Harry Tracy needs money, but he doesn't know what he's in for when a tough-looking character called the Kid offers to take him to Hole-in-the-Wall. The gang there has plenty of schemes to get rich, schemes that can also land them in jail. Which is exactly what happens to Harry. Harry isn't one to stay behind bars for long, though. In a bold and daring move, he makes his escape. He has no idea he's just launched one of the most famous manhunts in history.
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By W. R. Garwood
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2006 W. R. Garwood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHarry got down from his grandpa's buggy on that warm, still, August night of 1889, and watched the Silver Star rig wheel around in the wide road opposite his home, then set off back down the pike as the judge, with a flick of his limber crop, touched up his high-stepping bay mare, Diamond. "Tell your pa I said you're to keep that little Sure Shot!" the old man called back. "You're big enough for something beside a dinky air gun. You're going on fourteen now!"
Harry waved at the dwindling black smudge of the buggy and proudly hefted his prized gift-the little single-shot .22 rifle. Grandpa was right. When he'd celebrated his thirteenth birthday the day before at his grandparents' Pittsville home, he'd stepped out of the little kid class. In some 300 odd days or so, he'd really be fourteen.
The moon, just rising, balanced itself, for a moment, spang on top of his house, a glowing bull's-eye. Before it could mount higher he whipped up the barrel of his .22 and plugged it dead center three times. Of course he didn't have any cartridges yet, but he knew he could talk Pa into a box of them.
Pa was real good that way. If it hadn't been for him, he'd never even have got that air gun, because Ma was dead set against guns andhunting and all that. She even raised a fuss when Harry had owned up to building that little cabin out in the woods. Not that it was much-just a log lean-to. But it was his, and a good place to hide out when Ma went on the warpath. It was also a great spot to read his dime novels, never allowed in the house, and to play the harmonica his pa had given him. His half-brother Ervie, a year older than Harry, had followed him all of the past summer, trying to discover what was going on out in those woods, so as he could peach to Ma. But Ervie was just a plain town kid, and couldn't track for sour apples. No gumption, that's what Mike Tracy usually said. Mike, their neighbor who batched in a small box of a house a quarter mile up the road, was a fine hunter and woodsman when he wasn't off logging. Mike Tracy just couldn't stand the sight of Ervie-said he'd never make a border scout in 100 years. Mike did say, though, that he, Harry Severns, had the makings of a real pathfinder, and showed him ways to track game and how to survive in the really big timber. Mike even took him squirrel hunting a couple of times, Harry lugging along his pa's old top-lever breechloader when Ma had gone off to a Pittsville Temperance meeting.
"Harry!" It was his brother breaking in on his daydreams out in the middle of the moon-washed roadway. "How long you been back from Grandpa's? Ma's just fit to be tied. Your pa stoled a heap of money and the sheriff's been here twicet already!"
Harry followed Ervie through the side door of the narrow clapboard house to where his mother sat in the dim light of the dining room, rocking back and forth in her spool rocker.
"You heard?" Her voice, normally subdued and resigned for such a big woman, was harsh and raspingly shrill. Gone was her usual martyr-like air, and she seemed like a possessed person-at least the way possessed folks were said to take on in the Bible. "You heard?"
"Yes, Ma." Harry's throat was so dry he had trouble opening his mouth. "It's a lie, ain't it, Ma?" He waited, but she only rocked back and forth, her own lips compressed into a thin line as she stared from him to Ervie. Ervie, who'd been standing beside Harry, moved away as he sidled over behind his mother's rocker.
"Bad blood always tells!" she rasped so suddenly that Harry, in his growing anxiety, dropped the little rifle.
"Look, Ma!" Ervie pointed at the Sure Shot where it lay gleaming in the lamplight. "Harry's got that gun! He says old Grandpa Severns give it to him for his birthday. You always tol' us we boys couldn't have real guns, and Harry's defying you, like you always say. And now his Pa's run off like a thief. That's bad blood for sure, ain't it, Ma?"
"Bad blood," Mrs. Severns repeated in that strange, harsh voice. "The good Lord help us, for sorrow's come to us through bad blood." She threw her checkered apron over her head and momentarily subsided, rocking away and moaning to herself.
"But what's happened to Pa?" Harry asked his half-brother, clasping his hands together, tears filling his eyes.
Ervie momentarily wavered through the filmy blur of amber lamplight, pudgy face all askew, as he patted his mother's shoulder and scowled at Harry.
"Your Pa took all the money they'd saved up to build our new school and left home. Ma said he never come home last night."
"He wouldn't do that. Pa wouldn't!" Harry stood with clenched fists, looking from his mother to Ervie. "You're a suck-egg liar and I'll thrash you plenty!"
He made a start for his half-brother, but his mother suddenly threw off the apron from her face and stood up. A large, stoutly-made woman, she towered over her son. "Harry, if you touch Ervie, I'll do some thrashing. Now march upstairs to bed!"
