Bounty Hunter (9781101611975)

BOOK: Bounty Hunter (9781101611975)
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Fear and Respect

For the first time in years, Cole found himself frozen in fear. The first reaction of a person to a grizzly, that being to run like hell, was often fatal. As clumsy as they seemed while lumbering about, grizzlies could outrun a man, even a man on a horse.

He pulled his Winchester from its scabbard and began backing his horse, figuring that his
best chance
was to get away slowly before the bear decided to drop back down to four legs and charge him.

The Winchester represented his
last chance
.

For a short while, it worked. The bear watched the mounted rider as though bewildered by the jerky backward motion.

At last, the grizzly decided that despite an apparent backward movement, this intruder represented an interloper at his supper table.

With an angry snarl, the beast charged.

The roan bucked, and Cole felt himself losing his balance.

In the process of trying not to lose his rifle, Cole lost his reins.

For a moment, he felt himself sliding sideways from a galloping horse.

In the next instant, he was colliding awkwardly with the ground.

The Winchester, on which he had lost his grip, dropped about six feet away.

The sound of the bear galloping toward him was like thunder.

He literally threw himself toward the gun.

Grabbing the rifle in mid-tumble, Cole fired without aiming.

BLADEN COLE:

BOUNTY

HUNTER

B
ILL
Y
ENNE

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

BLADEN COLE: BOUNTY HUNTER

A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley edition / November 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Bill Yenne.

Cover illustration by Cliff Nielsen.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61197-5

BERKLEY
®

Berkley Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Prologue

“W
HO CALLED ME THAT?”

The big man who had been leaning on the bar at the Palmer House Saloon for the past hour, gregariously telling tall tales, turned suddenly, jerking his head so hard that you'd have thought somebody had slugged the side of his chin.


Who
called me that?” Stewart Webb repeated.

All eyes were now on the man at the end of the bar. He had spoken to Webb, calling him by another name.

“That you?” Bladen Cole said, holding up a yellowish sheet of paper and tossing it on the bar. “Is that you . . . Alonzo Sims?”

Stewart Webb glanced at the stranger, at the gun on his hip, and finally at the paper. The only words that he could read at this distance were the one at the top—
WANTED
—and the ones beneath—
ALONZO
SIMS
. Stewart Webb recognized the picture as one that had been taken of himself some years back, when he still
was
Alonzo Sims and when he led a different life.

Alonzo Sims had disappeared, and Stewart Webb had been leading his new life in Green River, Wyoming, for eight years. It had been long enough for Stewart Webb to believe that Alonzo Sims had gotten away clean and disappeared forever.

Stewart Webb led his new life under a purloined name, borrowed audaciously from another.

Stewart Webb was no more Stewart Webb than the Palmer House was
the
Palmer House. Just as the saloon's founder had poached its name from the legendary Chicago hostelry to lend his place undeserved prominence, so too had the man taken the last and middle names of Alexander S. Webb, a Union general who earned a Medal of Honor at Gettysburg. It gave this man leading a new life an aura of importance. Alonzo Sims had been at Gettysburg as well, but as far down in the enlisted ranks as Webb was high in officer rank.

Stewart Webb had lulled himself into the belief that this day would never come.

Now it had.

“That you?” Bladen Cole repeated.

“Don't recognize that name,” Webb lied, swallowing hard. He gritted his teeth, wishing that he could, by force of will, banish from his bloodstream all the alcohol he had consumed over the past hour.

“That's not me,” Webb insisted. “My name's Stewart Webb. I'm a prominent member of this community. Ask anybody.”

Even as he nodded toward the other patrons in the bar to vouch for his prominence, they were scuttling discreetly toward the door. Only the bartender remained, and he had moved as far as he could from where Stewart Webb was standing.

“Tell the man, John,” Webb demanded of the bartender.

Nervous silence.

Barely out of his twenties, John did not want to die. He imagined that he had a life of some promise ahead of him and had no interest in seeing it cut short in the sort of cross fire that often followed the sort of fighting words that were being tossed about in his bar this afternoon.

“Tell him,
John
,” Webb repeated.

The bartender nervously edged toward the wanted poster, stopping when the words were visible and Webb's portrait was clearly identifiable.

It surprised him not in the least that Stewart Webb was not
really
Stewart Webb. Lots of men who came west—and not a few women—changed their names to avoid a past and get a new start.

John had pegged Webb as a scoundrel the first time that he had seen him, and that pegging had been borne out over the months that he had watched Webb cheat people at cards, run his petty scams, and become modestly rich from it.

However, not every scoundrel and cardsharp with a sketchy past who haunted the taverns of transient railroad towns like Green River was wanted for
multiple
homicides in Cheyenne like the man on the poster who had Stewart Webb's face.

“Don't know anybody by that name,” John said truthfully, not going so far as to say that it was not Webb's likeness in the picture.

“No?” Bladen Cole asked, even though he could read the opposite answer on John's face.

“Never heard of this man,” John said in a confirmed tone.

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

“Then I'd say that this is very good news,” Cole said with a broad smile. “Then Mr. Webb has nary a worry in the world.”

“Huh?” Webb said, now confused.

“I hate to see a man wrongfully accused,” Cole said seriously. “It puts him in all manner of danger.”

“Huh?” Webb repeated.

“We just have us a case of mistaken identity,” Cole grinned. “You and I'll just take the train back over to Cheyenne, and you can state your innocence. You can show the law over there that it's all a misunderstanding. We can get things all straightened out, and you can be back standing at this bar in two days' time.”

