Hired to find a killer, a drifter rides into a deadly family feud, in this action-packed novel from an award-winning storyteller of the West.
For $10,000, Tip Woodring must ride into a frontier town full of murderers and find one particular killer. The deal—offered by Rig Holman, a saloon owner who liked the way Woodring knocked out a nasty drunk in front of his bar—could make him a fortune . . . or cost him his life.
Last spring, a prospector named Blackie Mayfell walked into Holman’s office with $15,000 in gold and a strange proposition. He asked Holman to keep the money and get it to his daughter if he died, handing over a little extra for insurance. Then Mayfell was slain by someone who wanted a piece of his claim. Holman wants to know who pulled the trigger, and Woodring will find out—or die trying.
Filled with stunning action scenes, memorable characters, and authentic historical atmosphere, Bounty Guns is a suspenseful tale: part mystery, part western, all Luke Short.
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About the Author
Born in Kewanee, Illinois, Glidden graduated in 1930 from the University of Missouri where he studied journalism. After working for several newspapers, he became a trapper in Canada and, later, an archaeologist’s assistant in New Mexico. His first story, “Six-Gun Lawyer,” was published in Cowboy Stories magazine in 1935 under the name F. D. Glidden. At the suggestion of his publisher, he used the pseudonym Luke Short, not realizing it was the name of a real gunman and gambler who was a friend of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. In addition to his prolific writing career, Glidden worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. He moved to Aspen, Colorado, in 1946, and became an active member of the Aspen Town Council, where he initiated the zoning laws that helped preserve the town.
Read an Excerpt
By Luke Short
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1967 Frederick D. Glidden
All rights reserved.
It could just as well have been any other town but Forks, and any other afternoon but Saturday, but that was the way it happened. Tip Woodring's trail-gaunted chestnut threw a shoe six miles from Forks at high noon on a Saturday, and by the time Forks was in sight he was fast going lame.
Now, Forks, like any town in the cow country, is busy on a Saturday afternoon, and when Tip Woodring rode up to the lone blacksmith shop, he found two teams before him waiting to be shod. He dismounted stiffly, a tall young man, redheaded, with a faintly freckled face that was shaped like a blunt wedge, tough-looking under a week of wiry beard stubble. On the day when the cow country cleaned up, Tip Woodring was wearing a mud-splotched coat, soiled Levi's, and a faded-blue cotton shirt, and it might have been this that the blacksmith objected to when Tip put his proposition.
"All right, you're busy," Tip said. "Let me shoe him myself and I'll pay you what you ask."
"No," the blacksmith said. "Get in line or get out."
That was the first irritation. The second one came minutes later when Tip swung into the barbershop, only to find a dozen men waiting a turn in the chair. He left, hunting another shop, and pushed through the sidewalk crowd to Forks's four corners, where the third one met him face to face. He was crossing the street when a drunk puncher rammed a horse into him, slamming him against the end-gate of a spring wagon.
Tip straightened up, his temper edging him, and saw that too many people were between him and the vanishing puncher. A week of hard riding, of cold pan bread and jerky, of mountain rains and desert suns are apt to wire-edge a man's nerves, and when Tip Woodring hit the sidewalk, saw the inviting swing doors of the Paradise Keno Parlor before him, and shouldered through them, his gray eyes looked wicked.
He stepped into a big high-ceilinged barroom with a balcony running along all four sides, and roughly shouldered his way through the crowd toward the bar to the right. Bellied up to it, he demanded a whisky, then tipped his hat back off his forehead and scrubbed his face with the palm of a callused hand. It was at once a gesture of weariness and an effort to rub out an ugliness of mind.
The percentage girl who came up to him couldn't understand that, however. She made the mistake of putting a hand on his arm and saying, "Buy me a drink."
Tip straightened up and looked down at her. "Go away," he said quietly.
The girl looked over her shoulder, and then, just as the bartender set down the bottle and glass in front of Tip, she poured herself a drink, raised the glass, and smiled coyly at Tip.
