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Thunder of Eagles
By William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone PINNACLE BOOKS
Copyright © 2008
William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter One Jefferson Tyree lay on top of a flat rock, looking back along the trail over which they had just come. He saw the single rider unerringly following them.
"Is he still there?" Luke Bacca asked.
"Yeah, he's still there," Tyree answered. Tyree was a short man, lean as rawhide, with a thin face and a hawklike nose.
Jefferson Tyree and Luke and John Bacca were on the run. Just over a week earlier, they had raided a ranch just outside MacCallister, Colorado. Waiting outside the house until sunup, they surprised the Poindexters at breakfast, killing Sam Poindexter and his sixteen-year-old-son, Mort. They also raped, then killed Poindexter's wife, Edna.
They took particular pleasure in raping Poindexter's fifteen-year-old daughter, Cindy, leaving her alive, though not through any act of compassion. They stabbed her, then rode off, leaving her lying in a pool of her own blood, thinking that she was dead.
Before they left the Poindexter ranch, they stole fifty head of prime beef and moved them up to the railhead at Platte Summit, where the cattle were sold at thirty dollars a head for shipment back East.
"Who'd you say that fella was that's trailin' us?" Luke asked.
"His name is MacCallister. Falcon MacCallister," Tyree said.
"Damn!" John Bacca said, his face showing his fright. "Are you sure it's Falcon MacCallister?"
Tyree got up from the rock, knocked the dust off his pants leg, then worked up a spit before he answered. "Yeah," he said. "I'm sure."
"Son of a bitch! Why did he get involved?"
"Who is Falcon MacCallister?" Luke asked.
"You mean you ain't never heard of him?" John asked.
"Well, that's 'cause you been in prison for the last ten years. But he's-"
"Nobody," Tyree interrupted. "He ain't nobody."
"The hell he ain't nobody. They write books about him, is all," John Bacca replied. "I don't think they'd be writin' books about nobody."
"They ain't real books," Tyree said. "They're dime novels. Hell, they make near 'bout all that stuff up."
"You ain't never had one wrote about you, have you?" John challenged.
"What are you, some kind of idiot?" Tyree challenged. "Why the hell would I want books wrote about me? I ain't exactly in the kind of business where it's good to have ever'body know who you are."
Luke pointed back down the trail. "This here MacCallister may be nobody, but I'll say this for the son of a bitch. Once he gets his teeth into you, he don't give up. We've tried ever' trick in the book to shake him off our tail and he's still there."
Jefferson Tyree knew who Falcon MacCallister was, but what he did not realize was that the Poindexters had lived very close to Falcon MacCallister's ranch, which meant that Falcon had considered them friends as well as neighbors. And though Falcon was not a lawman, nor a bounty hunter, he'd taken a personal interest in this case. Having himself deputized, he'd made it his personal mission to track down the perpetrators.
"So, what are we goin' to do about that son of a bitch? We can't shake him off," John Bacca growled.
"We're goin' to kill 'im," Tyree said.
"All right. How are we goin' to do that?"
Tyree looked around. "We're goin' to ambush him," he said. He pointed to a draw that cut through the mountain range. "Let's go up through this draw. It's got two or three good places in there where we can hide. All we got to do is let him follow us in there, then ambush him."
"What if he don't come in?" John asked.
"He's after us, ain't he? He has to come in, or figure we went on out the other side."
"Tyree's right," Luke said. "Seems to me like the thing to do is just kill this MacCallister fella and get it over with."
"He ain't goin' to be that easy to kill," John protested.
"You think if we shoot him, the bullets will just bounce off of him?" Tyree asked.
"Well, no, but-"
"No, but nothin'," Tyree said, interrupting John. "Come on, I know a perfect spot."
The man called Falcon MacCallister stopped at the mouth of the canyon to take a drink from his canteen as he studied the terrain. Falcon had a weathered face and hair the color of dried oak. But it was his eyes that people noticed. Deeply lined from hard years, they opened onto a soul that was stoked by experiences that would fill the lifetimes of three men.
Falcon MacCallister had been here before, and he knew this would be a perfect spot to set up an ambush. The question was, had the outlaws done that, or had they gone on through?
Pulling his long gun out of the saddle holster, Falcon started walking into the canyon, leading his horse. The horse's hooves fell sharply on the stone floor and echoed loudly back from the canyon walls. The canyon made a forty-five-degree turn to the left just in front of him, so he stopped. Right before he got to the turn, he slapped his horse on the rump and sent it on through.
The canyon exploded with the sound of gunfire as the outlaws opened up on what they thought would be their pursuer. Instead, their bullets whizzed harmlessly over the empty saddle of the riderless horse, raised sparks as they hit the rocky ground, then sped off into empty space, echoing and reechoing in a cacophony of whines and shrieks.
Falcon chuckled. "I guess that answers my question," he said aloud.
