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Travis The Texans
By GEORGINA GENTRY
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Lynne Murphy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRed Rock, Kansas April 20, 1889
"What the hell is going on here?" Texas Ranger Travis Prescott reined in his dusty gray stallion and looked around at the bustling crowd on the main street. He'd never seen so many people, all rushing about. His spotted dog lay down next to the horse.
"Hey, son," Travis yelled at a passing boy. "What's going on here anyway, some kind of town festival?"
The boy paused in pushing his rusty hoop down the street, his freckled face incredulous. "Ain't you heard, mister? The big land run is Monday."
"Land run? What land run?" Travis shifted his tall frame in his worn saddle.
"Where you been, mister? Everyone's talkin' about nothin' else." The boy stared up at Travis.
Truth of the matter, Travis had been tracking a killer for more than a month and he didn't know much about anything that had happened in that time. "Am I in Indian Territory?"
"No, sir, you're just across the line in Kansas, Red Rock."
Kansas. As a Texas Ranger, he didn't have any authority here. He probably didn't even have any in the Territory, but hot on the trail of the Grande Kid, who had killed a fellow Ranger, Travis hadn't even thought about state lines.
The boy turned to walk away.
"Hey, son, what day is it?" He'd lost track in all the weeks he'd been trailing Grande.
The boy sighed. "Mister, it's Saturday. Don't you know anything?"
Travis grinned at him. "I reckon not. You seen anything of a fine Appaloosa stallion wearing the fanciest saddle you ever seen?"
The boy thought a minute. "Yep. There's a horse like that in town. I think I saw it tied up in front of the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon."
Travis tossed the kid a dime and the kid caught it, grinned with snaggleteeth, nodded his thanks and started his hoop again down the crowded street.
So the Grande Kid was here after all, probably enjoying the women and drinks in this bustling town, convinced he'd lost Travis back along the trail. But Travis was half Comanche and he could trail a bug's tracks across the rocks.
Diamond Horseshoe. That made him think of Emily. Even now it hurt, even though it had happened more than five years ago.
You got too much pride, he thought and brought his mind back to today's problem.
"Okay, Mouse," he muttered to his weary stallion. "Let's find this hombre and cuff him, take him back to Texas."
He nudged the dusty gray horse forward and with a snarl, old Growler reluctantly got up out of the dirt and trailed Travis down the street.
He carried his Ranger star in his pocket because it reflected light and could get him picked off by any outlaw he was pursuing. Now he took it out of his vest pocket and pinned it on his shirt as he rode, looking for the Kid's Appaloosa. What was he going to do if the Kid decided to make a fight of it? Travis couldn't risk hitting all these settlers who were coming in and out of the stores, filling their wagons with supplies for this land run. He had some vague recollection of hearing about it weeks ago, but then he'd started trailing the Kid through north Texas and capturing that killer was all that mattered to him.
People turned now to look at him and the star on his shirt, curiosity in their eyes. Travis looked straight ahead, his mind on the man he had come to take back to Texas. The Grande Kid was supposed to be fast with a gun and he'd have no qualms about shooting up the main street, even with women and children all around.
Then he saw the Appaloosa with the fancy saddle, lots of silver reflecting off the fine leather. There couldn't be another horse like it. Travis reined in and looked up at the sign above the saloon. The Diamond Horseshoe. Did he want to try to take the Kid inside or out in the street? Either way, other people might get hurt.
He sat on his horse a long moment, frowning. Maybe it was his expression or his badge that caused people to pause and look at him. Then they began to clear the street, melting into doorways or scurrying away. Women grabbed their small children by the hand and ran into stores. Men in buggies and wagons whipped up teams and pulled off down the road.
A bearded drunk lounging against a post out front of the saloon looked up at Travis. "They don't allow half-breeds in their purty fancy saloon." He blinked.
Travis glared at him. "Go inside. Find a blond gunslinger wearing a fine black Stetson. Tell him a Texas Ranger is waiting outside for him."
The drunk's eyes got big. "He might get mad."
"I expect him to." Travis leaned on his saddle horn. "Now just do it."
The drunk stumbled into the saloon as Travis dismounted and led Mouse over to the horse trough for a drink. "You want a drink, too, Growler?"
The spotted dog, whose mama had been a ranch stock dog and his daddy a passing stranger, stuck his shaggy muzzle in the trough for some water.
Then Travis tied up his stallion to the hitching rail and stepped out in the middle of the dusty street, which was rapidly emptying of settlers and wagons. He had a feeling he was being watched as he checked his Colt, reholstered it and waited for the Grande Kid to come out. He hoped he came out. Travis would hate to shoot up a nice saloon where hombres were simply enjoying a few drinks and a hand of cards.