He turned without a word, picked up the Sure Shot, as his trembling legs took him to the upstairs doorway and up the creaking, uncarpeted steps to his small bedroom. His mother had made no attempt to seize the little gun, despite Ervie's accusing finger. He'd have whacked that tubby sneak a good one if Ervie'd opened his mouth one more time.
Although he'd had no supper, Harry didn't care. He didn't think he'd ever be able to eat again. He unlaced his shoes, and got out of his shirt waist and knickers, then sat on the edge of his bed in the attic bedroom, staring out the south window at nothing.
Orlando Severns, his father, had been head bookkeeper at the North Star Logging Company ten miles north of town. A well-educated man, who could play the mandolin, harmonica, and zither, he was always so neat and successful-looking that folks in the growing village of Chittamo voted him to be school treasurer. And now, he'd gone off with the money raised for the new schoolhouse-if Ma and Ervie were telling the truth. That was one thing about Ma though, for all her Bible talk, she did tell the truth.
Harry thought it was funny about that "bad blood." Although Grandpa and Grandma Severns weren't much on prayer meetings and hymn sings, Grandpa was a judge and they always went to church. But Ma had her own ways, and it seemed she'd just never got over her first husband, Ervie's own pa, though he wasn't nothing but a fat farmer who drank too much. He'd gone and fell out of a haymow one Fourth of July and broke his fool neck. And even if Ma had gone and married pa about a year later, she was always twisting any talk around to some mention of that God-fearing man, her first husband. Now Pa, for all his church-going, was somewhat of a freethinker, and thought Colonel Bob Ingersol was a blue-ribbon winner-and that didn't set well with Ma, who feared so-called atheists like rattlesnakes. But Harry just wouldn't believe that Pa, or even Grandpa, had anything like bad blood. There had to be a good reason for Pa's sudden departure. Come to think of it, maybe Ma was somewhat at the bottom of it, with her "Old Rugged Crosses", and "Beautiful Isles of Somewhere", and her continual harping on the goodness of Jeremiah Baggot, that drunken farmer, Ervie's old man.
Harry gave it up, and watched the sheet lightning flickering away in the south. A wind, blowing up out of nowhere, flared the trees around the house, while the moon, big and full when he'd come home, seemed battered and hunted as it raced in and out of the growing packs of wolfish-looking clouds that rolled ominously across the sky.
He tried a tune on his harmonica but just didn't have the heart and put it away. A muffled growl of thunder came drumming down from the northwest, where the great primeval forests stretched away toward Minnesota. To the sleepy boy it sounded like the pounding of giant horses loping through the windy night, following that fleeing moon. And his pa was out there somewhere in that wild darkness. Harry dug fists at his eyes once or twice, then drifted off to sleep as the rain began to lash its whips across the wooden roof shingles.
For the next year Harry studied his McGuffey's at the log schoolhouse out on the Minong Road, and had more than one scrap with some of the larger boys when they insisted upon teasing him over his father's departure with the school money. But the majority of the pupils didn't hold that affair against him. His mother, after that one outburst on the night of Orlando's flight, had subsided back into her usual martyr-like existence, keeping house and attending Temperance meetings. However, she insisted that he and Ervie attend church each Sunday, with several prayer meetings thrown in for good measure during the month. On the other hand, Ervie never let Harry forget it was his father who'd darkened the family name, although he stayed well out of Harry's reach and never walked the two miles to school with him.
There was nothing more said about Harry's single-shot rifle. The judge, who handled his daughter-in-law's affairs after the decamping of his son, made it clear his grandson was capable of handling a hunting weapon. The old man even saw to it that Harry had a few cartridges from time to time. As a Civil War veteran, the judge believed that guns were a natural part of everyday Wisconsin life.
When Harry couldn't get over to his grandparents, he took to spending more time out in the woods after school. He also ranged the local timber with Mike Tracy on those summer week-ends when that young bachelor returned from the logging camps around Prairie Lake.
"How old are ya now, kid?" Mike asked one lazy August afternoon as they sat upon a couple of stumps at the edge of Silver Lake, fishing lines dangling like spider's gossamer into the shining water. Off to their left a flock of blue-winged warblers in a nearby stand of aspen were showering each other with a torrent of bubbling song.
Harry turned from trying to capture the bird music on his harmonica, and eyed the speaker. Mike Tracy, sub-foreman at the Ryan and Duff lumber outfit, was a small, red-headed man, not more than five feet two, weighing in at around 130 pounds. But he was tough and quick in all his actions-a real holy terror in a fight-and a man Harry was proud to tag after.
Harry mentally counted the weeks, then straightened up on the stump and squared his shoulders. "Going on fifteen."