From his position just around the corner from the turn, Falcon located two of his ambushers. They were about a third of the way up the north wall of the canyon, squeezed in between the wall itself and a rock outcropping that provided them with a natural cover. Or, so they thought.
The firing stopped and, after a few seconds of dying echoes, the canyon grew silent.
"Tyree, do you see him? Where the hell is he?" one of the ambushers yelled, and Falcon could hear the last two words repeated in echo down through the canyon. "... is he, is he, is he?"
Falcon studied the rock face of the wall just behind the spot where he had located two of them; then he began firing. His rifle boomed loudly, the thunder of the detonating cartridges picking up resonance through the canyon and doubling and redoubling in intensity. Falcon wasn't even trying to aim at the two men, but was instead taking advantage of the position in which they had placed themselves. He fired several rounds, knowing that the bullets were splattering against the rock wall behind the two men, fragmenting into whizzing, flying missiles. It had the effect that he wanted, because the two men who had thought they had the perfect cover were exposed. Yelling and cursing, they began firing back at Falcon.
It took but two more shots from Falcon to silence both of them.
For a long moment, the canyon was in silence.
"Luke, John?" Tyree called.
"They're dead, Tyree," Falcon replied. "Both of them."
Tyree's voice had come from the other side of the narrow draw, halfway up on the opposite wall.
"How do you know they're dead?"
"Because I killed them," Falcon said. "Just like I aim to kill you."
"The hell you say," Tyree replied.
Falcon changed positions, then searched the opposite canyon wall. There was silence for a long time. Then, as Falcon knew he would, Tyree popped up to have a look around.
"Tyree," Falcon shouted. And the echo repeated the names. "Tyree, Tyree, Tyree."
"What do you want? ... want, want, want?"
"I want you to throw your gun down and give yourself up," Falcon said.
"Why should I do that?"
For his answer, Falcon raised his rifle and shot at the wall just behind Tyree, creating the same effect he had with Luke and John. The only difference was that he'd shot only one round, but he'd placed it accurately enough to give a demonstration of what he could do.
"Son of a bitch!" Tyree shouted.
"I can take you out of there if I need to," Falcon said.
"How the hell did you know who we are?" Tyree asked.
"Hell, the whole country knows who you are!" Falcon replied. "You don't have anywhere to go." Falcon was bluffing. All the time he had been trailing them, he had not known who they were. The names Tyree, John, and Luke, he had gotten from the men yelling at each other across the canyon.
"Come on down, Tyree," Falcon said. "I don't want to have to kill you."
"You go to hell," Tyree shouted back down. "... hell, hell, hell!" said the echo.
Falcon waited a few minutes, then he fired a second time. The boom sounded like a cannon blast, and he heard the scream of the bullet, followed once more by a curse.
"By now you've probably figured out that I can make it pretty hot for you up there," Falcon said. "If I shoot again, I'm going to put them where they can do the most damage. You've got five seconds to give yourselves up or die."
Falcon raised his rifle.
"No, wait! ... wait, wait, wait!" the terrified word echoed through the canyon. "I'm comin' down! ... down, down, down!"
"Throw your weapons down first."
Falcon saw a hand appear; then a pistol and rifle started tumbling down the side of the canyon, rattling and clattering until they reached the canyon floor.
"Put your hands up, then step out where I can see you," Falcon ordered.
Moving hesitantly, Tyree edged out from behind the rocky slab where he had taken cover. He was holding his hands over his head.
"Come on down here," Falcon said.
Stepping gingerly, Tyree came down the wall until, a moment later, he was standing in front of Falcon. Falcon handcuffed him.
"Where are you takin' me?" Tyree asked.
"I'm going to take you back to MacCallister to stand trial," Falcon explained.
Two weeks later
The trial of Jefferson Tyree started at nine in the morning, and by lunchtime was over but for the closing arguments. Court recessed for lunch, but by one o'clock everyone was back in place, awaiting the closing arguments.
There was a constant buzz among the spectators in the gallery, but it stilled when the bailiff came into the room.
"Oyez, oyez, oyez, this court in and for the county of Eagle is now in session, the Honorable Thomas Kuntz presiding," the bailiff called.
Wearing a black robe, Judge Thomas Kuntz entered the courtroom from a door in front, stood behind the bench for a moment, then sat down.
"Be seated," he said.
Kuntz picked up a gavel and banged it once. "This court is now in session. Mr. Bailiff, if you would, please, bring the jury into the courtroom."
The bailiff left the room for a moment, then returned, leading the twelve men who were serving on the jury. They were a disparate group consisting of cowboys, farmers, store clerks, draymen, and businessmen. Quietly, they took their seats.
"Counsel for defense may now present closing arguments," Kuntz said.
Tony Norton, the court-appointed attorney for Tyree, stood and looked at the jury for a moment before he approached the jury box.
"Gentlemen of the jury," he said. "Mine is a very difficult task. I am duty bound to provide Mr. Tyree with the best defense I possibly can." He looked back at Tyree. "It is difficult because Tyree is not a man whose character I can defend. Therefore, I will make no attempt to defend him by his character, but I can, and I will, defend him by the law.