The drink never reached her mouth. It was batted from her hand, splattering all over Tip's coat front, and he looked up to see a big man in a fancy vest next to the girl, who had wheeled to face him. The man was half drunk, and his loose-jowled face was ugly as he looked from the percentage girl to Tip.
"Pickin' up the saddlebums again, eh?" he asked the girl.
Tip straightened up and gently shoved the girl to one side. "Just a minute," he said mildly. He poured out a glass of whisky, then carefully threw it all over the puncher's fancy vest. Setting the glass down, he said pleasantly, "Now go on."
The puncher backed up a step, stared down at his vest, then looked up at Tip and started to curse him.
Tip's voice cut in, and the puncher stopped talking.
"Are your boots screwed to that floor?" Tip asked, his voice deceptively mild. "Because if they ain't, they're goin' to point to the ceiling in just about a minute."
The crowd immediately around them fell silent, and the puncher stared unbelievingly at Tip, then laughed. He didn't speak. He reached up, pulled his vest aside, and on the pocket of his shirt reposed the badge of the town marshal's office. He let Tip have a good look at it.
"Say that again, and louder," he said.
Tip took a step toward him, spread his legs, and put his hands on his hips. There was a wild look in his eyes now, the look of a man who has been pushed too far and having been pushed, will not retreat. His voice was thick and urgent when he spoke.
"I said you better leave or I'll twist your head off and run away with it and hide it."
What happened then was sudden as thought. The marshal, braced in his tracks, swung viciously at Tip's face. With his left elbow Tip blocked the blow, and with his right he drove a fist into the marshal's face. To a bystander, it seemed as if the marshal exploded off the floor, went off balance, and fell on his back. Before he hit the floor, a man dived at Tip, knocking him against the bar. Tip grabbed the bottle off the bar top, swung it, caught the man in the head, and sent him reeling to trip over the marshal and sprawl on his face.
Tip eyed the circle of watchers and said, "Anybody else feels froggy, now's the time to hop on."
And then, from the balcony, an iron voice said above the murmur of the crowd, "Nobody's going to hop on anything."
Tip didn't glance up immediately, but when the crowd started to back away, he swiveled his head and looked above him. A man dressed in a black townsman's suit was leaning on the balcony rail, a shotgun resting in the slack of his arm. He said, "Joe, hold your greener on them till I get down there."
The bartender pulled out a sawed-off shotgun from under the bar, laid it on the bar top, and regarded the crowd. The man in black walked along the balcony to the stairs, came down them, and by the time he had shoved through the crowd the marshal and the other man were on their feet.
The man in black broke through the circle of watchers and came over to the marshal. His thick, wavy hair, plentifully shot with gray, sat high off a broad forehead that tapered down to a long, pale face which wore a look of ingrained dissipation and alertness. He glanced briefly at Tip, his look friendly, but when he turned to the marshal that friendliness had disappeared.
"Don't bother lying, Cove. I saw the whole thing from the balcony. Take that girl you like so well and get out of here, both of you. And don't come back here asking me to give her work again. She's through."
The marshal glared wickedly at Tip. "He's under arrest," he muttered thickly.
The man in black said mildly, "Better not try it, Cove. You won't make it stick." He stared at the marshal a long time, and finally the marshal turned away. The man in black raised both hands and called, "Drinks on the house, boys. Line up.
He walked over to Tip, who was lounging on the bar, and said, "Come into my office, will you?"
Tip followed him through the door at the rear end of the bar which led into a medium-sized room that was an office. It was lighted by an overhead kerosene lamp against the approaching dusk.
The gambler shut the door behind them, and then put out his hand. "My name's Holman, Rig Holman," he volunteered. He laughed then, as Tip shook hands with him. "I don't know yours, but it's likely Billy Hell."
Tip found himself laughing, too. He told Holman his name, and Holman waved him to a deep leather chair, then walked over to the desk, opened a box of cigars, and offered one to Tip, who refused in favor of his pipe.
They appraised each other frankly for a moment, and then Holman said, "Stranger, aren't you?"
