Rancher Blair Bishop of Two Forks, Texas, has too many enemies…and they're closing in. Macy Modock, whom Bishop sent to prison ten years ago, returns to Two Forks looking for vengeance. Cowman Clarence Cass conspires with Modock to ruin his rival even though Cass's daughter and Bishiop's son are in love. The black-hearted duo lay claim to untitled lands where Bishop grazes his cattle—a plan that leads to a deadly confrontation in which two men will die.
Six Bits a Day
To keep his conservative brother from getting married and starting life as a farmer, Hewey Calloway convinces Walter to join him on a mission for Boss Tarpley, driving 600 head of cattle from beyond San Antonio to the Double-C ranch on the Pecos. The journey is both memorable and dangerous: a murderous outlaw is searching for Hewey; and another ruthless character is determined to sabotage the cattle drive. When the drivers reach the Pecos they find Tarpley in the midst of a vicious range feud with Eli Jessup, a neighboring cowman. Hewey and his brother Walter have to get the herd safely across Jessup's land—but how? Two thrilling Westerns from the legendary Elmer Kelton
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About the Author
ELMER KELTON of San Angelo, Texas, a native Texan, was author of fifty Western novels and several nonfiction books. Among his best-selling books are The Day the Cowboys Quit, The Time It Never Rained, and The Good Old Boys. He was recognized with countless awards for his work and was honored as the Greatest Western Writer of All Time by the 600-member Western Writers of America, Inc. Mr. Kelton died in August, 2009, at age 83.
Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men’s Horses, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards were seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years. He served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.
Read an Excerpt
Shotgun and Six Bits a Day
By Elmer Kelton
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1969 Coronet Communications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The hostler at the Two Forks Livery & Grain paused in his listless pitching of hay as he saw two riders move down from the crest of the limestone hill. Harley Mills rubbed a sleeve over his sweat-streaked face and speculated as to whether he was fixing to get some customers. Hot as it was, and seeing as the stable didn't belong to him, he had as soon not have business get out of hand. It hadn't lately. With this drought on, people were playing it close to their belts. They weren't coming to town when they didn't have to, because money was tight. He went back to his halfhearted efforts until one of the horses in the corral thrust its head over the top plank and nickered. An answer came from out on the road. Mills put the hayfork aside and stepped through the gate.
The two men were strangers to him. "Mornin'," he said. "From the looks of the dust on you, you've come a ways. I expect them horses could stand a feed."
No one replied. The hostler stared a moment at a rust-bearded man hunched on a streak-faced bay, then his reddish eyes were drawn to the taller rider, a gaunt, sallow-faced man who studied him in dark distrust. The hostler felt a sudden misgiving and wished they had passed him by.
The man said, "You're Harley Mills."
The hostler swallowed, puzzled. "That's right. But I don't know you. Or do I?"
The rider said, "You didn't used to swamp stables. Time I remember you, you was cowboyin' for old man Blair Bishop."
"Used to. He fired — we come to a partin', years ago." Harley Mills searched the seldom-explored recesses of his whiskey-dimmed memory. Something in those deep-set black eyes reached him. His jaw dropped.
The rider responded with a hard grin. "Know me now, don't you?"
Mills nodded, dry-mouthed and nervous.
The tall man said evenly, "Then I reckon we'll leave these horses with you. Me and Owen, we're goin' to go wash some of the dust down. You take good care of them now, Harley, you hear? Good care." Mills could only nod. The tall rider swung to the hoof-scuffed ground and shoved the leather reins into Mills' numb hands. He reached back to his warbag tied behind the saddle and fetched out a cartridge belt. He took his time putting it on while the hostler stared at the .45 in fearful fascination.
The man asked, "Things ain't changed much in ten years, have they?" Mills shook his head, a knot in his throat. The rider queried, "Blair Bishop still figurin' hisself the big he-coon?" The hostler's eyes gave him the answer and he added, "Well, things can't stay the same forever. Come on, Owen, we're past due for that drink."
Harley Mills barely glanced at the red-bearded Owen as he took the second set of reins. He watched the tall man stride up the street, looking at first one side of it, then the other. Mills led the horses into the corral, slipped the saddles and bridles off and gave the mounts a good bait of oats. His fingers touched a saddlegun in a scabbard as he swung the tall man's saddle onto a rack, and he jerked his hand back as if he had touched a hot stove.
