When he rides back into Justiceburg, he discovers the best brothel in the Texas panhandle was been torched. Some of the working girls have been killed in the fire, but others were kidnapped by unknown assailants - including Jack's only love.
Word around town is that the perpetrators are hiding out in the "no man's land" between the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma Territory -- beyond the lawful reach of the Texas Rangers. It is up to Silverjack and his vigilante recruits to take on these outlaws and deal out some Texas-style justice.
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)|
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Silverjack reined in the big roan mare. Horse and rider stood on a narrow granite slab, high atop a black volcanic bluff. The sun glared a bronze orb in the western sky. A soft breeze blew in from the west beginning to cool down the eastern New Mexico landscape. Massive rock walls and boulders began to moan like long dead spirits, the cooling effect of the approaching night releasing their wailing cries. Silverjack shivered.
"Dang it Bess," he said to his horse. "This country is beautiful, but I ain't never gonna get used to them rocks caterwaulin' like they do every time the weather changes. I won't be happy until we get back to the Texas panhandle and home."
Looking out over the brush-strewn desert, the big rangy Texan made out the silhouette of a town in the distance. "Look out yonder, Bess. I believe I see a town. Somebody else's cookin' and a night's sleep in a bed sounds doggone good to me right now. What do you think, old girl, want a big bag of oats to eat tonight?"
The trail weary mare whinnied and tossed her head about.
"That sounds like yes to me. Let's find us a way off this hill and get on down there." He nudged Bess, and she began walking along the narrow rock ledge. Silverjack spied an old game trail, and after looking it over, decided the path was worth a try. Even though Bess was surefooted, Silverjack was still a careful man. The fact that he was alive after many years of living by the gun was ample proof of that. They negotiated the trail with ease and headed toward the distant town.
At the town's edge, a weather beaten old sign proclaimed "WELCOME TO DRY CREEK, NEW MEXICO." As he read the sign, Jack noticed a commotion some ways down thestreet.
I don't know what that is, Bess," he said, "but it ain't any of our business." He touched her flank and she started toward the noise at an easy walk. The closer they got to the ruckus, the more concerned Silverjack became. He did not like what he was hearing.
Silverjack drew the roan mare to a halt outside a small crowd gathered in the middle of the street. A sour faced young man was the center of attention. He was dressed up in a black broadcloth suit and a stiff white shirt. A fancy string tie, cinched up with a shiny piece of turquoise, hung around his neck. A silver Concho band strung around his flat brimmed black hat glistened in the sun.
The young gunny held a .44 pistol in his right hand, with which he was taunting an ancient looking Mexican man. Although Silverjack knew Spanish, it didn't take knowledge of that language to know the Mexican was pleading for his life. Tears had turned the old man's face into a mask of salty mud. Blood trickled from an ugly gash on top of his head. The syrupy liquid matted in his greasy hair and dripped onto his shoulders like fat scarlet lice.
Some of the people watching the spectacle seemed to be enjoying the sadistic show; others bore concerned looks but seemed afraid to interfere.
"This youngster must be thought of as a bad man in these parts," Jack said to the mare. "I didn't want to find trouble today, but I hate bullies more than just about anything."
He moved Bess through the crowd until her shoulder was almost touching the gunman. A bizarre change began to take place on the left side of Silverjack's face. On skin permanently darkened by the sun, an ugly gray scar, a souvenir of a long ago knife fight, ran from his temple to his jaw line. When Jack became angry, the scar turned deep crimson. Now, the old wound seemed to have a life of its own. Blood pulsed through the gash like a raging swollen river.
"What seems to be the problem here?" asked Silverjack.
The young bully's head jerked up. Contempt masked his features as he eyed the stranger.
"Shucks, friend," said the young man, spitting out the words. "There ain't no problem here. I got everything under control. It's just that I don't like greasers, and today is my twenty-first birthday. So, for a birthday present to myself, I'm goin' to put Pancho here out of his misery. After that, me and my friends are headin' for the saloon to have a drink. We're goin' to drink to one less Mex to get underfoot, and one more year in the life of me, Bob Ray Woolens."
"Turn the man loose," said Silverjack.
Bob Ray eyed the big rough looking drifter dressed in old faded buckskins. The man wore a shapeless brown hat and silver-toed boots. A narrow scar traversed the man's face and long silver hair hung down his back, Indian style. The stranger's six-gun rode low on his hip.
The young tough looked up at Silverjack and smiled. "Whoa, now, old-timer, like I was sayin', there ain't no problem here, so far." The smile faded from Bob Ray's face. He stepped up next to Silverjack. "Saddle tramp, I think you'd better ride on out while you still can and forget everything you've seen here today. Otherwise, you might be creatin' a big problem for your ragged old ass."
Silverjack reacted with a startling swiftness that belied his age and great size. He leaned back in his saddle and swung his Silver-toed boot upwards in an arc, knocking the pistol from Bob Ray's hand. Jerking his leg back down, Silverjack's boot heel landed square on top of the young gunman's head, crushing the fancy black hat. The Concho headband popped like a firecracker, hurling dollar sized discs of silver through the air like angry bees. Bob Ray Woolens dropped like he'd been pole axed.
Removing his sweat-soaked hat, Silverjack ran a massive hand through thick grey hair. The vertical scar on his face changed to a dull ashen color. He maneuvered the big roan mare into a position where her hindquarters were straddling the head of the unconscious bully. Leaning forward, Silverjack whispered in the mare's ear while giving her a gentle nudge in the ribs with his boot heels. Bess emptied the entire contents of her bladder into the face of Bob Ray Woolens.