Tip nodded. "Just ridin' through."
"I thought so." He paused. "That was a hell of a risky thing to do, you know."
Tip grinned. "I was mad, I reckon."
Holman dismissed this with a nod. "Ridin' the grub line?" he asked pleasantly.
Tip only shook his head, and Holman looked keenly at him. Then the gambler walked over to the desk and sat on the edge of it, facing Tip.
"I don't know how to go about this, Woodring," he said quietly. "You'll think I'm snooping in your business if I ask questions. I'm not, really. I — I'm just wondering if you're footloose."
"I'm on my way to the short-grass country up in Wyoming," Tip said slowly. "I'm sick of fightin' a dry country."
"That's it. I'm goin' to look around."
"And buy a ranch, eh?"
Tip smiled wryly. "When I earn the money."
Holman said quickly, "All right. How would you like to earn it workin' for me?"
Tip didn't answer immediately. He lighted his pipe again, then said, "Quick and dirty-like?"
"Judge for yourself," Holman said. "Want to hear it?"
"If it won't make me deaf."
"Ever hear of Blackie Mayfell, the lucky prospector?" Holman asked.
Tip nodded. "Who hasn't? Sure. He was murdered over on the other side of the Vermilions some time ago, wasn't he?"
Holman nodded, slid off the desk, went around it, and opened a drawer. The paper he took out he handed to Tip. "Blackie came into my office last spring and slapped down fifteen thousand dollars in gold right where I'm sitting. He wanted his life insured."
Tip scowled but said nothing.
"He said he was on to something big, a big body of ore, but he wanted to prospect it another two months. He was afraid for his life." Holman paused, and still Tip didn't say anything. "Here was his proposition; you can read it in that paper. He'd give me fifteen thousand dollars. If he was alive at the end of two years the money was mine. If he was killed, I was to pay his daughter, Lynn Mayfell, fifty thousand dollars."
There was a moment of silence and then Tip asked, "You took him up?"
Holman nodded, adding, "And paid off the fifty thousand dollars to his daughter after his death."
Tip was still scowling. "Fair enough. What's the kick?"
"I'm not a welsher, Woodring. My payoff proves that." He leaned forward, putting his hands on the desk. "But I don't take a loss like that lying down; I want to find Blackie's killer."
"Isn't the U.S. Marshal's office working on that?"
"Not the way I'm going to work on it," Rig Holman drawled. "I don't give a damn if the marshal's office finds Mayfell's killer — so long as I find him first. I don't even give a damn what they do to him — after I find him."
"I don't get it," Tip said, after a puzzled pause.
"I want my investment back," Holman said quietly. "I'll let somebody else settle the justice end of it."
"Investment back from who?"
"How do you know he can pay it?"
"Because whoever killed Blackie Mayfell killed him for one thing — the gold Blackie turned up. The killer has got that gold now, and I'll take my thirty-five thousand of it."
Tip's eyes narrowed a little. "Maybe he isn't the kind who'd hand it over to you."
Holman's smile was quick, shrewd. "You think a minute and you'll see why he'll hand it over to me."
It didn't take Tip that long. He said, "I get it. He'll either turn it over to you or you'll turn him over to the law."
"You will," Holman corrected. "That is, if you take the proposition. There's ten thousand in it for you, if you turn up the killer and bring back thirty-five thousand to me. There's the deal — face up. Is it quick and dirty?"
Tip said softly, "But why pick on me? You never saw me before in your life. How do you know I wouldn't light a shuck once I had your money?"
Holman only laughed and said, "When you hear the rest of it, you may understand. Do you know where Blackie was killed?"
"Not the spot."
"Ten miles from the town of Hagen." He paused. "That town is right in the dead center of that old Shields-Bolling feud."
Tip whistled in low exclamation, and Holman went on. "That war has killed a U.S. Marshal who tried to stop it, four of the Shieldses, and three of the Bollings. And Blackie Mayfell, maybe."
"I've heard of that feud. You think they got him?"