From the upstairs window of the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon, Violet La Farge watched the street scene with interest. She ought to go downstairs and mingle with the customers, but business wouldn't pick up until later in the afternoon. Anyway the action outside looked like it might soon be exciting. Brushing back her soft brown hair, she leaned her small face on her hands, elbows on the windowsill, and studied the big man who had just dismounted and tied up his gray horse. He looked to be a half-breed and too rugged to be called handsome, but he must be something special because he wore a lawman's star. He had an easy gait as he stepped out into the middle of the street and checked the pistol tied low on his lean hip. He looked like he knew how to use it, too. Maybe he'd come into the saloon later, if he didn't get killed, and she'd have a chance to meet him.
Travis picked his position carefully so that the late afternoon sun would be in his opponent's eyes. He stood there, feet wide apart, hands loose at his sides, waiting to find out if Grande would come out or if he'd have to go in after him. The Kid might try going out the back door, but his horse was tied up in front of the saloon and besides, the gunman had a reputation to protect. Travis could feel people watching him from behind wagons and boxes stacked out on the wooden sidewalks; women crowded behind shop windows to see the drama. The street was almost completely clear now.
Travis wiped at the sweat on his grimy face and tipped his Stetson to shade his eyes. He was bone tired after more than a month on the trail and he was eager to arrest this varmint and get him back to Waco. Once he got Grande across the state line and into Texas, Grande wouldn't have the excuse that Travis had no power outside the Lone Star state.
It was a nice spring afternoon, Travis thought, a good day to die. Well, for Grande to die. Travis was a crack shot and he thought he could outdraw the Kid.
He heard a murmur of excitement from just inside the door of the saloon and then the Grande Kid came out of the Diamond Horseshoe and paused on the wooden sidewalk, sneering. "You can't arrest me, Ranger. You got no authority outside Texas."
Travis kept his hand free and nodded, moving slowly so that the blond-haired bandit would be facing into the sun when he came out to face Travis. "I'm taking you back to stand trial for killin' a damned good Ranger, a whole lot better man than you are."
Grande laughed and leaned against the post in front of the saloon. "You followed me all this way to tell me that? You're more stubborn than I thought. I didn't think you could follow my trail."
Travis's voice was a soft but determined whisper. "I'm half Comanche, remember? Now drop your gun belt unless you want to die in the street here in Kansas."
The other's cruel face slowly lost its smile. "We'll see who's gonna die in the street, half-breed." Slowly he stepped out into the road, his blue eyes squinting against the sun.
Travis watched him warily. He'd heard the Kid was a fast draw, but he was fast himself. "Grande, I don't want to kill you, I'd rather watch you hang, so drop your gun belt and step away from it."
"I don't intend to hang, Ranger." The other threw back his head and laughed. "Everyone will see I killed you in a fair fight. Now quit jawin'. I got a good hand of poker and a fresh bottle of whiskey waitin' for me inside."
"You'll never live to drink it," Travis promised, watching the other man's hands.
"Hell, I won't!" Just the smallest tremble of his fingers signaled his intentions as he reached for the Colt tied low on his hip.
The Kid was fast, Travis thought as his own hand slapped leather and both pistols roared at the same time. He thought he heard a woman scream and then Travis felt the bullet hit his wrist so hard, it almost knocked the Colt from his hand and then indescribable pain and numbness as he tried to keep his grip on his gun.
The blond gunfighter looked at him with surprise in his blue eyes and then his pistol fell from his nerveless hand. He took two steps forward, grabbing at the sudden wet stain on his denim shirt. The crowd gasped a deep, audible breath as the outlaw took one more step and then collapsed into the street, his blood making a widening pool around him.
Travis stumbled forward, feeling like his arm was on fire. He managed to put his Colt back in its holster and saw that blood ran from his wrist down into the leather of his holster. He stumbled over and leaned against the hitching rail, feeling so faint he gritted his teeth. "Someone get the sheriff," he muttered, "and find me a doctor."
The spell was broken. People ran, shouting in excitement. "Did you see that?"
"Ranger shot the Grande Kid!"
"Is he dead?"
"Dead as a doornail. Is the Ranger hurt?"
A crowd began to gather.
Travis sat down hard on the wooden sidewalk and old Growler scampered over to lick his sweaty face. Travis patted the dog with his left hand. "I got him, boy," he gasped through clenched teeth. "He made me shoot him. Oh God, where's that doctor?"
Travis craned his head and saw a plump old man carrying a small black bag coming down the sidewalk. "Out of my way. Someone been shot?"
Travis nodded at the old man gratefully. "Caught a slug in the wrist, Doc. Can you do anything to help me?"
The doc took Travis's big hand in his, frowned at the blood. "I think I'd better get you over to my office. That looks bad. How's the other man?"
Travis sighed. "Dead resisting arrest."
The old man stood up. "Can you walk?"
He wasn't sure he could, but he wasn't going to pass out in front of all these women and children. "I—I think I can make it, Doc."
"Here, lean on me," Doc said and tried to help Travis to his feet. "My, you're a tall drink of water, aren't you?"
"Just like my daddy." Travis leaned on the doctor as they walked. He realized then he hadn't had anything to eat since some dried jerky yesterday. He'd been too intent on his tracking to think about food. Travis glanced back to make sure Growler was following them and saw he was leaving a crooked trail of blood. His wrist screamed in pain like his hand had been cut off. "I—I need to stop at the telegraph office," he whispered through gritted teeth, "let 'em know back in Waco I got the Grande Kid."
