Authors: Len Levinson
Stunned, Duane looked up to see Gootch pinning him down, holding the knife to his throat. Their faces were only inches apart. The point of the knife pierced Duane's throat, and Duane realized that he was going to die.
“No!” hollered Phyllis. Her onrushing boots could be heard, then the sound of a scuffle. “Let me go!” she yelled.
The knife sliced deeper into Duane's throat as Gootch grinned fiendishly above him. Then suddenly Gootch pulled back, rose to his feet, raised two fingers, and made a brusque statement in his language.
“He said,” Delgado interpreted, “that he has given you your life two times, but next time you will not be so lucky.”
Also by Len Levinson
The Rat Bastards:
Hit the Beach
River of Blood
Meat Grinder Hill
Down and Dirty
Too Mean to Die
Hot Lead and Cold Steel
Do or Die
Go For Broke
Tough Guys Die Hard
Go Down Fighting
The Pecos Kid:
Devil's Creek Massacre
Bad to the Bone
The Apache Wars Saga:
Night of the Cougar
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 1993 by Len Levinson. Â All Rights Reserved.
EbookÂ Â Â©Â 2013 by AudioGO. Â All Rights Reserved.
Trade ISBN:Â 978-1-62064-860-5
Library ISBN:Â 978-1-62460-201-6
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
T WAS DAWN, AND A CHILL WAS ON THE
desert. Duane Braddock opened his eyes; the dark tops of cottonwood trees shivered in the breeze above him. He lay in his bedroll, and his woman was sprawled atop him, her cheek on his chest. The fragrance of her auburn hair filled his nostrils as she slept peacefully, breathing deeply. Duane felt happy to be alive . . . for a few brief moments.
Then he remembered where he was: Apache country. If they caught him, they'd tie him upside down on a wagon wheel, build a fire beneath his head, and perform a little dance as his brains broiled out of his ears. Duane listened for hoofbeats, or the sound of an Apache moccasin on the hard-packed dirt behind him.
He slept with his gun in his right hand, and aimed it into thick cactus and juniper.
“What's wrong?” asked the sleepy voice beside him.
“Thought I heard something.”
She yawned and stretched her arms. “Time to get up.”
He gazed at her bare shoulder, many shades lighter than her bronzed cheeks. “We can stay in bed a few more minutes.”
“Duane . . .”
But they couldn't waste time, because Duane Braddock was wanted for a certain double murder farther north. He and Phyllis Thornton believed that the Fourth Cavalry was hot on their trail, with Apache scouts leading the way. In a small town called Shelby, two men had tried to bushwhack Duane in a general store, but he shot first and then the local cavalry commander arrested him for murder. While he was awaiting trial, Phyllis busted him out of the army camp. That was three days ago, and now they were Romeo and Juliet on the dodge. He'd just turned eighteen, she was sweet sixteen; they planned to get hitched at the earliest opportunity, but couldn't tarry in the bedroll now.
Reluctantly, he separated himself from her and stood naked on the morning desert. A cliff swallow sat atop a fishhook cactus and watched curiously as they dressed, for the bird seldom saw such strange two-legged creatures in that part of the desert. Duane
strapped on his Colt and tied the bottom of the holster to his leg, gunfighter style. Then he picked up his Henry rifle, made sure it was locked and loaded, and laid it back down. He wondered whether to chance a small fire. There was dead wood lying around, and a small flame would dissipate smoke quickly in the morning air.
“What are you doing?” she asked as she fastened the buckle of her black jeans.
“Thought I'd make a fire. The meat'll be easier to chew if we cook it.”
“Not if there's an arrow in your gullet. Put away the matches, Duane. No fires, please.”
Phyllis was far more cautious than he concerning Indians, but she'd been raised on a ranch in Comanche territory and heard about Indian depredations, massacres, rapes, and so on all her life. She wouldn't give an Indian the time of day if she had a watch in every pocket, but Duane had grown up in a Catholic monastery and still wasn't very familiar with the secular world.
Duane was an orphan who'd left the monastery approximately three months ago, because he'd wanted to try life as an ordinary person. He'd studied Saint Thomas Aquinas, sung Gregorian chants, and helped bake bread in the monastery ovens, but since then had gone from one violent confrontation to another with people who tried to push him around or take advantage, like the duo in Shelby. Fortunately, shortly
after arriving in the secular world, he'd been taught the tricks of the trade by an old retired gunfighter named Clyde Butterfield. Duane also had been blessed or cursed with an unusually fast hand.
The violence and uncertainties of the real world often baffled his theological mind, and he'd learned the hard way that his best friend was his Colt New Model Army .44. He was adventuresome, rambunctious, usually optimistic, still somewhat pious, nearly six feet tall, wide of shoulder, with white teeth and long black sideburns. His black curve-brimmed cowboy hat was minus its usual silver concho headband, which might attract undue notice in the naked desert. He also wore black jeans, a green shirt, and a red bandanna.
Duane prepared the horses, while Phyllis packed their few belongings. Sometimes she wondered if she'd gone crazy on the night she'd bribed him out of the Fourth Cavalry camp. What am I doing in the middle of Apache territory with a man I know less than a month! But there was no turning back, and she loved Duane passionately, although frequently she entertained reasonable doubts about the events that had overtaken her during the past weeks.
They met at her father's ranch, where Duane had been hired as a cowboy. It was love at first sight, they'd intended to get married, and then came the shootout in the general store. Sometimes Phyllis thought she'd run off with a complete stranger. Although Duane was two
years older than she, he seemed immature and naive, perhaps because he'd spent nearly all his life in that peaceful and remote Catholic monastery, while she'd lived on a ranch beset by Indians, rustlers, outlaw gangs, drunken cowboy employees, and bad weather.
But she was no illiterate country bumpkin. Her mother had been a schoolmarm and personally administered a strict, thorough education interspersed with ranch chores. Phyllis Thornton was a true daughter of Texas, ready for anything. As she pulled on her left boot, she heard gunfire in the distance and instantaneously was flat on her belly, Colt in hand, gazing around apprehensively.
Duane lay nearby, holding his rifle tightly, finger on the trigger, trying to figure out how far away the shots were. “Sounds like a small war.”
“Good thing you didn't light that fire.”
“We'd better stay put until the excitement's over. Might as well have breakfast.”
He unwrapped the haunch of antelope meat he'd shot yesterday. It was red, bloody, laced with fat and ligaments. The only thing to do was whip out his Bowie knife, slice off a chunk, and hand it to her.
At that moment, a white head with a black eye poked beneath a cholla cactus. It was Sparky, a mongrel dog that Duane had befriended in Shelby. The dog had a face like a coyote, a body like a beagle, and the hair of a terrier. Whenever there was food, Sparky would make an appearance.
Duane cut off a strip of meat and threw it to the animal, who caught it in his jaws. Then Duane sliced a piece for himself as shooting continued faintly in the distance. They had no salt, plates, or silverware, and he was fascinated by the spectacle of Miss Phyllis Thornton eating raw meat with her hands. Blood dribbled down her chin, but she appeared untroubled. She rode horses, fired guns, wore men's clothing, and gobbled raw meat like an Apache. There was something barbaric about her, and it gave him satisfaction to know that he'd sleep with her every night for the rest of his life. They washed their raw meat down with tepid water.