Devil Creek Crossfire
When the brothers head into the small cowtown of Crossville, close by Devil Creek, all they want is to stock up on supplies and rest their weary horses. Instead, they find themselves in the middle of a bloody range war that's literally split the town down the middle. The warring factions have set up camp on either side of Main Street, and the newcomers ride in on a deserted strip of no man's land where anything--and nothing good--is liable to happen. The feud seems ridiculous: it isn't over land or water or cattle rustling, but something much darker. . .and deadlier. Bodine and Two Wolves figure the best course would be to leave--that is, until both sides order them out. Big mistake. Because the blood brothers don't take orders from anyone. . .
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It was not a typical Western town, a fact that both young men picked up on real quick. There were two general stores, both with the same name painted on the front. Two like dress "shoppes," two barber shops, saddle shops, gunsmiths, and so on. Each store was directly across the wide dusty street from the other.
"Have I suddenly developed double-vision?" Sam asked, as they rode slowly down the street, aware of many eyes on them.
"If you have, so have I," Matt replied. "I have seen some strange sights, brother, but I believe this takes the prize."
Both sensed the tension in the air. And both sensed that they had ridden smack into trouble.
"Do you have any idea where we are?" Matt asked.
"Idaho, I think," Sam said. "Does it make any real difference ?"
"I guess not." Matt took a second and longer look up and down the street. "Weird," he muttered. "Let's get our supplies and get gone from here."
"My sentiments, exactly," his blood replied. "I don't like the feel of this town."
Two men stepped out of one of the two saloons and stood on the boardwalk, watching the blood brothers. Matt and Sam noticed that the guns of the men were worn low and tied down. A lot of men wore their guns low and tied, and in a dozen other ways for that matter, so that in itself was not unusual. But it was more than the way these two wore their guns that caught the eyes of the brothers. The guns seemed to be a natural part of the men.
"Hired guns," Matt said softly.
"You know them?"
"I know one of them. That's Burl Golden in the black hat. The other one looks familiar, but I just can't place him right off."
"How about a beer?" Sam mused softly, his words just audible over the plop of horses' hooves and the creak of saddle leather.
"That sounds good. Which saloon? You remember the last time we picked a saloon."
Sam chuckled. "Brother, if we didn't constantly stay in trouble, life would be so boring."
They stepped down from their horses and looped the reins around the hitch rail. After they had used their hats to beat the trail dust from their clothing, the brothers looked up and down the street. The fact that they had automatically slipped the hammer thongs from their guns did not escape the eyes of the many loafers who sat in chairs or leaned against support posts on both sides of the street.
The brothers stepped up onto the boardwalk and covered the short distance to the saloon, pushing open the batwings and stepping into the beery-smelling semi-gloom. They stood for a moment, on either side of the batwings, assessing the unusually large crowd for this time of day and letting their eyes adjust to the dimness.
The men in the saloon had fallen silent, everybody staring at the strangers.
"I think they're both Injuns," a man broke the silence, his voice holding a taunting, ugly note.
Matt glanced at Sam and the other smiled. Together, they walked to the long bar. "Beer," Matt said. "For both of us."
The barkeep kept shifting his eyes from Matt to Sam. Both of them did sort of look like Injuns. Sort of. But so did a lot of other men. The barkeep couldn't be sure and didn't want to offend either of these big, rugged-looking hombres. Both of them looked like they'd been across the crick and over the mountains more than once. He finally shrugged his shoulders, drew two mugs of beer, and slid them down to the men.
"Hey, boy," the same loudmouth called. "You with the one gun. Are you a breed, or what?"
Sam took a sip of beer and carefully set the mug back on the scarred-up bar. He sighed, knowing what was coming. But he damn sure wasn't going to let it alone. "Or what," he said.
"Huh?" the loudmouth called.
Matt smiled and sipped his beer. The beer was cool and felt good after a long dusty day on the trail. Neither of the two young men were trouble- hunters, but neither were they known to back away from it.
"I ain't drinkin' with no damn Injuns," the bigmouth persisted.