The crowd scattered in all directions, yelling like they just glimpsed their own death. Disgust masked Silverjack's face as he watched the people run. "When 'Piss face' wakes up," he yelled, "you people tell him that if he tries to pistol whip anybody again, I'll know it, I'll find him, and I'll kill him. Tell him Silverjack McDonald said so."
Patting Bess on the neck, he said, "Come on old girl, let's find another place to bed down for the night. This town ain't for us."
The mare took off at a quick trot. Soon, Dry Creek, New Mexico was behind them, and they were back on the trail to Texas and home.
As they disappeared out of town, one of the townspeople, a ragged old-timer with a dirty white beard, swore under his breath. "I'll just be damned. Silverjack McDonald his own self."
"I heard that Texas hell raiser was long dead," piped up his scruffy looking companion.
"I reckon that ain't exactly true," said Dirty Whiskers.
"Naw," Scruffy said, "I reckon it ain't."
Virgil Harp yawned and scratched between his legs. "This sure has been a long hot summer," he said. "Yassuh, either that 'ol sun is gettin' hotter or all them years I've done lived is catchin' up with me." Virgil looked around, and realizing he was alone, snorted a chuckle. "Well," he said, "it looks like I've started talkin' to myself, too."
He stretched his stiff body and arose from his sleeping place. Most of the time he slept on the ground, but the previous evening's rain had forced him to spend the night on the Scarlet Dragon's front porch. The ex-buffalo soldier had lived most of his life outdoors, and he felt all crowded in when he stayed indoors for too long at a time. Virgil Harp was an outdoorsman, a man of the frontier, and damn proud of it. He yawned again and ambled to the well house to wash up.
Virgil was in charge of the security force at the Scarlet Dragon brothel. He used two to six men, depending on the time of year. Prostitution was a seasonal business in the Texas panhandle. The steamy summer days were slow times. Because of this, only three men were working security this time of year. The two guards under Virgil were young, and he didn't care for them too much.
Virgil finished washing up and looked out across the prairie. The flat brown land reminded him of a pie baking in the scorching heat. Blistering waves of steam slithered from the wet ground in long slender tendrils curling upwards toward the sun. Virgil was thinking about the heat, when he caught site of a distant spec of movement on the horizon.
Good Lord," he said, "I sure hopes that ain't no customers comin' yonder. Everbody knows we is closed on Sundays. Oh, well, I guess I'd better put my old ragged boots on and straighten myself up a bit. Miss Mai Ling will tan my hide if I don't look good for the customers." Virgil grinned at the thought of his leather tough ebony skin being 'tanned.'
Mai Ling was the owner and Madam of the Scarlet Dragon brothel. Everyone called her the Dragon Lady, but not to her face. Mai Ling was a shrewd businesswoman and tough as bamboo. She ran a clean house with attractive girls. Cowboys and politicians, outlaws and miners, everyone was welcome at the Dragon as long as they obeyed the house rules.
The approaching men were coming on like the devil himself was on their trail. Virgil tucked his shirt into his faded pants and squinted his eyes trying to make out how many riders were coming in. He counted twelve, thirteen, fourteen, no, just thirteen. Virgil thought about strapping on his six-gun but decided not to. It was the Sabbath, the one day he didn't work, and the one day he didn't like wearing his gun. Besides, his double-barreled ten-gauge shot gun was within reach if he needed it.
"I hopes they's people I know," Virgil said to himself. "I don't need no trouble today. I gots to go to town and see how my boy's doin' in jail."
The riders galloped their horses right up to where Virgil stood, slinging red mud in every direction, much of it landing on Virgil's pants and boots. He looked down at the mess in disgust. Still, he managed to smile up at the men.
A large swarthy-looking man on a black Arabian stallion wiped his dirt-caked face and spat out an evil looking wad of chewing tobacco. The dark brown mass flew to the ground, landing at Virgil Harp's feet.
"Hey, old man, go inside and get that damned Dragon Lady out here now," said the man on the black stallion.
Breath, rank with the smell of alcohol and tobacco, assailed Virgil's nostrils. Virgil could read sign and he could read men. He didn't like what he saw.
"I'm sorry gentlemen," he said, forcing out the words, "but Miss Mai Ling is not working today. This is Sunday and we are closed."
"Goddamn it, you old bastard, I said get the Dragon Lady right now before I blow your black ass to nigger hell."
Virgil Harp wasn't a coward. He had lived his life like a man, and he would die like a man. His only regret was that he might die at the hands of scum like this. He glowered up at the thirteen riders, hate and contempt exploding from his eyes. He spat hard. The greenish chunk of mucus flew straight and true, hitting its mark just below the leader's right eye. Thru clinched teeth, Virgil said, "I told you no!"
"Kill the son of a bitch!" yelled the leader.
Twelve guns roared, shattering the silence of the still prairie. Virgil wished like hell he was a little bit closer to his shotgun as two dozen bullets tore thru his body, making it jump like a rag doll on a string.
The deafening burst of gunfire startled Lupe Velasco, and she dropped the bowl of tortilla masa she was mixing. The crockery bowl hit the floor, bounced once and broke into a dozen pieces. Outside of Virgil Harp, the little Mexican cook was the only one not in bed when the men rode into the yard.
As quickly as she was startled, Lupe regained her composure. She crept out the back, catching the screen door before it banged shut. Lupe peeked around the side of the building. She crammed her flour covered fist into her mouth to keep from crying out.
"Madre de Dios," she whispered. "If they see me, they will kill me, too."
Lupe's mind raced out of control. "I must leave now," she said. "Where is my little burro? Aiiee, I do not have time to look for him. I have to go from this place, pronto."
Lupe started for her home. Walking, slow at first, then faster, and when she felt far enough from the murderers to not be seen, she ran fast as her pounding heart and shaking legs could carry her away from that awful horror.