"I don't think. I'm just telling you." Holman nodded toward the barroom. "A few minutes ago you walked into my bar, in a strange town. You didn't know the name of a man in this town. Still, you had brains enough to size up the marshal and comb him over. You were quick enough to see what he would do, and do it before he could. You were quick enough to handle his deputy in the same way. You were tough enough to choose that whole gang. And you were honest enough to pay for two drinks — neither of which you drank — before you came in here." He paused. "I'm a gambler, Woodring. I go by little things. You suit me."
Tip, scowling, rose and walked to the window. The lamps of Forks were lighted against the dusk, and still he did not see them. He was thinking of only one thing. That ten thousand dollars would buy him a spread up in the short-grass country where a man didn't have to drink out of cow tracks, where he didn't have to save for seven years to buy a small herd of beef that could be wiped out in one drouth. He thought of that day when he'd left the south country. Seven years of hard work could be seen from the doorway of his shack — seen and smelled, for the cattle were dead, their bellies bloated, their legs in the air, scattered from the draw to the windmill, which was only pumping air. He had shot the last of them, thrown the key away, ridden to town, collected hide money, and set out for the short-grass country on a gaunted horse. Seven years of it.
He studied the reflection of Rig Holman in the window, watching him. The man had been honest, had warned him of the Shields-Bolling country he would ride into. Tip saw him open a drawer of the desk and lay something on top of the desk. Tip turned, curious.
Holman was watching him. He pointed to a canvas sack and said, "There's three thousand of it right there, if it will help you make up your mind. It's yours now, and will be, luck or no luck. What about it?"
Tip looked at the money and then at Holman and then down at his cracked boots, and he thought, Why not?
He discovered that he had not only thought it, but that he said it aloud, and decided immediately that he had made up his mind.
"You're a gambler, too, I see," was all Rig Holman said.CHAPTER 2
Forks was the only town on the Big River bench, and the Vermilions, shouldering out of the distant west, were too high, too remote, too impassable to figure in its life. A wagon road started west from Forks, but as it divided at each ranch it became dimmer until, pressed against the steep shoulders of the Vermilion range, it existed only long enough to accommodate the mill in the big timber. Beyond and above that, it shrank into a trail, where a few small scattered bands of cattle made their way to and from the mountain pastures. Above that, it was nothing, and Tip Woodring, pressing into the boulder fields of the peaks in a drizzling early-morning rain, had only his instinct and a few game trails to follow. Hunkered down in his slicker, the rain channeling off his Stetson he reflected that this was an appropriate introduction to the country. Noon found him twisting through the boulder-shot canyons of the high peaks, leading his horse sometimes, other times feeling his slow way forward and watching for the fall of ground which would announce that he was on the other side.
It came later, and with it a driving rain. Once through the boulder field and into the sparse growth just below timber line, he took the first trail that offered a way to the shelter of the big timber below. Somehow, this west slope of the mountains was different, more forbidding. It was as if the bitter quarrel between the Shieldses and the Bollings, whose country this was, had laid its stern mantle over this slope.
Tip recalled what he had heard of this feud, remembering that the men who came out of this country did not like to talk about it. Years ago, the Shieldses and Bollings, coming onto the tight mountain meadows of the Vermilions' west slope, had settled there, sharing what land they needed equably. Soon their large families attracted a store and other settlers and the beginnings of Hagen town. The cause of the fight was lost in the bitter past; a slurring word at a dance by one of the Bollings when a Shields sweetheart was showing too much favor to a townsman. A fight that night resulted in the death of one of the Bolling boys. It was avenged within the week, this time on the Shields girl's father. Soon, since these families were Texans out of Mississippi, the cousins and uncles and other kin drifted in, making the fight their own. No sheriff could speak his mind safely, no jury could convict, no marshal could get any help. It was a country of suspicion, of unfriendliness, of shots in the dark, of secret funerals, of corrosive hatred, and of sudden death.
Excerpted from Bounty Guns by Luke Short. Copyright © 1967 Frederick D. Glidden. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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