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By Andrew J. Fenady Dorchester Publishing
Copyright © 2008
Andrew J. Fenady
All right reserved.
Chapter One Both horses were nearly spent. It had been a long chase under a searing sun. Even the terrain had changed-from dull, flat, monotonous, to mineral-stained, craggy, red stone monuments.
But Jeff Keys, straddling the bay, was narrowing the distance between him and the galloping dun that the big, ugly, grinning bastard, Pete Bass, was spurring.
Keys, who for more than half his nearly two score years had been the pursuer or the pursued, the hunter or the hunted-occasionally both at the same time-reacted as Bass headed his dun toward a narrow opening in the rocky gorge ahead.
It didn't take a seasoned stalker like Jeff Keys to realize that Bass' maneuver was less than smart and skin-close to dumb. The opening led to a dead end where Bass would be trapped, but even though Keys couldn't see it, Bass' grin became even broader as he glanced above at the boulders flanking the slender strand.
But Keys' eyes did catch a glimpse of something reflecting the sun from one of the high lateral boulders.
Bass raced through the loose shale as the dun's shoes kicked up a noisy wake of gravely dust, and as Keys followed, two riflemen appeared from the flanking boulders with Winchesters aimed at the pursuer.
Man and horse were in perfect harmony, and without breaking stride, Keys had pulled a sawed-off .6 gauge from his saddle boot, fired up to the left, then swung the weapon to the right and blasted off the second barrel in less than two heartbeats.
Both snipers buckled and fell, both hearts no longer beating.
And Bass was no longer grinning. His trap hadn't worked, the odds were no longer with him and he had to face Keys mano a mano.
Bass cursed, wheeled the dun, drew his gun and fired fast, too fast-he missed and before he could shoot again, Keys had dropped his shotgun and in the same motion, his hand had whipped the .44 out of its holster and fired.
Death glinted from Bass' black eyes at the impact, but the impact was not from a bullet alone.
The long, feathered shaft of an arrow stuck out of Bass' back as he pitched from the saddle and landed hard on the harder ground. The dun nickered, lowered his froth-smeared muzzle long enough to absorb the scent of death, nickered again and pumped anodyning air into its aching innards, then moved away from the inanimate creature face down on the dirt.
Keys' gun was still in his hand as he looked up and toward his right.
On a vantage boulder stood a man of color, bow in hand, and even from this distance, his face an insouciant mask. With pantherine grace the man started down, slipping the bow onto the hard lump of his left shoulder near the quiver containing a half-dozen arrows while Keys slipped the .44 into its holster, swung off his mount and moved toward the late Pete Bass.
No word passed between the two men even as the bowman pulled the arrow out of the body.
Keys was a man, big and tall. The other man was bigger and taller, taller by three inches even though Keys wore boots with three-inch heels and the other man was fitted with moccasins.
The two men studied each other for less than three seconds but that was long enough.
Keys' eyes were deep set and penetrating in a long, lean face set onto a rock-hard body of catgut and gristle with a narrow waist surrounded by a black leather belt that held a black holster hosting an ivory-handled .44. Every other garment he wore from head to heel was beige and blended into the sun-dry hue of the landscape.
The other, bigger man was garbed in buckskin, a gladiator of indeterminate origin, but obviously of blended bloodlines-black and bronze, a tribal compote-African and American Indian. A holstered Navy Colt hovered just below the right side of his waistline.
Keys nodded back toward the two boulders that flanked the gorge.
"They were waiting for me." He glanced at the body of Pete Bass. "And you were waiting for him. That it?"
"That's it." The man's voice was deep and impersonal.
"You could've been of more help with those two." Keys' thumb motioned back toward the snipers.
"Didn't care about those two."
The bowman still held the bloodied arrow and pointed it toward its former target.
"The manifesto of a true mercenary."
"Five hundred dollars' worth."
"Two hundred and fifty."
"That's fair," the bowman said without hesitating.
"You'd be Elijah." Keys smiled.
"Yes," Elijah nodded again, "I know."
"You seem to know a lot."
"About some things. Not others."
"About that." Keys pointed to the bow on Elijah's shoulder.
"No. He's dead."
"A lot of good men died-on both sides. War's over."
"There's wars-and wars."
"We take 'em one at a time."
"Or they take us."
"Not yet." Keys smiled.
"No, not yet, Mister Keys."
"Jefferson." Elijah nearly smiled. "Not as in Davis."
"No. As in Thomas."
"I wonder which side he would have been on?"
"You seem to know a lot."
"About some things." Keys was still smiling. "Not others. But about some things I'm sure."
"It's good to be sure."
"And it's good to be alive-and to collect our bounty."
"That we agree on."
Keys motioned toward the boulders.
"Will you help me bury those two?"
Chapter Two Some men know each other, talk to each other, travel miles and miles together for days, months, even years, and never really get to understand each other, at least not enough to feel any kinship between them.
The opposite was true of Jefferson Keys and the man called Elijah.
As the two rode together toward the town of Bootjack, leading the dun carrying the curved body of Pete Bass wrapped in a blanket, they had known each other just a few hours and less than a hundred words had passed between them.
But neither of them had the slightest doubt about the other man's integrity.
Each had heard stories about the other-stories told and re-told and, as usual around campfires and on tiresome trails, stories that evolved with each telling into almost mythical proportions.
Exaggeration was an integral core of the lore of the West.
Keys' eyes glanced to the left at the man riding by his side. No doubt he was much man, but unlike the myths, he was not eight feet tall-and he probably couldn't dance on the moon-nor track a man from this world clear to the next-and chances were that he would ride around a forest fire, not through it. It was unlikely that he could put an arrow into a mosquito flying fifty feet away.
The stuff that myths are made of.
Behind every exaggeration, every flowering myth, there is at least a kernel of substance.
The same was true about the tales that Elijah had heard regarding Jefferson Keys-"Big Medicine," the Indians would term him-a man of Homeric deeds during the war for, and against, the Confederacy-scout, spy, Custer's hammer, and later, Juarez's strategist in the liberation of Mexico from Maximilian's stranglehold. A man who could perform miracles with dynamite-destroy an entire village with one stick, and leave only the church standing.
The stuff that myths are made of.
In spite of the fact that they had met only a few hours ago, and only a handful of words had passed between them, they knew and respected one another-as the two rode together toward Bootjack.
Chapter Three Bootjack.
Just about like any other flyspeck town in the West-except that its past had no future and its future had no past.
Bootjack raddled in a cross pattern of buildings, mostly adobe-once a part of Mexico, currently a dirty thumbprint in the middle of the Arizona Territory.
The cross streets were now named Main and Front-formerly Hidalgo and Chupadero-with structures that included a saloon, bank, barbershop, stagecoach and telegraph station, and sundry other enterprises barely subsisting while waiting for a railroad line that would never come close.
Excerpted from The Trespassers by Andrew J. Fenady Copyright © 2008 by Andrew J. Fenady. Excerpted by permission.
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