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They moved the first herd into the cattle pens the following day. Ray Ledbetter and Cheyenne Morgan, Harvey's top hand, worked together on the count.
Chester and Harvey Owens sat their saddles and watched the endless line of longhorns being driven into the pens. As they entered the gate they were counted and loaded directly into the waiting cattle cars.
"It's quite a sight, ain't it?" Harvey said.
"Like nothing I ever thought I'd see," Chester agreed.
By nightfall, three trainloads pulled out and were already on their way to the Armour packinghouses in Chicago.
The following day Chester and Harvey Owens sat in the office of A. C. Simmons, president of the bank. I believe you gentlemen have agreed on a count of four thousand, six hundred and forty-five head for the first two herds. At forty-two dollars a head, that comes to A hundred ninety five thousand, ninety dollars. Here are the certified checks for that amount, made out as you instructed."
Chester glanced down at the checks in his hand. He blinked, and then blinked again. His mind whirled. It was more money than he had ever seen in his life. He swallowed the lump in his throat.
"If it goes as you gentlemen have outlined to me, there will be more of those checks twice a month for most of the year," Simmons said. "Will you be picking up the checks?"
"Most of them, I reckon," Chester told him. "I may ask my man in charge of the herd to pick them up from time to time."
"Very well. It's a pleasure doing business with you," the bank president said, standing to his feet and extending his hand.
Chester tucked the check into his pocket and shook the banker's hand. After leaving HarveyOwens, he walked across the street to the marshal's office, opened the door and stepped inside.
Henry West looked up from some papers on his desk and climbed to his feet.
"I 'spect you'd be Chester Colson, Buck's partner. Heard you were in town. Pleasure to meet you," the lawman said, extending a big, gnarled hand.
Chester took the hand and shook it. "And you'd be Henry West. Buck told me all about you."
"Well, hope he didn't tell you everything. That partner of yours is a big fellow in more ways than one."
"You got him pegged right. Known him a long time. Just wanted to stop in and say howdy. I've got my business done, leastwise for now. Fixing to ride back down the trail and check on the other herds. I'll be back from time to time."
"Has your partner heard anything more about his brother?"
"No, he's got the Pinkerton people looking for the boy. Maybe they'll come up with something before long."
"Shore hope so. Took a liking to that young fellow."
"Harvey Owens tells me Buck had trouble with a fellow named Bonner. Know anything about him?"
"I know he's a shady character. It's rumored he's involved in rustling trail herds, but so far, he ain't broke no laws, leastwise, any that I can pin on him."
"Where could I find him?"
"He's got an office over the Golden Nugget Saloon. Hope you ain't planning on starting trouble."
"No, just thought we ought to come to an understanding about our cattle."
"I'll do that, Marshal. I'm obliged."
Chester returned to the hotel and found Ray. His top hand had his bedroll packed and ready to ride. Chester handed him the check the banker had given him.
"You and your crew about ready to head back toward home?"
"We're ready. Where you headed?"
"I've got one more stop to make before I head back down the trail. You and the boys ride on ahead, I'll be along."
Chester left the hotel and walked up the street to the Golden Nugget saloon. He pushed through the batwing doors and swept a look around the large room.
A half-dozen cow nurses lounged against the long bar. A poker game was in progress with five local businessmen. But Chester's gaze fixed on two men sitting at a table near the back wall.
One was a heavy-set fellow who wore a black three-piece business suit. He had black, slicked-down hair and a matching mustache. He fit the description Harvey Owens had given him of Nate Bonner.
The other man at the table was Frank Vines, no doubt about it. He had gunfighter written all over him.
Chester walked to the bar, ordered a beer, and then strode directly to the table where Bonner and Vines were sitting. Without a word he pulled out a chair and sat down. The gunfighter flicked a questioning look at Bonner, who creased his forehead with a frown.
"Your name Bonner?" Chester asked, his hard stare boring a hole in the big fellow's face.
"Yeah, I'm Nate Bonner. Who are you?"
"My name don't matter. What I've got to say does. Me and my partner own the Longhorn Ranch down Texas way. We'll be trailing a bunch of longhorns up the trail over the next few months. My job is to make sure every single one of them critters gets here safe and sound."
"What's that got to do with me?" Bonner asked, cutting another glance at the gunman sitting to his left.
Chester slanted a look at the gunman across the table.
"Talk around town is that herds have a way of disappearing along the trail lately. I aim to see that don't happen to one of our herds."
For the first time, the gunman spoke. His voice was raspy and came out in a loud whisper.
"That sounds like a threat."
Underneath the table, Chester slipped his Colt from its holster and pointed it at the gunfighter's stomach.
"Take it any way that suits you. But if either one of you mess with my cattle, I'll kill both of you. Are we clear on that?"
Chester saw anger flare in the gunfighter's eyes. The man's face flushed crimson. In one quick motion the gunman jumped to his feet and kicked his chair backwards. His right hand dipped to the Colt in the cut-away holster at his side.
When the man's gun cleared leather, Chester thumbed back the hammer of his own Colt and feathered the trigger. The bullet entered the man's stomach just above his belt buckle even as the gunfighter's slug punched a hole in the floor at his feet.
Frank Vines staggered backwards like a drunk. A groan whispered from his mouth. He tried to raise his gun, but he was dying on his feet. The weapon curled from his hand. He grabbed his stomach with both hands and looked down. Blood oozed between his fingers and colored the front of his shirt. He raised his eyes and stared with a disbelieving look on his face. His eyes fixed with a blank, lifeless stare. His knees buckled and gave way. He fell to the floor.
Chester swung a look at Bonner. The big man sat with a stunned look on his face. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. The cigar hung slack in his open mouth. He had a frantic look in his eyes.
Chester stood to his feet. His hand still held the smoking Colt. He swept the room with a quick glance. No one seemed inclined to side the fallen gunfighter.
With his free hand, Chester gathered a handful of shirt and pulled Bonner to his feet, the man's face an inch from his own.
"You got a choice," Chester spat the words at the fat man. "Get out of town before I finish my beer or I'll kill you, no two ways about it."
Holstering his Colt, Chester opened Bonner's coat and removed a gun from a shoulder holster. He stuck the weapon underneath his own belt and pinned the fat man with a look.
"You ain't got much time, I drink fast."
He shoved the man backwards. Bonner headed for the front door in a staggering run. Chester calmly sat down at the table and sipped his beer.
Posted August 5, 2010
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