Young Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves became blood brothers on the day the rancher's son saved the halfbreed's life, forging a bond no one could ever break. As years passed a legend grew of the breed and the white man who rode togetherand could jerk killing iron with the best of them...
Shootout At Cold Creek
Matt Bodine and Sam Two Wolves don't look for troubleit's usually there when they wake up in the morning. When they ride into the little gold mining town of Jordanville, high in the Colorado Rockies, all they want is a hot meal and something cold to wash it down.
When they see an unarmed man getting brutally beaten by a hard case with a bullwhip, their plans suddenly change. Before they can spit, the blood brothers find themselves in the middle of a violent land war and up to their noses in claim jumpers and hired guns itching to open fire. Most men would hightail it out of town instead of poking into the biggest hornet's nest in the territorybut Bodine and Two Wolves aren't most men. They've never run from a fight in their livesand they sure as hell don't intend to start now...
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BLOOD BOND #7 SHOOTOUT AT GOLD CREEK
By WILLIAM W. JOHNSTONE
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 1993 William W. Johnstone
All right reserved.
Chapter One"We've got trouble, Boss."
Clarence Hart looked up from the machinery he was working on, his tanned skin glistening in the light of the setting sun. Touches of gray were sprinkled through his brown hair and laugh lines had started to form around his mouth. Though he was no longer a young man, years of hard work had made his muscles rock-hard and he was as strong as most men half his age. In this rough-and-tumble mining community composed almost exclusively of men, he worked shirtless. His shoulder muscles rippled as he stretched, trying to work out the kinks that working in a tight spot had given him.
The young man standing before him repeated his statement. "We've got trouble. It's Jordan's bunch. They're moving in on Shannahan down at the creek."
Hart clenched and unclenched his fists. His blue eyes, usually twinkling with good humor, now seemed almost a flat gray. He looked at the broken-down mining machinery that still needed repair. He had hoped to have the repairs completed before dark. No matter. The safety of his men was more important than any machine.
"Only a few, but the ringleader is one of the new hands that Jordan brought in. The one that wears the fancy holster tied low."
Hart mentally reviewedthe new faces in the area. There were many who could be considered hired guns, brought in by Nelson Jordan. His enemy's move had left Hart no choice but to bring in some guns of his own. Hart had strength and courage. He had years of working in and around mines that had sharpened his mind and forged his muscles into bands of iron. He could also shoot as well as most Western men, but against a professional gunfighter he wouldn't stand a chance, just as his men wouldn't stand a chance. This particular gunfighter would be the one they called Parrish. He wasn't one of the best guns in the West, but he was still dangerous. And unfortunately, Hart did not have the kind of money it took to hire guns that were as fast and dangerous as the ones that Jordan had hired. At this point, it was still Hart and his men against Jordan and his hired guns.
The young messenger, Tom Tyler, was barely more than a kid. He was an honest, hard worker. Shannahan, an Irishman just a few years older than Tom, was a former boxer from the old country who had come to the new world to seek his fortune. His other men were of the same type. In a fair fight, they could hold their own. But would they stand a chance against the men that Jordan was bringing in?
Hart continued to clench and unclench his massive fists as Tom watched anxiously. Hart knew that every second he hesitated could bring Shannahan that much closer to death. Jordan had done everything he could that was even close to legal to take over Hart's claims and meager mining operations. Now Jordan was raising the stakes with the gunfighters. It wouldn't be beyond him to kill Hart's men in cold blood, if that was what it would take to make Hart sign over his deeds.
Hart also knew that if he stood up to Parrish he might also be a dead man.
No matter. He hadn't mined and prospected for most of his life, finally finding the best vein he had ever seen, only to lose it to the likes of Nelson Jordan! Hart would die before letting that happen.
The older miner stood, reached for a well-used Winchester.
"Are you with me, Tom?"
"I'll follow you into the pits of hell itself," the younger man answered. "We all would. You know that."
"That just may be where we're headed," Hart answered grimly. "But if so, we'll go down fighting like hell!"
* * *
The sun setting beyond the dark hills cast coppery shadows on the two men riding leisurely down the well-rutted trail. In the distance, sounds of mining machinery could be heard and the burning odors from the smelter crowded out the natural smells of pine and night air.
"I'm not sure I like the smell of this town," Sam August Webster Two-Wolves said, laughing slightly. "I've smelled trouble before, but never an aroma quite like this!"
"I've seen some privies that smelled sweeter," Matt Bodine agreed, holding his nose with an exaggerated motion.
"Still, where there's mining, there's sure to be someplace for a beer. We've been riding long enough. I could handle the stink for a cool beer and a good card game."
"Ever the philosopher, Sam?" Matt said.
"I didn't spend those years in college for nothing!" Sam answered.
Both men laughed and continued their good-natured kidding. Though they rode leisurely, as if they hadn't a care in the world, each man kept his gun hand free. And their eyes constantly scanned the areas on each side of the trail, their ears listening for any sound that might hint of danger. They had been through many adventures and survived countless fights because of the caution that had become second nature to them and the easy way they worked together. They had learned from experience to always be prepared for any kind of trouble that might jump out at them from the next bend in the road.