Done, he shut the corral gate behind him and struck a stiff trot up the street to the courthouse. He almost ran down the county clerk as he rushed through the hall and into the door of the sheriff's office. He gestured excitedly at the graying ex-cowboy who looked up startled from his paperwork.
"It's Macy Modock," he blurted, gasping for breath. "Macy Modock is back in town."
* * *
The sheriff poked his head through the door of the Two Forks Bar & Billiard Emporium. Looking around quickly, he spotted the two men seated at a small table. He stared a moment, his heavy fingers gripping the doorjamb. At length the tall man spoke to him. "Come on in, Erly. Wondered how long it would take you."
Sheriff Erly Greenwood moved solemnly, his sun-browned face pinched into a frown. He halted two paces from the table, gave the red-bearded man a quick glance, then gazed at the other. "What you doin' here, Macy?"
"Havin' a drink. Share a little sunshine with us?"
"You was in the pen, Macy. How come you out?"
"I was turned out. Got all the proper papers right here in my pocket." He tapped his shirt. "Care to look?"
The sheriff nodded. "Maybe I better." His frown deepened, and his moustache worked a little as he read. "You didn't serve out all the term they gave you."
"Good behavior, Erly. Surprise you I could behave myself?"
"Damn sure does. I figured you'd get in a fight and some other prisoner would stomp your brains out. Hoped so, as a matter of fact."
"But here I am back in Two Forks, like a bad penny."
"I want you out, Macy. Have your drink, get your horses fed, then ride on out. I don't want to ever see you again ... not in this town, not in this country."
Macy Modock studied his half-finished drink, a little anger flaring before he quickly forced it back. "Erly, if you'll read that paper a little closer you'll see it says I done paid up all I owe. I can come and go as I please, here or anywhere else. And after all, I'm a property owner in Two Forks. I come to see about my property."
"After ten years? That old saloon you had is half fallen in. Kids broke out all the windowlights the first week you was gone. Wind took off most of the shingles, and rain has done the rest."
"The land it sets on is mine. I come to see after my property. There can't nobody quarrel over that."
Erly Greenwood shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His jaw worked, but it was a while before any words came out. "Macy, we've had a nice quiet town here the last few years."
Modock nodded. "You're puttin' on some belly."
"Just you listen to what I tell you. If you've come to settle up any old scores, I won't have it."
A hard smile came to Macy Modock's thin, cheek-sunken face. "I got no grudge against you, Erly. You just done what you was told. The boss man snapped his fingers and you jumped. That's how it always was, them days. He still snappin' his fingers, Erly?"
Anger leaped into Erly Greenwood's face. "He's a good man, Macy. Anything he done to you, he done for good cause. If you've come back to raise hell ..."
Macy Modock glanced at his red-whiskered companion. "Like I told you, Owen, things ain't really changed. The years go by, people get older, but everything else stays the same."
The sheriff's voice carried an edge. "I want you out of here."
"When I get ready. Who knows? I might take a notion to rebuild."
Conviction came to Erly Greenwood. "You've come to get even with him, Macy. Don't you try."
Modock grunted. "You was just a cowboy when Blair Bishop had that badge pinned on you. You're still just a cowboy."
"That's a matter of opinion. Don't you crowd me."
Modock stared at him coldly. "If there's trouble between me and Blair Bishop, it'll be when he comes huntin' me, not me huntin' him."
Macy Modock turned away from the sheriff. He poured himself a fresh drink and held it in his hand, admiring the amber color as if he had dismissed the sheriff from his mind. Greenwood turned on his heel and left.
The smile came back slowly to Modock's line-creased mouth. "And Blair Bishop will come huntin' me, Owen. I'll make him hunt me. And when I shoot him in self-defense, not even a Two Forks jury can touch me."CHAPTER 2
Blair Bishop lay on his back beneath the lacy shade of a tall mesquite tree and rubbed his right hand. Why was it, he wondered ruefully, that when a man got of an age where he ought to be able to stand back and breathe good, enjoy what he had built for himself and take the pleasure of turning responsibilities over to his sons, he had to start putting up with things like rheumatism? If it wasn't in his hands, it was in his hips. If it wasn't in his hips, it was in his legs. There wasn't a part of his body that hadn't at one time or another been fallen on, rolled over or kicked by a horse.