“I don't think that's really necessary,” Webb said, relaxing—just a little. “
You
could go . . . you could go'an tell 'em . . . explain to 'em.”

“I think you and I both know that
you're
the one who's got to do the explaining,” Cole said. “Till then, I think you had better relieve yourself of that gun you're carrying. If you would not mind, sir, I'd like to ask you to take it out of the holster and just lay it there on the bar.”

Stewart Webb had always known that his life might come to this moment, but over time he had gradually deluded himself into believing that the odds were gradually growing less and less.

“I surely want no trouble,” Webb said, reaching slowly for his gun.

His eyes locked on Bladen Cole as he lightly grasped the butt of the Colt with his thumb and forefinger.

Watching the stranger's eyes for any flicker of a blink, Webb rammed his hand into his holster, grabbed the gun full, and jerked it free.

He heard the shot at the very instant that he felt his wrist being shattered.

The wave of excruciating pain came over him a moment later in a blinding flash.

He now felt himself falling backward.

The gun was still in his hand, but in that hand, all feeling and all control had been severed by the impact of the bullet to his wrist.

Swimming out of the blinding flash, Webb could see the stranger coming toward him, his gun held at his side.

As his right hand dangled uselessly, there was still one card left to be played in Webb's metaphorical hand.

Being a gambling man, he had an ace up his sleeve, though it was not among those in his marked deck.

As Bladen Cole reached the fallen man, he suddenly found himself staring into the delicate double muzzle of a little twin-barreled, over-and-under Remington derringer.

*   *   *

G
REEN
R
IVER,
W
YOMING, BEING A RAILROAD TOWN, WAS
one of those places where you could get just about anything. For ten years, since they drove the Golden Spike at Promontory, linking the West to the East with steel rails, Green River's Palmer House had had reasonable access to the same finery and sophistication as the original Palmer House in Chicago.

In Green River, you could find a glass of whiskey on just about any corner. If you paid the right price, you could find a glass of whiskey that tasted more like
whiskey
than it did like the Green River.

In Green River, you could find a lady with lips the color of the juicy red apples on your grandmother's tree. If you paid the right price, you could find such a lady who would tell you that you were the wittiest and most handsome man in creation.

In Green River, you could also find a carpenter. If you paid the right price, you could find a carpenter who could craft you an heirloom-quality rocker that your grandmother, the one with the apple tree, would envy. For a more reasonable price, you could take your pick of many carpenters who were well practiced in the construction of six-foot boxes.

With the reward money having been wired to Bladen Cole, Stewart Webb left Green River for Cheyenne on his last train ride. Cole kept the derringer. It was still loaded when he'd slipped it into his vest pocket.

Cole was like a lot of young men who had come west after the War Between the States. They came west to seek their fortune or to answer the irresistible call of the horizon of the sunset. Many young men from his part of the country went west because there was literally nothing left for them at home.

Born in Caroline County, Virginia, Bladen Cole and his older brother, William, grew up on a prosperous horse farm and were educated in the best of schools. Bladen turned thirteen in the first year of the war and was seventeen when he rode with his brother against the Yankees in the war's final months. When he was growing up, Caroline County was known as the birthplace of the great explorer William Clark. When Bladen and his brother left in 1865, to follow William Clark's footsteps into the West, the county had become better known as the place where they had killed John Wilkes Booth.

With skills as horsemen that had been second nature throughout their young lives, Bladen and William Cole were able to find work herding cattle in Texas and later hunting buffalo for railroad work crews in Kansas. Gradually, they worked their way farther west, following the promising trail toward the gold and silver strikes out in New Mexico Territory.

Tragedy struck the brothers in Silver City one night when William was gunned down by two lowlife drifters. Bladen shot and killed one and spent the better part of the next year hunting the other—to no avail. He had deliberately honed his skills with a gun to an unprecedented degree simply because, if he
ever
met that rat-faced man again, it would not be a repeat of the man's escape on that night in Silver City.

More than a decade later, that night continued to haunt Bladen Cole.

About a year or so after Will's death, Bladen had found himself in a small mining town not far from the bustling metropolis of Cripple Creek, Colorado. Through a series of auspicious events, he played a role in foiling a bank robbery and was asked by the city fathers to consider becoming their sheriff. By this time, he was starting to think that he should be thinking about his future, so he accepted, and decided to settle down. He even met a young woman, named Sally Lovelace, with whom there was a mutual attraction, and a seriousness that had led
almost
to a wedding.

However, before that could happen, Sally took a fancy to a high roller who swept her off her feet. J. R. Hubbard was one of those men who attracted the attention of good women like a magnet attracts iron filings. Sally swooned to his charms and allowed herself to be seduced by the honey of his sweet talk and by starry promises that could never have been fulfilled by a man on a sheriff's salary.

At about the same time that Hubbard swept Sally away to San Francisco, Bladen uncovered a rodent's nest of corruption in city government but was thwarted politically in his attempts to bring the perpetrators in high places to justice.

Cole realized, as he had on that day when he and Will first followed the setting sun out of Caroline County, that he was not the sort of man destined to be too long in one place—and that he had been in
this one
too long. Having angrily tossed his badge on the mayor's desk, he climbed on his horse and rode away.

A week or so later, in a mining town up in Wyoming Territory, he began seeing wanted posters of a particular bank-robbing duo, and he decided that the reward money looked good. It also looked like his future.

Several wanted posters, and several successful pursuits, later, his remarkable skill with a Colt .45 had found Bladen Cole with a new career—and one which allowed him not to be too long in one place.

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