Read an Excerpt
The Winchester Run
By Ralph Compton
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1997 Ralph Compton
All rights reserved.
Newton, Kansas. September 16, 1873.
Mac Tunstall, his three pardners, the six bullwhackers, Watson Brandt, and the train crew remained at the hotel in Newton until the following day. When the damaged track had been repaired, the train bearing the six loaded wagons continued on to Dodge. There was no evidence of the outlaws, and the train reached Dodge in the early afternoon. When Mac and his three pardners stepped down from the train, they were surprised to find a sheriff waiting for them.
"Tunstall and friends, I reckon," the lawman said.
"I'm Tunstall," Mac said. "This is Buck Prinz, Haze Sanderson, and Red McLean."
"I'm Sheriff Harrington. I have a telegram from the sheriff in Kansas City, sent at the request of Hiram Yeager, of Yeager Freight Lines."
"We're working for him," said Mac. "There are six wagonloads of military goods going to Austin, Texas, and it's our responsibility to see that they arrive safely. We've had a bunch of outlaws stop the train on the way here."
"I heard about that," Harrington replied, "and you persuaded that bunch it wasn't a good idea. Yeager wants me to offer you hombres as much support as I can. He believes there might be an attempt during the night to shanghai those wagons you're guarding. He didn't say what led him to that conclusion, but I promised to do what I can."
"We aim to spend the night with the wagons," said Mac. "While we're obliged, I don't know what you can do, short of being a fifth man."
"What I have in mind," Harrington said, "is deputizing the four of you. We're fifty miles from Indian Territory, and during the summer and fall, there are trail herds from Texas, so we have our share of hell-raising. There have been so many killings, the town council is on the prod. If you have trouble tonight, we'll all come out of it lookin' better if the four of you are lawmen. Comprende?"
"Sí," said Mac. "Can you do it here? We need to keep an eye on those wagons."
"Yes," Harrington replied. "Let's go into the depot waiting room. There's no reason for the entire town to know what we're doing."
The swearing-in was done quickly. Harrington presented each of them with a deputy's star and then shook their hands. He then went on his way, and when the four Texans left the depot, they came face-to-face with Watson Brandt.
"What is the meaning of this?" Brandt demanded, his eyes on the stars they wore.
"Why don't you telegraph Mr. Yeager and ask him?" Mac suggested.
Brandt said nothing, and the four of them positioned themselves near the wagons on the flatcars. In less than an hour, the six bullwhackers returned to the train.
"We won't have the necessary mules until sometime tomorrow," said Port Guthrie. "I see we've gained some lawmen while we were gone."
"Sheriff Harrington's idea," Mac said. "Has Brandt arranged a place for you to sleep, and grub?"
"Not yet," said Guthrie. "We're thinking of sleeping in the passenger coach, with our Winchesters handy. We figure if these owl hoots are that damn determined, we'll have to fight 'em sooner or later."
"We'll appreciate the company gents," Red McLean said.
"It's likely to be a long night," said Gourd Snively. "When it's time to eat, two of you can go with three of us. Then when the first five is done, they can come back and guard the wagons while the others eat."
"That's mighty generous," Mac said. "Have you cleared that with Watson Brandt?"
"No," said Snively. "We didn't feel the need to."
"Neither do we," Mac replied. "It's up to us to get these wagons safely to Austin, and I get the feeling we may have to do it in spite of Mr. Brandt."
"That's pretty much how we feel," said Port Guthrie. "I reckon there'll be plenty of shootin' between here and Austin, and it ain't uncommon for a bothersome jasper to be shot accidental, by his own outfit."
"I've heard of that," Mac replied. "It happened some during the war."
They had no idea what had become of Watson Brandt, and by eating five at a time, all had a good meal at Delmonico's. With the train and its wagons loaded with priceless cargo on a sidetrack, the ten men commissioned to get the wagons safely to Texas settled down for the night. Lamplight streamed from windows, and from a distant saloon there was the tinkle of a piano and the laughter of women.
"This is Tuesday night," Red McLean said. "This must be some hell of a town, come Saturday."
"I've heard tell it is," said Lafe Beard. "Fort Dodge is maybe eight miles downriver, and them soldiers is a bunch of wampus kitties. I hauled freight there long before the railroad come through. I wouldn't be sheriff of this town for all the money in Kansas."
Watson Brandt had rented a horse at the livery and, under the cover of darkness, had ridden to Fort Dodge.
"Sorry, sir," said the sentry on duty, "but civilians are not allowed to enter the fort after dark."
"I only want to see a friend of mine," Brandt pleaded. "He's Sergeant Jernigan, the quartermaster. If I can't go in, can't you send somebody to bring him to the gate?"
"I'm not sure, sir," said the sentry. "I'll find out. Sergeant of the guard, post one!"
"This is Sergeant Cooper," the sentry said, when the sergeant of the guard arrived.
"I'm Watson Brandt, Sergeant, and I want to see a friend of mine, Sergeant Jernigan. I've been told I can't go in Is Jernigan allowed to come out and visit a few minutes?"
"If I can find him," said Sergeant Cooper. "Wait here."