The closeness of the two men came as natural as breathing for in truth they were blood brothers.
In the reddish shadows, the two men looked quite similar, as might be expected from brothers. Each was young, handsome, and muscular, over six feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds. They were dressed simply, in comfortable clothes covered with trail dust. Around their necks each man wore identical multi-colored stones pierced by rawhide in the Indian style. On a first, casual glance, they could pass for full brothers, and had many times.
A closer inspection, however, revealed a number of differences. Though both had a wild and reckless glint in their eyes, Matt had blue eyes and brown hair and Sam had black eyes and black hair. Sam's other features, however, had been inherited from his white mother. Only his cold obsidian eyes, which were occasionally softened with high humor, gave away his Indian heritage.
In spite of the different cultures they represented, the two young men were as much blood brothers as if they had the same mother and father. They were joined by knife and fire and the Cheyenne blood-bond ritual brought them closer together than most white men could ever conceive or know.
Sam's father had been a great and highly respected chief of the Cheyenne, his mother a beautiful and highly educated white woman from the East who had fallen in love with the handsome Cheyenne chief and married him in Christian and Indian ceremonies. As boys, Matt had saved Sam's life. Though his home was on a nearby ranch, Matt had spent as much time in the Cheyenne camp when he was growing up as at his home on the ranch. He was finally adopted into the Cheyenne tribe, thus becoming a True Human Being according to Cheyenne beliefs.
Sam's father, Medicine Horse, had been killed during the Battle of the Little Big Horn after he charged Custer, alone, unarmed except for a coup stick. When Sam's father realized that war was coming and that he must fight, he ordered Sam from the Indian encampment and to adopt the white man's ways and to forever forget his Cheyenne blood.
Matt and Sam had witnessed the subsequent slaughter at the Little Big Horn, though that was a secret only they shared. In the sad time that followed the battle, they decided to drift for a time across the rugged West to try and erase the terrible memory of the battle.
Though they looked like drifters, in truth they were well-educated and wealthy. Sam Two-Wolves was college educated, while Matt had been educated at home by his mother, a trained schoolteacher. Sam's mother had come from a rich Eastern family and left him with many resources, which Sam had used to his advantage. Matt had earned his fortune through hard work and smart business moves. He had worked riding shotgun for gold shipments and as an Army Scout, saved his money, and bought land. Both Matt and Sam now owned profitable cattle and horse ranches along the Wyoming-Montana border.
The two men never looked for trouble, but neither did they ever back away from a fight, which caused them to be involved in many adventures.
And through their exploits, the two blood brothers were developing an unsought but well-deserved reputation as gunfighters.
As Matt and Sam continued to ride, they came upon the outskirts of the community itself. Dozens of tents had been erected, with a few ramshackle wooden buildings thrown in to break the monotony. At one point in the rutted road, a rough wooden sign had been nailed to a post. Toward the bottom of the sign were the words "Silver Creek." It had been crossed out and a new name painted in: "Jordanville."
Sam pointed to the sign and suggested, "Seems the people of this town can't make up its mind about what to call themselves."
"It's not much of a town now," Matt answered. "Probably isn't even organized yet. You know how these new mining towns are. They pop up one day, and gone the next. I saw lots of these towns when I was riding shotgun."
Now Sam's keen senses picked up the smell of the river among the unpleasant odors of too many humans in too small of a space and the fumes from the mining operations.
The sound of the bullwhip was less subtle.
It cracked, and cracked again, piercing through the night.
The two brothers looked at each other.
"What do you think?" Matt asked. "Should we keep riding? It's not our problem."
"You know how I feel about whips," Sam said.
"Probably the only law here is by the gun. If we ride on in and take a look, we'll probably get ourselves involved in another fight."
Sam continued as if he hadn't heard his brother. His eyes had grown hard as he thought about injustices he had seen in his life. He said, "No beast or man should ever be subjected to that kind of shame ... or pain."
"Oh, hell," Matt answered.
"You know how I feel," Sam said. "I just can't ride by and let any man or beast be bullwhipped."
"Yeah, I knew you were going to say that. There goes any chance for a quiet beer."
Even so, Matt smiled slightly to himself, for he felt the same way that Sam did.
Without another word, both men spurred their horses to greater speed toward the river, where the nasty sound of the bullwhip had come from.
Chapter TwoAs Matt and Sam rounded the corner, there was still plenty of light to judge the situation. On the bank was a tall man dressed in a broad, black hat. He wore two heavy revolvers in tied-down holsters and was holding a large bullwhip made of shiny black leather. The end was tinged in red from where it had torn flesh.
Just a few feet into the river, next to a long sluice used to separate gold from worthless rock, stood another man. He was tall and slim. He held no weapon except a shovel. He had been working without a shirt. Several small red welts oozed blood where the tip of the bullwhip had hit.
