson in manners."
"I agree," Sam said, "but not at the cost of both of us getting shot."
Matt sighed. "I reckon you're right about that."
They had ridden about fifty yards when they heard hoofbeats behind them. Hipping around in their saddles, they saw the shorter of the two dudes riding after them.
"Now what?" Matt muttered. "Has he decided he wants trouble after all?"
"More than likely he just wants to talk to us," Sam said.
They slowed their horses and let the man catch up to them. As he rode up beside them, he nodded pleasantly and said, "I thought you fellas deserved an explanation."
"Your pard Ambrose ain't gonna like that," Matt said.
The man waved a hand to dismiss that idea. "Ambrose is just a little hotheaded sometimes. He was all caught up in the heat of battle, I guess you could say. He's calmed down now. He understands that if folks know what's going on, that'll make our job out here easier."
"What is your job?" Samasked. "Are you Pinkertons?"
"No, sir. Special marshals appointed by Governor St. John to enforce the new liquor act. I'm Marshal Calvin Bickford, and my partner is Marshal Ambrose Porter."
"Wait a minute," Matt said. "What new liquor act?"
"Why, the one banning its possession or sale in the state of Kansas, of course."
Matt's eyebrows rose. "The whole state?"
Bickford nodded. "That's right."
"But ... but you can't just get rid of booze in the whole state!"
"It's done," Bickford insisted. "Governor St. John signed the law into effect and swore in a force of special marshals to see that it's carried out. We're empowered to deputize men to help us."
Sam jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "That's why you were after those men in that cabin?"
"That's right. They've been brewing and selling illegal whiskey. We called on them to surrender, in which case we would have simply taken them into custody and destroyed their still, but they refused and opened fire on us."
"So you tossed a bomb at them," Matt said.
"And blew up their still," Sam said. "That's what caused the explosion to be so big. They must have had some of their whiskey stored in there."
Bickford nodded. "Quite a bit, in fact, judging by what happened. It's fortunate for them that they all got out in time."
"What if they hadn't?" Matt asked.
Bickford's beefy shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. "Then the state would have been spared the expense of trying them on charges of violating the liquor act and attempted murder of sworn peace officers. Those fellas will be behind bars for quite a spell, I'm afraid."
"Well, no offense, but tryin' to blow up somebody just because he's been brewin' a little Who-hit-John seems to me like a damned sorry way to make a livin'," Matt said.
"It's the law, son," Bickford replied. "And you don't really care whether you offend me or not, do you?"
"Come to think of it ... no, I sure don't."
Bickford smiled. "That's all right. Any lawman learns pretty quickly that he's got to have a thick hide to do the job, at least if he intends to do it right."
"Is there a town around here?" Sam asked.
"Sure is. Nice place called Cottonwood, about ten miles east."
"Do they have any saloons there?" Matt asked.
"Not anymore. Town's dry as a bone, just like the rest of Kansas."
Matt growled in disgust. "I don't believe it. How's a fella supposed to cut the dust from his mouth when he's been on the trail all day if he can't even get a damned beer?"
"Buttermilk's good for that," Bickford said.
Matt made a face. "Never did care for that clabber."
"You could probably get a phosphate at the drugstore."
"Ah, just forget it!" Matt lifted the reins and urged his horse ahead of the other two riders.
Bickford smiled over at Sam. "Your friend's a mite hotheaded, isn't he? Can't say as I really blame him. I used to enjoy a drink every now and then, too. But the law's the law, and I'm sworn to uphold it. I hope you boys understand and won't give me any reason to look you up again in my official capacity."
"We're not moonshiners, Marshal, and if we get thirsty enough, I suppose we can head for Nebraska or Texas, or turn around and go back to Colorado. I assume they still have plenty of whiskey in those places."
"I reckon they do."
"I have to say, though," Sam went on, "I don't envy you your job. I have a hunch you'll be a very unpopular man wherever you go."
"Like I said, a lawman's got to have a thick hide. So long, Mr.... What is your name anyway?"
"Sam Two Wolves." Sam nodded toward his blood brother, who was riding about twenty yards ahead of them now. "That's Matt Bodine."
"Bodine." Bickford repeated the name like it meant something to him. "I've heard of him. You, too. I used to be a Dickinson County deputy sheriff, over Abilene way. You fellas have quite a reputation among lawmen."
Excerpted from BLOOD BOND Moonshine Massacre by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2010 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission.
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