Table of Contents
Stunned by the ranger's pitching the gun at his feet, Quinn eyed the weapon lying in the dirt. He considered his odds while a drum pounded hard, sharp beats inside his forehead, inside his swollen chin. He looked up and caught the cold, killing look in the ranger's eyes and heard Maria say quietly, “Sam, don't do this. Don't kill him.”
“See what he's doing?” Quinn said over his shoulder to the other two. “He
me to make a move for my shooting iron. He wants me to grab it and come up fighting. But I see through his plan.” Staring at the ranger, he gave a tense, knowing grin. “He took all the bullets out of my gun. Didn't you, Ranger? My gun's not loaded, is it?”
Sam stood staring calmly, at ease, yet with his gun hand poised at his side. “There's only one way you'll ever know for sure, Quinn.”
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Copyright Â© Ralph Cotton, 2009
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eISBN : 978-1-101-03275-6
For Mary Lynn . . . of course
Arizona Ranger Sam Burrack stood at the front corner of an adobe apothecary building, staring up the wide dirt street toward the Wycliffe Bank and Trust Company. A few minutes earlier he'd watched three of four men walk into the bank, each of them wearing riding dusters much like the one he himself wore. The fourth man had stooped down between two of the horses, the reins to all the animals in hand. He appeared to inspect one of the horse's forelegs.
Each of the three who'd walked inside carried saddlebags over their shouldersâempty of course, Sam noted. Each wore his hat pulled low on his forehead. As they had entered the bank, Sam had seen them pull their bandannas up to cover their faces. Any minute now they would come running out, guns blazing, as always, he told himself. He was ready.
A block past the bank, he saw Maria standing at the corner of an alleyway, also wearing a riding duster, hers concealing the double-barrel she held against her thigh. Sam didn't have to wonder if she was ready. Maria was always ready. He smiled slightly to himself, realizing that to anyone absently watching she would look like any other teamster or trail hand milling about on the boardwalk. He hoped so anyway.
The four robbers were known as the Stockton Gang, gunmen out of New Mexico. They were bank robbers, killers and rogues to the man. There was once six members in the gang, but Sam had put two of them out of business. He had killed one, Ned Bramlet, four months earlier when he trapped Bramlet and “Curly” Lee Krebs in a brothel outside Templeton.
Seeing his saddle pal Bramlet die with his chest blown open had taken an immediate toll on Curly Lee's courage. He'd given up without a fight. Sam had watched him draw a ten-year sentence in Yuma Penitentiary only six weeks ago. It had been Curly Lee who had tipped him about the upcoming bank robbery in Wycliffe.
How had Curly known?
Not only had he
Sam reminded himself, but he'd actually called this job right down to the day, almost to the hour.
Sam considered it, realizing that no robbers he'd ever come upon in his years as a lawman ever knew this far in advance where their next job would be. These kinds of men were never that well organized. The fact that Curly had called this job so closely meant only one thing. There was someone higher-up calling the shots.
He'd have to give the matter more thought when he had time.
Up the street, out in front of the bank, Stanton “Buckshot” Parks stood up from the pretense of inspecting the horse's foreleg. He looked back and forth, then across the street, where he caught a glimpse of a familiar face before its owner ducked out of sight behind a tall saguaro cactus. “Damn it to hell,” Parks growled under his breath. The face he'd seen had been that of Clayton Longworth, chief detective of the Midwest Detective Agency. Clayton Longworth never went anywhere alone, Parks thought.
He looked all around again, then toward the door of the bank, then toward the corner of an alley running alongside the new stone and adobe bank building. Any minute now, Charley Stockton and the Dolan brothers, Cap and Erry, would come out, right into a trap, he told himself. His job was to keep watch and hold the horses. He'd done that well enough. But now that he saw what was awaiting them, he couldn't think of any reason for him to stay there, other than loyalty.
Well . . . loyalty had its place, he thought, but this wasn't it. Crouching down, laying the reins to all of the horses over the hitch rail, he slipped out from among the animals, around the edge of the boardwalk and into a dusty alleyway. As soon as he felt the shadow of the alley engulf him, he broke into a hard run and didn't stop until he reached a corral full of horses behind the town livery barn.
No sooner had Parks slipped away into the alley than the ranger had also caught sight of Detective Chief Longworth. As soon as he saw the detective, he shot a look toward Maria. Had she seen Longworth? He wasn't sure, and he needed to know before the fight started and Maria stepped forward and Longworth mistook her for one of the Stockton Gang andâ
It was too late. The door of the bank burst open. The three robbers ran out, guns in the air, firing wildly, creating panic in order to make their getaway. But now Sam's main concern was Maria. He watched her step forward from her position and swing the shotgun up from under her duster. He saw Longworth turn toward her; he saw the detective raise his Colt in her direction.
Maria saw Longworth now, but she also saw the three robbers race across the boardwalk toward their spooked horses. They looked all around for Parks as the animals reared and nickered. “Damn Parks to hell!” Stockton shouted, seeing the unhitched horses turn and race away along the wide dirt street.
Maria had no time to swing her shotgun toward Longworth, and the ranger was not going to stand by and let her get shot, accident or no accident. Facing Longworth while the robbers fired wildly and ran toward any horse in sight, Maria saw the detective fly forward and hit the dirt facedown as the ranger's rifle shot nailed him from behind, high in the left shoulder.
But she had no time to wonder about what she had just seen the ranger do. Cap Dolan, letting out a war whoop, came running toward her from across the street, firing two Colts at once. She braced herself against the waist-high shotgun and pulled the trigger. The impact picked Cap Dolan up and hurled him backward in a spray of blood.
In the street, Erry Dolan saw his brother fall. He turned, standing in the seat of the topless buggy where he'd just jumped up into and thrown its driver to the ground. “Brother Cap!” he shouted, firing at Maria as he spun the buggy quickly and raced straight toward her.
Sam's second rifle shot hit the robber in his chest, picked him up and flung him backward over the rear of the buggy, leaving him facedown, moaning in the dirt. The buggy raced another twenty yards before slowing to a halt in the middle of the dirt street.
Charley Stockton had managed to make it halfway down the boardwalk while the ranger had been busy shooting the detective and Erry Dolan. While he ran, Stockton had reloaded his Colt. Now, as the ranger turned the rifle toward him, Stockton fired repeatedly and shouted at the ranger as he ran, “You won't take me alive, you dirty son ofâ”
The ranger's shot cut his threat short. The slug hit him in the rib cage just beneath his right arm and sent him crashing through a large glass window and pummeling into a display of sharp farm implements. Barely before the sound of glass breaking and metal implements clanking had settled, the ranger hurried up the street toward Maria. She had walked over to the detective who was lying on the ground and had stood over him.