"Then leave," Matt told him, his back to the man.
The batwings pushed open, and a man wearing a star on his shirt stepped inside. He looked around, then walked to the bar and stood staring at Matt. "Connors, right?"
"Wrong," Matt told him.
The marshal waited for a few seconds, then said, "Well, if your name isn't Connors, what is it?"
Something in this town was all wrong, and both Sam and Matt could smell it like the odor of a dead skunk. There was too much tension in the air, and it was thick and ugly.
"I'm Matt and this is my brother, Sam."
"I still think that ugly one is a damn stinkin' Injun," the man with the big mouth said.
"You know that gentleman, Marshal?" Sam asked.
"I know him. Why?"
"Then I would suggest that you tell him to shut his face before he finds his mouth separated from it and on the other side of the room."
"He's got a right to an opinion," the marshal replied.
"That he does," Sam agreed evenly. "And so do I."
"What'd you say about me?" The mouth man shoved back his chair and stood up.
Sam turned and faced him. His eyes were hard and dangerous. "I'm half Cheyenne, Mister. Now if you don't like that, you're wearing a gun."
"Hold it!" the marshal raised his voice. "That's enough. You sit down, Eddie. And you boys drink your beer and then leave town."
"No," Matt said softly.
The marshal stiffened. "Cowboy, you can ride with anybody you like. That's your business. But this town is my business. And when I tell you to haul your ashes, you move. Don't play games with me."
Sam stood facing the man with the big mouth. Matt stood facing the bar, his back to the room, the beer mug in his left hand. "I'm not playing games, Marshal. We just came into town to have a beer and stock up on beans and bacon and coffee. When we've done that, we'll leave. And not before."
"I could put you in jail for refusing my orders to leave town."
The man facing Sam was getting angrier by the moment, his face red and his hand by the butt of his gun. "They're both wearin' necklaces, Marshal. That's pure Injun crap. Let's run 'em out of town."
"Settle down, Eddie," the marshal said. "Just settle down. There's something all wrong here. These two are just too calm to suit me. You boys got last names?"
"We're the Smith brothers," Matt said.
"Why couldn't it have been Callahan, or O'Malley, or Frankenhurt?" Sam asked. "Must you always be so unoriginal ?"
"My name's Smith," Matt said with an easy grin. "He's Sam Frankenhurt." He gestured toward Sam.
"Couple of damn funny boys," Eddie said. "I'm callin' you out right now, Injun."
"I'm sorry, Eddie," Sam told him. "My dance card is all filled up for this evening."
A couple of the men in the room chuckled.
"Sit down, Eddie!" the marshal shouted. "I mean right now."
Eddie sat, but he wasn't happy about it.
"Who sent for you two?" the marshal asked softly.
"Nobody sent for us. I told you, we're just drifting."
"What are your real names?" The question was asked very low, so no one else in the room could hear.
"Bodine and Two Wolves," Matt whispered.
A nervous tic appeared at the corner of one of the marshal's eyes.
Before he could respond, a man blurted out, "Hell, I know who them boys are. That's Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves."
Eddie sighed and placed both hands on the table top.
"I don't give a damn who they are," another said. "I don't like greasy Injuns."
"Shut up, Prince!" the marshal warned him. He cut his eyes back to Matt. "Nobody sent for you?"
"No one. We're just ridin' through. It looks like we picked the wrong town to light."
"I wouldn't suggest staying long," the marshal said drily.
"This Connors you mentioned," Matt said. "Ben Connors?"
"Yes. You know him?"
"I know of him. Gunfighter from over western Kansas way. He's a bad one. Mean clear through. Why would he be coming to ... what is the name of this town?"
Sam looked at the marshal. "That's a strange name for a town."
"It's a strange town. And getting stranger. You're in the Carlin half now."
Matt blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"You boys really weren't kidding, were you? You're just drifting."
"Get your beers and come on over to a table with me. Let's talk."
"What are you gonna do about that stinkin' Injun, Marshal?" Prince hollered.