"Much obliged," Brandt said. "Durin' the war, we fought together for the Union."
It was true up to a point. Brandt had deserted under fire and had done time, after a court-martial. Jernigan had been too seriously wounded to run, and had remained in the service. Following the war, Brandt had discovered Jernigan had become a sergeant, and was in charge of buying beef for Fort Dodge. It had been a simple matter for Brandt to organize a gang, rustle cattle in Texas, and sell them to the military through Jernigan. He had conspired with Jernigan to steal the weapons and ammunition, promising a split he had never intended to make, had the robbery of the train been successful. Now it was neck meat or nothing, and one plan having failed, he must depend on an alternate plan devised by Jernigan. Jernigan soon arrived, joining Brandt outside the gate.
"Damn it," Jernigan said, "what are you doing here? I told you never to come here."
"I had no choice," said Brandt. "That bunch I had lined up to take the wagons from the train failed, and four of them were killed. Yeager hired some gun- throwing Texans, and they're guarding the wagons tonight."
"You spent weeks planning to take those wagons," Jernigan said, "and now that you have failed miserably, you expect me to do the job in ten hours."
"All right," Brandt snarled, "I'm admitting I failed. I'm offering you a chance to prove your plan is better than mine, and I'm willing to take a lesser cut, if you can pull it off."
Jernigan laughed. "How much less?"
"Twenty-five percent, instead of fifty," said Brandt.
"And what are you going to do to earn that twenty-five percent?" Jernigan demanded.
"Whatever I must," said Brandt.
"Ah," Jernigan said, "that's what I wanted to hear. I have a bunch waitin in Indian Territory that would slit their own mothers' throats for the kind of loot we're after. I got a pass to get me out of here, and it'll be sometime after midnight before I can get this bunch to Dodge."
"Just get them there," said Brandt. "I don't want to lose out on this."
Brandt mounted his horse and rode away, and Jernigan went immediately to the post orderly room for his pass. He had a hard ride to Indian Territory and back, but within his reach was a veritable fortune in guns and ammunition. A fortune he had no intention of sharing with Watson Brandt.
Fourteen men followed Jernigan back from Indian Territory. Milo Quince, the leader of the bunch, rode alongside Jernigan, and the two talked.
"There's ten hombres guardin' the six wagons," Jernigan said, "and from what I've been told, they're a salty bunch. Four of 'em have been deputized by Sheriff Harrington. I reckon we'll have to kill them all, and the sheriff, too, if he gets froggy."
"I reckon we understand one another, then," said Quince. "We don't leave nobody alive that's got the sand to come after us."
"My sentiments exactly," Jernigan replied. "We won't move in until after midnight, so the town will be mostly closed up."
They rode in from the east, and by the time they were within half a mile of the town, the night wind brought them the unmistakable sound of a locomotive with steam up. There was a chuff-chuff-chuffing, and they could see sparks billowing from the stack.
"Damn it," said Quince, "the train crew must still be there."
"No matter," Jernigan replied. "It's easier, keepin' up steam in the boilers, than havin' to fire it up in the morning. Besides, that gives me an idea. Why don't we just get the drop on that gent that's firin' the engine, and take the whole damn train?"
Quince laughed. "You won't get no argument out of me. I'd as soon be shot for a sheep as a lamb. We'll be a while, gettin' them wagons off the flatcars, and if we're a few miles away from Dodge, all the better."
"Ever'thing depends on us gettin' the drop on that gent that's firin the boilers," said Jernigan. "I'm takin' care of him. When I got him covered, I aim to use him to force them hombres out of hiding that's been hired to guard the wagons. Once they're out where you can see 'em, you know what to do."
"We'll cut them down to the last man," Quince said.
"That's it," said Jernigan. "Then the lot of you mount your horses and follow after that train, until we're safely away from Dodge. Keep an eye on your backtrail, and if anybody — such as the sheriff — decides to follow, shoot to kill."
Mac Tunstall and Buck Prinz were in the caboose, at the end of the train, while Haze Sanderson and Red McLean had remained in the passenger coach, directly behind the tender. Of the teamsters, Port Guthrie and Lafe Beard were awake, while their companions all slept.
"I ain't used to bein' closed up like this," Haze Sanderson said. "I think I'll go up to the engine and chew the fat with the fireman."
"I'll go with you," said Red McLean.
There was no moon, and it being past midnight, most of Dodge City slept. There was only an occasional distant light.
"Them bullwhackers is a good bunch," Haze said, "but they all like to light up their Durham. I don't smoke the stuff, and it's hell on me."
"Me, too," Red replied. "Wasn't but two of 'em lit up, but with all the smoke, you'd of thought the coach was afire."
Suddenly, over the sound of the engine blowing off steam, they heard a voice.
"I got you covered, bucko. I want you to walk along the track, toward that passenger coach. One bad move, and I'll kill you."
Haze and Red moved quickly away from the track, drawing their Colts. Two sets of footsteps came toward them, for they could hear the crunch of cinders and ballast. They waited until the captive railroad man had walked past them, and Red challenged the man with the gun.
"Drop the gun, amigo. You're covered."
