The lawman and his escaped prisoner are running neck and neck…
His prisoner had help—but Longarm never saw who it was. The backshooter’s bullet creased the nape of his neck, knocking him from his horse and rendering him unconscious. Eager to make his getaway, Alton Gray made a fatal error—he didn’t take a moment to confirm that the lawman was dead.
Now Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long is back on the trail of the runaway prisoner—and his ambushing accomplice. A corrupt town marshal and a wily woman of ill repute may lead him to the elusive escapee, but to finish the job he started, Longarm will have to stick his neck out one more time…
About the Author
Tabor Evans is the author of the long-running Longarm western series, featuring the adventures of Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long.
Read an Excerpt
His head had already bounced twice off the ground before he ever heard the gunshot. He remembered coming off the horse but little else. He had had the lead rope of Alton Gray’s horse in his right hand, but he could not recall what happened to that horse. Or to his prisoner. Now . . .
Deputy United States Marshal Custis Long lay quiet on the grass. He was comfortable. If anything he was more comfortable now than he could remember ever being. Ever. So comfortable he could not even feel his body.
That seemed off somehow. Not quite right. But he could not work out why. The hit on the head, no doubt.
He looked up at Gray. Longarm lay on his back. Gray stood over him atop the bay horse. The two of them seemed a mile high, sitting there above him.
“Serves you right, you son of a bitch.” Gray worked up a wad of spittle and let fly at him.
“Don’t try an’ get away.” Longarm had to pause to catch his breath. “I’ll shoot you if you try.”
He was short of breath. It was a great effort to speak.
Gray reined the bay horse away and disappeared from Longarm’s field of vision. Which at the moment seemed to be directly overhead.
Longarm wanted to sit up. Wanted to scratch his nose, too. He would do those things. In just a minute or so. For the time being he wanted to just lie here on his back and rest.
But the side of his nose did itch quite abominably. He thought he would reach up and scratch it.
But his arm. His hand. He could not feel them. Could not move them. Could not feel . . . anything.
Oh, Lord. He could feel nothing, not anything from his neck downward.
He was paralyzed!
• • •
Longarm’s eyelids fluttered and came open despite a buildup of glue-like secretion that bound them closed.
“Son of a bitch. You’re alive.”
It was a woman. She was standing over him. She had a lead rope in her hand and he could see the head and enormous ears of a mule at the end of that rope.
Longarm was still lying on his back. He had been there . . . he did not know how long. Overnight, he was sure of that. At least one night, possibly more. Time had begun to run together for him as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
“I was . . . never mind,” the woman said. She had his wallet in one hand, so she really did not have to explain why she stopped.
“You’ve shit yourself,” she said. “Can’t you move?”
He drew in as much breath as he could. “No.” The single word came out halfway between a whisper and a croak. “Help . . . me. I’m . . . deputy marshal . . . Long. Help . . . me. Please.”
“Well, you damned sure need help. Reckon it’s up to me to give it.”
The woman was heavy built, stocky, wearing a man’s bib overalls and a red pullover shirt. She had a wen the size of a hen’s egg on the side of her neck. Her hair, beginning to go gray, was cropped off short just below her ears. He guessed her age to be somewhere in the fifties.
“What am I going to do with you, Deputy Long? I can’t leave you here to die.” She sighed heavily, as if feeling terribly put-upon. “I suppose I’ll just have to take you with me, damnit. Then you’ll up and die anyway, but you won’t be on my conscience when you do it. So come along, damn you.”
She took hold of his coat and half lifted, half dragged him beside the mule. Pushed and pulled and grunted with effort.
Longarm could see a little of what she was doing, could hear grunts and scrapes and the sound of something being dragged across gravel. But he could feel nothing. Absolutely nothing.
He closed his eyes and faded away into unconsciousness again.
The ceiling consisted of saplings laid close together. He could see thin tendrils of plant roots hanging down between the poles, so the cabin was roofed with sod. The walls were logs chinked with mud.
Longarm could turn his head to the side a little, but that was all the movement he could manage. He could see to the side a bit but could not lift his head to see toward his feet.
The place was small. Eight by eight was his guess. There was a folding, sheet-metal stove; the cot where he lay and a section of pine log about a foot across and two feet high sawed off flat to serve as a stool or a table. That seemed to be the extent of the furnishings.
He wondered how tall the woman was. However tall, she must have been powerful to get him loaded onto the mule and brought here.
She came inside from whatever she had been doing. Pulled off her woolen stocking cap and hung it neatly on a peg driven between two of the wall logs.