Sam walked over to the man and Prince stood up, ready to draw. Sam never gave him the chance. What he did give him was a combination of lefts and rights to the jaw, mouth, and nose. Prince flattened out on the floor and didn't move.
"That's one way to shut that flappin' trap of his," the bartender said.
"Bring me a beer, George," the marshal called. "And fresh ones for these boys."
"Comin' up, Tom."
Seated at a far table, the marshal said, "The name is Tom Riley."
"Pleased," Sam said. "Would you explain about the Carlin half of this town, Marshal?"
George set three full mugs of beer on the scarred table top and returned to his station.
"Long story," Tom said. "What maps there are of this area show this town as Crossville. It's been here about twelve years. Founded by two men. John Carlin and Bull Sutton. It used to be a nice place to live. Most folks got along well, and there was really very little trouble. Anyways, John and Bull never have got along well with one another. They both own big ranches, and they have big sons and pretty daughters. And they both think they're the cock of the walk. And so do their kids. Bull and John fought the Shoshoni and Bannock and pretty much settled this area. Give them credit for that. Now we got stagecoaches coming in regular, and it was shapin' up to be a right nice place to live and work and raise a family. That is until Daniel Carlin fell in love with Connie Sutton. It has all turned to road apples since then. Now, mind you, neither one of those kids is worth a tinker's damn for anything. It ain't proper to talk about a good woman, but Scarlett ain't no good woman. Not by a long shot. She's as mean as an angry puma and got her a temper and a bad mouth that'd cause any man to duck down and hide his head in shame. Bull has forbid Scarlett to see Johnny, and John has forbid Johnny to see Scarlett. Of course, they see each other every chance they get, which is often. Now Bull had accused John of settin' the whole thing up so's he can get his ranch, and John has accused Bull of the same thing. The kids of both men is eggin' things on 'cause none of them 'ceptin' Daniel Carlin and Connie Sutton has sense enough to come in out of a rainstorm."
"Both sides are hiring gunfighters?" Matt asked.
"You bet. A lot of them."
"Some of them. Ned Kerry, J.B. Adams, Paul Brown, Dick Laurin have signed on with the Flyin' BS."
Sam almost spilled his beer. "The what?"
The marshal allowed himself a smile. "That is one hell of a brand, ain't it? Bull Sutton's brand. And he's full of it, too. Henry Rogers, Rod Hansen, Ramblin' Ed Clark, and Bill Lowry is on the Circle JC's payroll. And them's just the known guns. Every manjack on both spreads is now drawin' fightin' wages, and there don't seem to be no end in sight."
"You can add two more to the list," Sam said, looking out the fly-specked window of the saloon to the street. "Simon Green and Peck Hill just rode up."
Tom clenched his hands into fists and quietly did some pretty fancy cussing for a moment.
"I hate to ask this, Marshal," Matt said, "and I hope you don't take it the wrong way, but which side are you on?"
Tom shook his head. "No offense taken, Matt. It's a fair question. I'm sittin' smack in the middle of this mess. No man, or no two men, own a Western town of this size. We have us a mayor and a town council, and they hired me. Only they can fire me. I'm paid to keep the peace in this town. I intend to do just that and to hell with what goes on outside it."
The batwings shoved open, and Simon Green and Peck Hill stomped in. They each wore two guns tied down low. Matt and Sam and the marshal were sitting in the semi-gloom at the far end of the saloon. They received a glance from the hired guns, but at that distance the faces of the trio were hard to make out. The gunfighters walked to the bar.
"Whiskey with a beer chaser," Simon said, in a voice too loud. "Both of us. And which way to the Flying BS?"
"Now you know, Marshal," Sam muttered low.
"Look there," Matt said, glancing out the nearest window. "Gene Baker and Norm Meeker riding up. It's getting real interesting around here."
"You boys best leave this saloon," George told the pair at the bar. "You're on the wrong side of town. Get on over to the Bull's Den." He had one hand under the bar, out of sight, and both gunslingers knew that in all likelihood, he was gripping a sawed-off shotgun. Some called them Greeners.