But the challenge went unheeded. There was a roar, followed by an answering blast, as Red McLean fired at the muzzle flash. An agonized groan told him what he wanted to hear, and he eased down the hammer on his Colt. Gravel crunched as the trainman ran back the way he had come, toward the locomotive. Finally there was the distant sound of galloping horses.
"The bastards," grunted the man Red had shot, "they're ... runnin' out ... on me."
Among those drawn by the shooting was the brakeman, and he approached from the caboose, with a lighted lantern.
"You with the lantern," Red called, "stay back. He may be playin' possum."
"No," said the man on the ground, "I ... I'm hurt. I need a doc."
"Come on with the lantern," said Red.
By the time the brakeman arrived with the lantern, followed by Mac Tunstall and Buck Prinz, the bullwhackers were there with Winchesters. There was a clatter of hooves, and Sheriff Harrington reined up.
"I've seen this varmint around town," Harrington said. "What was he trying to do?"
"Him and a gang of owl hoots was after the wagons on the train," said Red.
"Yeah," the fireman said, "this one on the ground snuck up behind me with a gun. He said he'd kill me if I made a bad move."
"A couple of you tote him to jail," said Harrington. "I'll have the doc patch him up, and in the morning, I'll ride to Fort Dodge. Considering the nature of what he was about to do, I reckon the Federals will be interested in him."
"I ain't takin' ... all the rap," the wounded man said. "This ... was Brandt's idea."
"Watson Brandt?" Mac Tunstall asked sharply.
"Yeah," the wounded man replied.
"Tarnation," said Buck Prinz, "he's son-in-law to Hiram Yeager, owner of the freight line that hired us. He's in charge all the way to Austin, Texas."
"He won't be, after this," Mac Tunstall said. "I reckon the post commander at Fort Dodge will be telegraphing Mr. Yeager."
"Who are you, mister?" Sheriff Harrington asked the wounded man.
"Jernigan is ... my name, and I ... ain't sayin' ... no more."
"After we get him to jail," said Haze, "let's roust out Watson Brandt. I'm just plumb anxious to hear what he's got to say."
"Hell, yes," one of the teamsters said. "This wagon caravan to Austin is shapin' up to be right interesting."
Watson Brandt had taken a room at the Dodge House, and became abusive when he was awakened by Sheriff Harrington.
"I won't be pushed around by a hick-town sheriff," he bawled. "I represent the Plains Freight Lines, and I'll telegraph —"
"You won't have to telegraph," said Mac Tunstall, who had accompanied the sheriff. "We just shot a friend of yours — an hombre named Jernigan — who claims you're behind his trying to take those wagons off the train. I'm going to ask the post commander at Fort Dodge to contact Mr. Yeager."
"Damn you," Brandt bawled, "I had nothing to do with this. I know nothing about it."
"Then how did Jernigan learn of these wagons?" Mac demanded.
"He's quartermaster at Fort Dodge," said Brandt.
"That's why he looks familiar," Sheriff Harrington said. "I go to the fort occasionally, and I've seen him in town."
"But that doesn't mean Brandt's telling the truth," said Mac. "From what Mr. Yeager said, word of this arms shipment has been kept quiet, except for a leak to the newspaper in Kansas City. I think we need to play Mr. Brandt against Jernigan, and see who's the most willing to talk. Jernigan don't seem like the kind who's willing to risk court-martial, if he can talk his way out of it."
"Whatever he says, he's lying," Brandt cried desperately.
"We'll get some answers in the morning," said Sheriff Harrington. "Brandt, if you got ideas about running, just bear in mind that the law considers that an admission of guilt."
"I'll be here," Brandt said grimly.
He slammed the door and bolted it, leaving Mac and Sheriff Harrington in the hall.
"You believe he's guilty, then," said Sheriff Harrington.
"I do," Mac replied. "Somebody got word of these arms and ammunition to the newspaper in Kansas City. I think that was done so that Brandt could draw suspicion from himself, after the robbery. He's going to argue that if the newspaper people could learn of these arms and ammunition, then so could Jernigan or anybody else."
"That could have been the case," said Sheriff Harrington. "It's going to be interesting when Brandt and Jernigan come together."
"Sheriff," Mac said, "I have an idea. Why don't you see if Brandt rented a horse at one of the liveries sometime after the train arrived here? I believe he went to Fort Dodge and talked with Jernigan."
"If Brandt rode to the fort," said Harrington, "he likely would have waited until after dark. Civilians are not allowed to enter after dark, so Brandt would have had to ask for Jernigan at the gate. The officer of the guard will remember."
"Do it your way, Sheriff," Mac said, "but we're not leaving Dodge with those wagons, as long as there's any doubt of Brandt's involvement."
Mac Tunstall returned to the train, and although every man remained awake the rest of the night, there was no further disturbance.
"We'll eat five at a time, like we did at supper," said Port Guthrie, "if that's suitable to everybody."
"I reckon we can all agree on that," Mac replied. "It's been a long night, and we can all stand some breakfast and hot coffee."
Excerpted from The Winchester Run by Ralph Compton. Copyright © 1997 Ralph Compton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.