“You’re awake,” she said. “Mayhap you can help me get those filthy clothes off’n you. I got a creek runs by the place. I can wash out your stuff there. In case you’re wondering, you been shot. Creased, actually. Right across the back of your neck.” While she talked she worked, bending over him, unbuttoning and unbuckling, tugging and lifting and pulling at his clothes.
“Got to wash you, too, lest the stink from you make me vomit. You know how some men down south hunt wild horses? They crease them deliberate. Put the bullet just right, close to the spine it has to be, and it shocks them. Knocks them right down and paralyzes them. Except sometimes they shoot too close to the bone, and it kills them. Sometimes just in the meat not close enough and it doesn’t do much of anything to them. But get it just right and they only stay down for a little while. After a spell they stand up, and the horse hunter has them bridled and ready to be broke. Now you, I figure whoever shot you thought he’d killed you. And mayhap he did. You could yet die from this wound. Or you could be up and around tomorrow, next week, one of these fine days. I don’t know any way to tell.”
While she chattered on, she worked. Pulling his clothes off. Rolling him back and forth so that his cheek was pushed hard against a scratchy blanket first on one side and then the other.
“This water is cold, straight from the creek. Is it too cold for you?”
“No,” he grunted. Icy cold or boiling hot, he could feel nothing. He could see that she turned and picked up a basin and cloth and began washing him.
“My God, what a pecker you have, son,” the woman crooned. “Bigger even than the candle I’ve been using to pleasure myself.” She laughed, delighted. “What I wouldn’t give to have some of that shoved up my twat, eh? Shit, I haven’t had a man in . . . let me see . . . three years? Closer to four, I think. Not that you are in much of a condition to be fucking a girl. And more’s the pity.” She laughed again.
A few minutes later she set the basin aside and said, “That is about as clean as I can get you, but try not to shit yourself any more. It isn’t much fun to clean after you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Longarm croaked.
“Sleep now. If you’re going to heal, that is the best medicine for you,” the woman said. “And if you’re going to up and die on me after I’ve brought you this far, do it in your sleep so you won’t be bothering me with it, will you?”
She turned away and fed some fat pine into her sheepherder’s stove and set a pot of water on top of the stove to heat.
Longarm wondered if she intended to feed him. Or just wait to see if he was going to die before she bothered with that.
He closed his eyes and, taking her advice, went to sleep.
Her name was Nicole but she went by the name Nic. She had a man’s strength and in many ways a man’s outlook. She was out here in the mountains, she explained, because this was where the mineral was. Exactly what mineral she was digging she did not say and Longarm knew better than to ask. A direct question like that would have been considered an intrusion on her privacy.
She did feed him. She propped him up in the bed and spooned a little warm broth into him. He did not ask what was in the broth. Suspected it was something he did not want to know. All he cared about was that the broth was warm in his belly and wondrously filling, and he was truly grateful for it.
“More?” he asked when she set the bowl aside. His breath came hard and it was difficult for him to speak.
“No more. You’ll shit yourself again,” Nic replied.
She did take some warm water from a kettle on the stove—or boiling for all he could feel—and again dipped a cloth in to wipe his face and chest and cock.
“What are you? Something over six feet, I’d say,” Nic mused while she washed him. “Damn good-looking man. It’d be a shame to see you die.” She laughed. “Especially with a pecker like that. Why, just look at this thing.”
He was lying flat again, she having removed whatever it was she used to prop him up so he could eat. Consequently he could not see exactly what Nic was doing. But he could certainly hear her exclamation of joy.
“Why, will you look at that,” she yelped. “You can’t feel shit, but your body knows. Damn thing stands tall as a tent pole, doesn’t it? Just a minute. Let me see what it tastes like.”
Nic bent her head. He craned his neck so he could see a little. She had his cock erect and eager, not that he was aware of feeling anything. She had his foreskin peeled back and was running her tongue around the head.
After only a few moments of that she started bobbing up and down on it. Sucking it, he supposed.
Ugly as Nic was, Longarm nevertheless wished that he could feel her sucking him.
But then at the moment he wished he could feel most anything.
Nic sat up, smiling, and unfastened the straps on the bib of her overalls. When she did that the heavy denim dropped to the floor. Nic stepped out of the trousers. She was naked underneath.
The woman was not fat but she was thick. She had a roll of belly and a dark, curly bush. Her pussy hairs dripped with unspent juices.
Longarm quickly learned why. Still smiling, she joined him on the bunk, straddling him and lowering herself onto his cock.
He dropped his head back and closed his eyes. Nic, and what she was doing down there, was not a pretty sight.