"Easy, now, friend," Simon said. "Just hold your water. We didn't know."
"Now you do," George told him.
"For a fact," Peck said.
Gene Baker and Norm Meeker walked in, and the four gunfighters stared at one another for a moment.
"Well, well," Simon broke the short silence. "Look who the tomcat done drug in. Baker and Meeker. I guess you boys signed on with the wrong side again."
"It damn shore ain't the side you're on, Green." Meeker scowled at him. "It never is. You and me, we'll end our quarrel this go around. Now get out of my way."
"I don't think so."
"That's it!" Marshal Riley said, standing up and stepping into the light from the window. His badge glinted brightly. He pointed at the gunslicks. "Take your difficulties outside of town. There will be no trouble in this town. You two," he said to Green and Hill, "take your butts across the street. Right now."
"Why, sure thing, Marshal," Peck said easily and with a smile. "We sure don't want no trouble with the law, now do we, Simon?"
"Oh, absolutely not," Simon added in a mocking tone. The two men grinned at each other and walked out onto the boardwalk, then across the wide street.
Baker and Meeker looked at the marshal, nodded their heads, and walked to the bar. Tom sat back down at the table. Two men were dabbing at Prince's face with wet towels. He was coming around, but slowly. Sam had really blown out his candle with that last punch on the button.
"What ran over me?" Prince mumbled. "A beer wagon?"
"No," one of those attending him said. "That half-breed Injun."
"I think I better make friends with him," Prince said. "I damn sure don't want him for no enemy."
"Marshal," Sam said, confusion in his eyes. "Do you mean that this country is about to explode in a shooting war because of a proposed wedding?"
Tom toyed with his beer mug for a moment. He sighed and shook his head. "That's the reason both men give. But this has been simmerin' on the back burner for a long time. The kids seein' each other is just an excuse."
"Lone rider coming in," Matt said.
Baker and Meeker left the bar and walked to the batwings, looking out. "Ben Connors," Baker said. "Somebody is spendin' a lot of money gettin' him in here."
Connors reined up and swung down from the saddle in front of the Bull's Den.
"Seems like a whole lot of people arriving in this town in one day," Matt remarked.
"For a fact," Tom agreed. "And I hope the two I'm sitting with have decided to leave," he said hopefully.
Matt and Sam looked at each other and grinned.
"Oh, hell!" Tom said. "That's what I figured."
"Jesus!" Prince said with a groan. "I feel like I been kicked by a mule."
The brothers got a room at the hotel, which was located at the end of the street in a fork of the road, and which had been declared neutral ground by both warring ranchers. That was because of the hotel's dining room. The chef had been brought in from New York City, and his food was praised by all.
Sam stood by the window of the room and looked up the wide street of the split-apart town. "I wonder what the real reason is behind this war? And I wonder why we don't just saddle up and ride away from this silly mess?"
"The real reason is probably a power struggle, and the reason we're staying is because of curiosity. You can't keep your nose out of other folk's business." Matt ducked his head to hide his smile.
"Me?" Sam said, turning from the window on the second floor. "You're the one who is the busybody."
Matt tried his best to look hurt. He couldn't pull it off. "You really want to ride out?"
Sam smiled and shook his head. "No. We've been on the trail for several weeks, and I'd like a few days sleeping in a real bed. Not to mention some time off from your lousy cooking."
"At least I can cook," Matt told him. "You have a tough time getting water to boil." He stretched out on the bed with a sigh. The brothers had taken baths in the tubs behind the barber shop, then had gotten a shave and a haircut while fresh clothing was being brushed and ironed and their trail-worn clothing was sent to the Chinese laundry, run by a pleasant enough fellow named Wo Fong.
Excerpted from "Blood Bond Devil Creek Crossfire"
Copyright © 1992 William W. Johnstone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I did not enjoy this book as much as I have the other Blood Bond books. It seemed a bit unrealistic. But it is full of twist and turns and you do not find out until close to the end what it is all about. A good read and a challenge if you like to see if you can solve the puzzle before the ending.