He looked past his big gray mount, tied to a limb of the mesquite. "See anything yet, Hez?"
Hez Northcutt, sitting on a leggy dun, stood in his stirrups and squinted. "Somebody's comin'. Looks like it's probably Finn bringin' old Clarence and that sorry crew of his."
Blair Bishop pushed slowly to his feet, wincing a little as a rheumatism pain lanced through his hip. Damn it, he wasn't too far past fifty. A man ought not to have to put up with this till he was old. He took off his hat and rubbed a sleeve across his sweaty brow, then pulled the spotted old Stetson down firmly over his thick gray hair. He squinted toward a wire corral full of bawling cows and restless calves, the dust rising thick and brown and drifting away in the hot west wind. This was a corral he used twice a year in branding the Double B onto his cattle that ranged this part of his land. But the cattle in the pen didn't wear that brand. They carried a C Bar. They were thin, their ribs showing through.
This had been a hard year for all cattle, Bishop's and everybody's. Beyond the corral, stretching for miles and disappearing into the shimmering heat- waves, lay grassland brown and short, thirsting for rain. The only thing green was the mesquite trees, which had deep roots and could outlast any other living plant except the cactus.
August had come, and it hadn't rained since March. Even that had been little more than a shower, following a dry winter. The brass of the summer sky showed little sign it would yield up rain for a long time yet.
Young Hez Northcutt slipped a pistol out of its holster and spun the cylinder, checking the load. "Hez," Blair spoke gently, "you can put that thing up. You'll have no use for it today."
Hez looked at him dubiously, plainly hoping. "You sure, Mister Bishop?"
"Clarence Cass will threaten and whine, but he wouldn't fight a blind jackrabbit. And them boys with him, they're just on a payroll. They won't bloody theirselves for the likes of Clarence."
The cowboy put the pistol away.
From behind the corral, where he had been looking over the cows, another young man rode up on a stocking-legged sorrel. He turned his gaze a moment toward the dust rising on the wagon road, then looked down regretfully at the broad-shouldered rancher. "Dad, we're treatin' old Clarence awful rough."
"Clarence Cass is a user, boy. He's like a parasite tick that gets on a cow's ear and sucks blood till it busts itself. He'll use you for all he can get out of you and then complain because you didn't give him more. Now and again you got to treat him rough. It's the only way you can tell him no."
Allan Bishop drummed his hand against his saddle horn. His voice was testy. "Still looks like we could've gone and talked to him."
Blair Bishop put his hands on his hips and leaned back, stretching, wishing he could work the rheumatism out. Impatience touched him, but he tried not to let it take over. Hell, the boy wasn't but twenty-two. At that age, even Blair had still harbored notions about the inherent goodness of all men, goodness that would just naturally come out of its own accord if you would but reason with them. Blair Bishop had eventually had all such notions stomped out of him. His son hadn't, yet. Blair knew some men had it in them to do the right thing, and some didn't. The latter you had just as well not waste your time with. Minute you turned your back to them they would be whittling on you.
Blair thought his son made a good picture sitting there in the saddle. Strong shoulders, straight back, an earnest young face and square chin. In a lot of ways he looked like Blair had looked, maybe twenty-five years ago. Except Blair had never been that handsome the best day he had ever lived. Allan had inherited some looks from his mother's side.
And a little contrariness, too, Blair thought. It never come from me; I never been contrary in my life.
"Allan, one of these days this place will belong to you and your brother, Billy. He's too young yet to take on the tough end of it, but you're not. You know as well as I do that we've tried talkin' reason to old Clarence. Now it's your place to stand with me when we show the old beggar."
Allan's jaw was set hard.
Blair shrugged, losing patience. "All right, let's talk straight. It ain't old Clarence you're thinkin' about; it's that girl of his. Forget it, boy."
"Anything that hurts the old man hurts Jessie."
"So it'll just have to hurt her. You better forget about her, boy. She won't bring you nothin' but problems."
"You don't know her."
"I know the old man. I never knew the girl's mother, but I expect if she was much she never would've married Clarence. I been a stockman all my life. I know that if you breed a scrubby stud to a scrubby mare, you get a scrubby colt."