He could close out the view but not the sounds Nic made as she grunted and wheezed and bounced up and down on his prick until with a cry she achieved her climax.
Finally she climbed off of him.
At least then she had the decency—if he could call it that—to again pick up the bowl of hot water and cloth and once again wash his cock and balls of the juices she had left on him.
“You didn’t feel any of that?” she asked.
“Damn shame, Marshal. I enjoyed it right fine. Filled me up, and there’s not many men can do that. We’ll do it again tonight, but right now I got work to do.” She dressed and over her shoulder called, “Don’t you go anywhere, honey.”
Nic’s laughter was the last thing he heard before the cabin door shut and he was alone again.
Longarm closed his eyes and hoped for sleep. Or for death. Anything other than this uselessness.
It startled him so much that it woke him up. An itch. A simple little thing like an itch. He could not even be sure where he itched. Somewhere down south, that was as close as he could differentiate. In his foot, perhaps, or his leg. But he was sure that it was an itch.
And he could feel it!
“Did you say something, honey?” Nic asked from the stool where she was having her breakfast.
“No.” He shook his head. “I di’n say anything.”
“Tonight, honey,” she said around a mouthful of beans and pork fat. “Tonight we’ll have us a fine time.” She looked at him. At his crotch, actually. He could see where her eyes were directed. He was still naked. She kept him that way. Liked keeping him naked so she could look at his cock and play with it. And when she had the time could fuck herself with it.
Five days now. He was her own personal dildo, and she had no intention to let her toy get away from her.
He had given up asking for her to go get help for him. Or to pack him on the back of the mule and haul him out to someplace where there was a telegraph so he could inform U.S. Marshal Billy Vail that Al Gray had gotten away. Again.
Back in Denver, Billy would still be thinking that Longarm was somewhere on the trail. Bringing Gray in for trial. Overdue but somewhere out there.
And Gray. What had become of him while Longarm was laid up here as Nicole whatever-her-name-was’s playtoy?
But he definitely had felt an itch somewhere low on his body.
He had never before felt so gloriously wonderful about as simple a thing as an itch, but this one made him feel like rejoicing.
If he had breath enough, he would break out in song. Something good and bawdy. Something loud and happy.
Custis Long chuckled.
And hoped to feel another itch.
Nic finished her bowl of slop and wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. “I’m going to work now, but don’t you worry. I’ll be back this evening, and we’ll have us a fine old time.”
The thought made her laugh. It made Longarm cringe. The woman was insatiable. On the other hand, she had saved his life by bringing him back here and feeding him.
“I’ll clean you up when I get home, honey. You’ve shit yourself again. I can smell it.”
He could smell it, too. The heavy stink humiliated him almost as much as his immobility did.
But he had felt an itch, an actual, honest-to-goodness itch, and under the circumstances that seemed quite the grand triumph, for where there was an itch there might well be other feeling.
For the first time in days, Custis Long had hope.
The itch. That damned, miserable itch was back with a vengeance. It was driving him crazy. It was everywhere. Intense and all consuming.
Then, worse, the itch turned to a tingle. Then a burning sensation over every surface on his body.
Longarm cried out aloud, hoping Nic was not close enough to hear. The tingle was just short of being severe pain, and there was nothing he could do to stop it or even to make is lessen.
But he rejoiced in the pain of it because it meant he was feeling.
Feeling, even feeling pain, was far better than feeling nothing.
His body was coming back from the shock to his spine that the assassin’s bullet had caused.
While he lay immobile on Nic’s bunk he had more than enough time to think. He had to conclude that the rifleman, whoever he was, shot Longarm so as to free Al Gray and that he likely believed Longarm was dead. Damn near had been, actually. A quarter-inch difference in the placement of that bullet and he would indeed be dead now.
It was pure luck that he survived, and a man in his line of work could not count on luck.
Longarm craned his neck to look at his bare feet. His whole body felt like it was on fire, but he twitched one big, hairy toe.
He had actually moved that toe.
He did it again and the grin got wider.
He moved a toe on the other foot, then lay back, exhausted by the simple act of holding his head up that long.
Longarm had to admit that he was not in the best of shape after nearly a week flat on his back and with nothing but a few spoonfuls of broth to sustain him.
But by damn he was on his way back. Feeling was returning to his body. He was able to move his toes. With effort and concentration he was able to move a finger as well. And then his hand.
It occurred to him that Nicole was guilty of false imprisonment. And of a federal officer at that.
If he wished, he could arrest her for that and she probably knew it. She was a rough old bat but not stupid. The woman might not want to lose her toy. Might not want him to recover.