The man with the whip laughed. "Well, Shannahan, have you had enough yet to make you return to the old country? We don't need the likes of you or your boss here. If you take off now, I might let you live."
The man in the water said nothing.
The man in black waved his whip and laughed. "On the other hand, there's too many damned Irishmen in Ireland, as well. Might as well kill you now and be done with it."
On the riverbank stood many other men. Some of them wore guns and, like Parrish, had the appearance of hired guns. They laughed along with Parrish. Others wore plain clothes and had the look of simpler workers. Some of these moved restlessly from one foot to another, as if they wanted to help but could not. The majority seemed indifferent.
Shannahan finally crossed his arms against his chest, one hand still holding his shovel, and said plainly, "Parrish, you're a damnable coward."
Faster than the strike of a rattlesnake, Parrish flicked his wrist and the bullwhip cracked again. The Irishman tried to use his shovel as a shield, without success. Another red welt appeared, this one on his cheek. The man didn't flinch, however, even as the drop of red started to run down his cheek.
"I'd think twice about calling me names, son," Parrish replied, grinning broadly. "If I were you, I'd consider myself lucky that I'm just using the whip on you. If I really didn't like you, I would've already had a bullet through you. Probably several bullets."
The two blood brothers were still several hundred feet from the scene, but could clearly see and hear the exchange as they rode.
Matt sighed, and said, "It's none of our business, you know. For all we know, that man in the river could have stolen the other man's wife. Or worse, he could have stolen a horse."
"You know better than that, brother," Sam said, through clenched teeth. "We've both seen this scene too many times. You know what's going on as well as I do. And even if he did steal a woman, not even that crime is bad enough to be bullwhipped. Too many of my people have suffered that kind of fate. I don't plan to let anybody be bullwhipped if I can help it."
"Then I'm with you."
The two men had worked together long enough that only a few words were needed to develop a plan and put it into action.
"I'm going after Parrish," Sam said. "You just make sure the others stay clear."
Shannahan briefly touched the blood trickling down his cheek, glanced at it, then turned his attention back to his tormentor.
"I speak only the truth," Shannanan said. "You're a damnable coward. Come out here and face me like a real man, and I'd prove to everybody here that you're not a man. Truth is, you know you'd stand no chance against me. You act brave up there when you have the gun and whip and I have only a shovel. I'm calling you like I see it. You're nothing but a lowdown, razor-backed cur of a mongrel bitch. I suspect that your owner, Jordan, is probably your bastard father ..."
Matt had to admire the way Shannahan was conducting himself. Though he knew he could be shot or crippled at any moment, he still stood his ground and tried to anger Parrish enough to make a mistake. It was a desperate gamble, one that looked like Shannahan would lose.
Blood had flushed the face of the gunfighter. Parrish angrily raised his hand to crack the whip with full force across the other man when unexpectedly he heard a horse racing toward him through the crowd. The spectators ran and jumped out of the way. Parrish looked up in time to see a grim face with dark eyes that were as cold as obsidian bearing down on him. Before Parrish could react, the other man reached out and plucked the bullwhip from his hand. In one fluid motion he threw the whip into the river and dismounted his horse.
"Stranger, I don't know who you are, but you're a dead man."
"My name's Sam Two-Wolves, and I think I disagree with your assessment of the situation."
Sam's cool words, more appropriate to a drawing room discussion than to a potential shootout, made Parrish pause for another half-second. It was enough time for Sam to cross the remaining several feet and connect with a solid right to the jaw. Parrish landed on his rear on the edge of the river. He was not hurt, except in his pride. He angrily jumped up to face the stranger.
Parrish waited for several more seconds. Still nothing, except for some low grumbles.
The seconds seemed like hours before Parrish took a quick glance to his left.
Another man that looked as if he could be a brother to Sam Two-Wolves was nonchalantly leaning against a tree, his revolver held lazily in his hand, while the other men were carefully placing their weapons in a pile in front of them. A few of them looked to Parrish and shrugged. Others in the crowd were smiling.
"You're on your own now, Parrish," Matt said.
"Let's see what kind of stuff you're really made of," Sam said. "Prove you're not a coward who needs a bullwhip to try to pretend he's a man."
Parrish turned back to face Sam. The gunfighter and Sam were about evenly matched in height and weight, but Parrish had his back to the wall. All eyes were watching him. He was the one challenged, and could not easily slip out of this fight.
"Well?" Sam continued. "What kind of man are you?" Parrish suddenly took three steps and dived at Sam, driving his shoulder into the other man's belly. The gunfighter had telegraphed his move, however, and Sam had prepared himself by bracing his feet on the ground and tensing his muscles. To Parrish it felt like he was hitting a brick wall. Sam brought down a clenched fist on the back of the other man's neck.
Excerpted from BLOOD BOND #7 SHOOTOUT AT GOLD CREEK by WILLIAM W. JOHNSTONE Copyright © 1993 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission.
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