"Let's get your wrist bandaged up first and then you can do that," Doc insisted. "Didn't think anyone could outdraw that outlaw. The whole town'll be talkin about it."
Travis bit his lip and kept putting one boot ahead of the other. "It's my gun hand, Doc—"
"I know, I know. Here's my office." He half led, half carried the big man inside and sat him down in a chair. "Now don't you bleed all over my office. Let me get a pan of water and some bandages, see what I can do."
Travis stared down at his shattered wrist. It looked like raw meat. "You—you think the bullet went through?"
Doc turned on the light and put on his glasses. "Hmm. Let me wash it off and we'll see."
Travis closed his eyes as Doc worked on his wrist. It didn't feel like the bullet had gone through. He tried to move his fingers and flinched in pain.
Doc washed the wrist off and peered at it, shaking his head. "Just what I was afraid of, young man. Looks like the bullet shattered." He paused. "You need some painkiller?"
"Naw, I'm fine," Travis lied. "What about the wrist, Doc?"
The old man paused, peered at Travis over his glasses, hesitated. "Well, I'm not sure. I don't think it's anything a country doctor can fix."
Travis looked up at him. "Can't you just cut the bullet out? I can take it. I've had more than one slug dug out of my hide."
"Here, have some of this laudanum, Ranger." Doc walked over to his medicine cabinet and poured a small bottle into a glass.
"Damn it, I don't want any painkiller." However he took it when Doc handed it to him. "Just give it to me straight. Can't you just dig the steel fragments out?"
Doc sighed. "Frankly, I'm afraid to. You got feeling in your fingers?"
Travis moved his fingers very slowly and then there was a flash of pain that almost doubled him over and the fingers of his right hand went numb.
"Just what I thought," Doc said, peering again at the wound. "Drink that, young man. I can tell you're in a lot of gut-wrenching pain."
He could feel the cold sweat dripping down his dark face. Reluctantly Travis drank some of the mixture. "I can take it, Doc. Tell me."
"Well, it looks to me like you've got a shard of steel, or maybe more than one, deep in your wrist."
"So take it out."
"I could, but to tell you the truth, I'm not a hifalutin back-east surgeon, and I think that's what you need. I'm afraid I'll paralyze that hand completely if I go to diggin' into those nerves in your wrist."
"You mean I wouldn't be able to use it?"
The old man looked at him and nodded. "If I leave it alone, maybe it will be all right if you're careful."
"Won't it just heal up?"
"It will heal over, but every once in a while, if you move that hand wrong, the shards of steel may cut into those nerves and your hand will go numb."
"How numb?" Travis stared down at his bloody wrist. Doc eyed the star on Travis's chest. "You're a lawman?" Travis nodded. "Texas Ranger."
"Tough. Well, I'll give it to you straight. It might be numb enough that you won't be able to pull a trigger or even draw your pistol."
Travis began to curse. "What good is a Ranger who can't handle a gun? You're telling me I'm finished as a lawman?"
"It ain't the end of the world, son."
"It is for me. What the hell can I do with only one good hand?"
Doc patted him on the shoulder. "Now, son, I might be wrong. That wrist may heal up and you never have any trouble with that hand."
"But you can't promise that?"
The old man shook his head. "There's specialists back east that could probably operate on it and fix it, but it would cost a lot."
"More than a poor lawman has," Travis grumbled and now he drained the laudanum. "I reckon I'm man enough to face the truth. Do what you can, Doc. Bandage it up so I can go report in to the captain and see what he says."
Doc poured alcohol over the wound while Travis gritted his teeth. "Maybe it'll get better on its own. You can always hope so."
"A lawman can't take chances like that. He can get his partners killed."
Doc finished the bandaging, put the arm in a sling. "You looked a little pale, son. I'll give you some more painkiller and you go get something to eat. Things will look better tomorrow."
"Sure," Travis snapped and stood up. "What do I owe you?"
Travis suspected it should be more than that. "I don't want your pity, Doc."
"Pity?" the old man snorted. "Look, you young whippersnapper, you've just rid this town of a gunfighter who's been tearing up this town for a couple of days now. I hope they give you a big reward."
"I'm a lawman. I can't take a reward for doing my job."
Doc walked to his medicine cabinet and poured a small bottle, handed it to Travis. "Fifty cents for the laudanum."
The drug was already working. The pain had lessened. He fumbled in his pocket for money, took the bottle and started unsteadily for the door.
"Son, if you don't feel better tomorrow, come back."
"Thanks, Doc." Travis went unsteadily out onto the wooden sidewalk where Growler waited patiently. With his arm tied up in a sling, his mood was worse than his wrist's throbbing. Old Growler wagged his stubby tail and followed Travis's uncertain steps.
Excerpted from Travis The Texans by GEORGINA GENTRY Copyright © 2013 by Lynne Murphy . Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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