"In order to find Jefferson Tyree guilty of the heinous crime of murdering the Poindexter family, you must be convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he did it." Norton looked over at Tyree.
"And while every instinct in your gut may tell you he is guilty, this is the United States of America. And in America we do not find guilt by gut instinct. We find guilt by evidence, and by eyewitness accounts.
"Gentlemen, the only evidence we have that connects Tyree with the Poindexter ranch is the fact that he sold fifty head of Poindexter's cattle. He could have stolen those cattle from some remote corner of the Poindexter ranch without ever setting foot in the house, or even seeing any member of the family. Because the truth is, we have no physical evidence to put him in the Poindexter family home on that fateful day, and we have no witnesses who have testified that they saw him there.
"The prosecution," he said, looking toward the prosecutor's table, "has told us that young Cindy Poindexter lived long enough to give a description of the three men who attacked her family. One of the men she described as being short."
Norton looked over at Tyree. "Mr. Tyree is short. But so are you, Mr. Blanton. And you, Mr. Dempster." He was specifically referring to two of the men who were seated in the jury box. "And so are you, sir," he said to a man in the gallery, "and, if you will excuse me, so is His Honor, the judge.
"She also said that he had a big nose." Norton pointed toward the prosecutor. "So does Mr. Crader. For that matter, so do I." Norton rubbed his own nose.
"Tragically, young Cindy Poindexter died of her wounds, so she is not here to be able to provide direct, eyewitness testimony. And without any physical evidence, and without eyewitness testimony, you cannot, by law, find my client, Mr. Tyree, guilty of murder."
The prosecutor stood up then and stared for a long, pointed moment at Tyree. He stared for so long that the judge cleared his throat.
"Mr. Crader, are you going to honor us with your closing? Or must we somehow discern what you plan to say?" Judge Kuntz asked.
"Sorry, Your Honor," Crader replied. He stepped over to the jury box, standing exactly where Norton had been standing but a few moments before.
"Tragically, young Cindy Poindexter died of her wounds," Crader began. "These are the exact words that Mr. Norton used in his defense of this murderer. Tragically, she died, so she is not here to provide direct, eyewitness testimony.
"Gentlemen, Cindy may not be here in person, but she is here in spirit. With her dying breath, she gave the sheriff a description of the short, big-nosed man who seemed to be the leader. Tyree is a short, big-nosed man.
"'There were three of them,' Cindy said. And when Mr. MacCallister tracked Tyree down, there were three of them.
"I remind you also that Jefferson Tyree and two other men sold fifty head of cattle that bore the Poindexter brand. Perhaps this is circumstantial, and not direct physical evidence, but if you put the circumstantial evidence with the gut feeling that you know Tyree is guilty, you will not let young Cindy Poindexter's last desperate attempt to bring about justice be unrewarded. Bring in the verdict that will allow the souls of Cindy and her family to rest in peace. Bring in the verdict that will allow us to hang this monster."
"Damn right!" someone said from the gallery.
"Hang the son of a bitch!" another added.
Judge Kuntz brought his gavel down sharply. "Order," he said.
Having finished his closing, and with the case now presented, the judge released the jury for their deliberation.
They were back within an hour.
"Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?" Judge Kuntz asked the foreman.
"We have, Your Honor."
Kuntz turned toward the defense table. "Would the defendant and attorney please stand?"
Norton and Tyree stood.
Kuntz turned back toward the foreman of the jury.
"Publish the verdict, Mr. Foreman."
"Your Honor, on the first charge, the murder of the Poindexters in the first degree, we, the jury, find the defendant, Jefferson Tyree"-the foreman made a long, direct pause before he finished-"not guilty."
"What?" someone in the courtroom shouted.
"No! This is a travesty!" another yelled.
The entire courtroom broke out into shouts of derision and disapproval.
"Order!" Kuntz said as he repeatedly banged his gavel. "Order!"
He banged the gavel repeatedly.
"I will have order now, or I will clear this court!" he said.
Finally, the court grew quiet, and Kuntz looked toward the foreman.
"As to the second charge of cattle rustling, how do you find?"
"Your Honor, on the charge of cattle rustling, we find the defendant, Jefferson Tyree, guilty as charged."
"Thank you, Mr. Foreman."
He turned to the defendant.
"Mr. Tyree. I can understand the jury's inability to find you guilty of murder due to lack of evidence, or the sworn testimony of an eyewitness. Therefore, I cannot sentence you to hang."
Tyree smiled broadly.
"Before you get too happy, Mr. Tryee, let me tell you what I am going to do. I am going to sentence you to life in prison."
"What? For stealing a few cows? You can't do that," Tyree complained.
"That's where you are quite wrong, Mr. Tyree. I can, and I just did," Judge Kuntz said.
Excerpted from Thunder of Eagles by William W. Johnstone J. A. Johnstone Copyright © 2008 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission.
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