"Got yourself a birthday comin' pretty soon, ain't you?" Mike squinted at a flight of black duck as the birds whirled up from the far shore in an explosion of fast-beating wings and rapidly lofted toward them. Lifting his fishing rod, he aimed it at the oncoming flight. "Whang-kabang!" He grinned at Harry. "If this here cane pole had been a shotgun ... then good bye mister duck. And that's my birthday present in advance. Always be ready for what jumps out at you." He flicked his hook and line back into the rippling water and took a long puff on his cob pipe. "'Course we didn't fetch along our weapons today, 'twouldn't have made much sense to carry shotguns on a fishin' trip. But y'gotta remember that life's chock-full of surprises, y'never know what's comin' next." He paused and took another drag on the cob, then rapped the dottle from it on the side of his stump. "Just like last year when your pa lit a shuck outta town. Knocked the wind outta your sails somewhat, I know. But ya got sand, Harry, and that's why I take to you. You don't let things get ya down."
"Grandpa said soldiers never know what's happening one day to the next. They just weather the storms and keep marching." Harry suddenly had a picture of Pa hiking down a long road leading nowhere, his good clothes all dusty and torn, and he furtively rubbed his eyes-then gritted his teeth. Where was Pa, and why hadn't he ever dropped them a letter?
"Pull 'er! Pull 'er!" Mike was yelling.
Startled, Harry tugged and hauled back on his bending, whipping pole-and a great whopper of a muskellunge landed on the bank, thrashing madly over the grass in a rainbow spray till Mike knocked the glittering fish on the head with a rock.
While the muskie lay stretched out, goggle-eyed and jaw agape upon a bed of moss, a scarlet bead of its blood sparkling jewel-like on a lady slipper's yellow leaf, Mike relighted his pipe. "Y'darn nigh lost that one, kid. That's just what I always say, be ready for the unexpected."
Harry nodded silently, then, seeing Mike's bobber doing a jig, pointed at the twitching cork, while the logger dropped his pipe and tussled with his line to land a runty brown trout fingerling.
Unhooking the little fish, Mike heaved it far out into the lake and grunted: "Like I said, be ready for the unexpected." He picked up his cob, reloaded, and got it lit again. "Goin' on fifteen, eh? Well, I'm movin' over to a new company, so how'd you like to come up there until school starts? Then you could work at the camp week-ends, too. Think your ma would go along with that?"
In the late fall of 1890, Harry went to work at the Wright and Ketchum Company logging camp as cook's helper, staying out at the site, thirty miles north of Chittamo, the month around. His mother had made little objection to his leaving school in the sixth grade now that he was actually going on fifteen. She only insisted he take his Bible along and read a verse each day, and attend services whenever a sky pilot, or itinerant preacher might strike camp.
At odd times during the summer of 1891 he still ranged the woods with his friend Mike, now a "bull of the woods" with a nearby lumber company. Mike's elevation to the rank of foreman had done little to stop his famed Saturday night fisticuffs. Still quick as a cat, he took on any work stiff that came along looking for trouble-defeating one and all. He'd passed along many of his tricks to Harry over the past years-"Get in that first punch!" To Harry and the rest of the Shanty Boys, Mike Tracy was the "damned state's best man."
By 1892, when Harry was nearly sixteen, he'd taken to traveling to the Dakotas with some of the teamsters working with the threshing crews after the lumber camps were shut down for the summer. It was a change from the cool, deep green world of the forests to the wide, dusty prairies with the mile upon mile of tawny-yellow grain, all sun-browned by the blazing sun. But it seemed that everything was changing.
Word had come that a man answering to the description of Orlando Severns, working on the Kansas railroads as a section foreman, had been killed in an accident. Old Judge Severns didn't think it was his fugitive son, and neither did Harry. But it was good enough for Harry's ma, who promptly married a fellow church-goer by the name of Ed Goodwin. Goodwin, a part-time surveyor and logger, immediately moved into the Severns' homestead. Although Harry never came back to the place, save for brief visits, he could never hold any strong feelings against Goodwin, for he sympathized with anyone trying to live with Ervin Baggot Severns.
It was while he was laboring under the fiery Dakota sun as a driver and stacker that Mike Tracy met his match.
Fat Sol, the old cook, told Harry about it when he returned to camp in the fall. "Mike was one of the best in the whole damned woods, like you know. He was off work for the month, so Old Man T.E. Dorr hired him on as a looker to check out that range of timber forty miles west of here. Mike took his compass, his pack, maps, and a bottle of tangleleg and rode over there. They think he took himself a little drink in a stand of old pine. Then ... while he was dozing it off ... a big windstorm toppled a devil of a whopper tree, and that was the end of Mike Tracy."
So that was the way the world went-for Mike hadn't been ready for the unexpected, after all.
Excerpted from Hunt Down by W. R. Garwood Copyright © 2006 by W. R. Garwood. Excerpted by permission.
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