Anger leaped into Allan's face and he pulled his horse away, turning his back on his father.
Blair clenched his teeth. Maybe he oughtn't to've talked so rough, but he knew no way except being blunt. Though people didn't always agree with Blair Bishop, they never misunderstood him. He watched silently as his son moved the sorrel down the wagon road to meet the oncoming riders.
Hez Northcutt said: "I'm about his age, Mister Bishop. Maybe I can talk to him."
Blair shook his head. The cowboy had a point, but Blair rejected it. Blair had long had an easy partnership with both his sons. He still had it with Billy, who was about fifteen. But somehow the last couple or three years he had lost that open-handed relationship with Allan. At a time when two men ought to draw closer together, why was it they tended instead to pull apart? Why was it a father had to become a stranger to a son?
"He'll come around," Blair told the cowboy. "Just stubborn. Got that from his mother, God rest her."
Blair's foreman, Finn Goforth, spurred ahead of the riders so he could reach Blair Bishop first. On the way he passed Allan, and he spoke to him. If Allan replied, Blair couldn't tell it. Finn, fortyish and graying, took a curious glance back over his shoulder at Allan. "I fetched them, Mister Bishop."
"How did Clarence take it?"
"Like we'd poured coal oil in his whiskey barrel. He's bellyached all the way over here. I'll let you listen to him now; I'm sick of it."
Blair said, "I didn't figure on listenin'. I figured on doin' the talkin'." He scowled, watching his son pull up even with the Cass girl. "I wish I could talk to him," he complained.
"Allan's full growed," Finn commented. "You've always taught him to think for himself. You wouldn't give three cents for him if he didn't."
"Sure, I want him to think for himself," Blair said. "But I want him to think like I do."
Skinny Clarence Cass rode in front, hunched over in his saddle like a loose sack of bran. A short way behind him came a girl on a sidesaddle, her long dark skirt covering all but the ankles of her leather boots. Bringing up the rear were two Cass cowboys, in no hurry at all. Blair Bishop watched his son talking to the girl. At the distance he couldn't hear, but Allan's gestures made it plain he was apologizing.
Blair could tell by the pinch of Clarence's shoulders that the little man was fit to chew a horseshoe up and spit it out. A humorless smile came to Blair as he took a few steps forward. "Howdy, Clarence."
Cass reined up, his face splotched red from anger and the heat of the ride. "Bishop ..." He had a thin neck, wattled like a turkey's.
Blair found himself smiling a little broader. He was actually enjoying this confrontation, and the realization surprised him a little. "I do believe we've got some of your cattle in that pen yonder."
Clarence Cass's anger was too much for him to hold. "Blair, you're a harsh man and a poor neighbor. An occasional beef critter of mine strays over onto your land and you abuse them and me like you was the Lord Almighty. One of these days you'll overstep yourself."
"There's more than an occasional critter in that pen; count them yourself. There's somethin' past a hundred head. And they didn't drift. Finn and Hez found where they was pushed through a cut fence. There was footprints all around where that wire was pinched. Cass footprints, I'd judge."
Cass blustered. "You got no proof of that."
"A man needs proof for court. I ain't goin' to court. I'm holdin' court of my own." Bishop's smile was suddenly gone. "Now you listen to me, Clarence, because I'm only goin' to tell you once and I don't want you to ever say you didn't hear. Your country is overstocked; I tried to tell you that last spring. Now your cows have eaten off all your grass and drunk up most of your water. You're tryin' to get them through by havin' them take mine. But I got barely enough to see my own cattle through till fall, and if it don't rain by then I'm in trouble same as you are."
For a moment he was distracted by sight of Jessie Cass. He saw her open her mouth as if to speak, then drop her chin. Well, he thought, at least she's got the decency to feel shame over the stunt her father tried to pull. Blair saw his son reach out and take Jessie's hand and squeeze it, reassuring her. "Damn it, boy," he wanted to say, "we got to stick together on this thing." But he couldn't rebuke his son in the presence of Cass and his crew; it would demean them both. He would wait.
Excerpted from Shotgun and Six Bits a Day by Elmer Kelton. Copyright © 1969 Coronet Communications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.
Table of Contents
SIX BITS A DAY,
Forge Books by Elmer Kelton,
Praise for Elmer Kelton,