Jamie and Kate MacCallister were together now, buried side by side on a ridge overlooking the huge valley they had settled and the town they had founded. It was up to their children now to carry on the MacCallister legacyânine children, eight of them living through the harshness of the awakening land called the west.
A whole brood of blond-haired, blue-eyed kids who had produced another brood of blond-haired, blue-eyed kids. It was said in this part of Colorado that if one shook a tree, a MacCallister would more than likely fall out.
To say that Jamie Ian MacCallister was legend would be grossly understating history, although history, in its dry prose, never did justice to Jamie's exploits. Nor did history do justice to a MacCallister named Falcon.
Rage of Eagles
will attempt to set the record straight once and for all.
Some have written that Falcon MacCallister was a cold-blooded killer who terrorized the west, killing hundreds of men for sport after his wife's death in 1876. Actually, the number of men who fell under Falcon's guns was much lower than that, and there was no sport involved.
It is true that Falcon was a gunfighter, and it is also true that he was a skilled gambler, but it is not true that he was an outlaw and a highwayman. That is nonsense, for Falcon was a rich man at the time of his wife's death. He began riding what some call the hootowl trail through no fault of his own.
Falcon MacCallister was the spitting image of his father, Jamie. He stood six foot three and was heavy with muscle. Just like his father, Falcon literally did not know his own strength. And just like his father, Falcon was quick on the shoot. Jamie and Falcon were both known as bad men. In the west, being a bad man did not necessarily mean being a brigand. It just meant he was a bad man to crowd.
And Falcon was definitely a bad man to crowd.
The kids of Jamie and Kate MacCallister pretty much stayed close to home, except for Andrew and Rosanna, who became famous musicians and actors and toured the world. A MacCallister was the sheriff of the county, another was the mayor of the town. They all possessed huge holdings and were all successful ranchers and miners and businesspeople. The town had regular stagecoach runs and a fairly reliable telegraph wire. It was a peaceful town, with a large bank, a newspaper, good schools, and several churches.
Outlaws and riffraff knew better than to start trouble in MacCallister's Valley. But occasionally, one would drift in with news of interest to all and he would not be bothered as long as he did not start any trouble. The news usually was of Falcon MacCallister.
In the six months or so since Falcon buried his wife, Marie, and then went on the drift, alone with his grief, not much had been heard of him.
All that was about to change.
It was time to move on. He had waited long enough. Falcon had holed up for a month in a tiny cabin built into the side of a mountain. His grandfather had told his father about it and Jamie had told Falcon. He had received word that Nance Noonan had sent an army of men in pursuit of him after the shooting in Utah during which two of Nance's brothers had been killed after an altercation with Falcon. With an army chasing him, Falcon had wisely holed up. It was now summer in the high country, the sun hot upon the land, and Noonan's hands would be busy moving herds of cattle, getting them ready to drive to market. They would not have time to hunt for him ... at least not for a while.
Falcon had grown a beard during the time he'd been holed up in the cabin. Now he carefully sculpted the beard and trimmed his hair. He inspected his face in the piece of broken mirror he'd found in the cabin: a little older, his eyes a little wiser as they reflected back at him. He turned away from the mirror and rolled up his blankets in his ground sheet, then carefully tidied up the cabin. Someone else might need a place to bed down and Falcon didn't want to leave the cabin looking as though a hog had taken up residence during the summer. He slung his saddlebags over one shoulder, picked up his rifle, and closed the door behind him.
Falcon was slap out of supplies: no salt, no coffee, no flour, no beans, no smoking tobacco, nothing. It was past time to saddle up and move on.
Shortly after the shoot-out, he'd had traded horses with a man from Idaho Territory who had trailed a herd of horses down south and was heading home with a few of his hands. Falcon had told the man who he was and what had happened, not wishing the man to get shot by Noonan's hands or some damn bounty hunter for riding the wrong horse.
“Son,” the rancher had said slowly. “I know Nance Noonan, and I don't like Nance Noonan. I knew your pa, and I liked and respected Jamie MacCallister. Anytime Noonan wants to lock horns with me, he can damn sure start gruntin' and snortin'. Now, sit down and eat.”
Falcon picked out a good packhorse, then chose a huge chestnut gelding with mean yellow eyes. He was one of the biggest riding horses Falcon had ever seen.
“You sure you want that horse, boy?” the rancher asked. “He's a mean one. I've come damn close to shootin' him several times since I acted the fool and traded for him. Can't nobody ride him. He's done stove up three of my hands. He'll stomp you if he gets half a chance.”
“He won't stomp me,” Falcon replied.
An hour later, Falcon rode away on the big chestnut horse.
“Well, I'll just be damned!” the rancher said. “I always heard them MacCallisters had a way with horses.”
The rancher had said the horse had no name, but everybody who had tried to ride him got throwed off and when they hit the ground they always said, “Oh, hell!”
“That's good enough,” Falcon said.
“What's good enough, son?” the rancher had asked.
“Hell. That's what I'll call him. 'Cause that's where he just might be taking me.”
Falcon had holed up in Wyoming, on the east side of the Wind River Range. He stayed on the east side as he headed north toward a town just beginning to blossom.
No one gave him a second look as he rode in; most were busy hammering and sawing and stretching canvas over hastily erected wooden frames to serve as makeshift roofs.
Falcon registered at a hotel that was so new it still smelled of fresh-cut lumber and there were little piles of sawdust in the corners of the room.
He hid a smile as he signed the book:
“Mr. Mack,” the clerk said with a smile. “Welcome to our town. Here on business?”
“No. Just passing through.”
“Going to be a fine place to settle down and start a business. Town's booming. Enjoy your stay, Mr. Mack.”
“I'm sure I will.”
The room was small, but clean, and the bed comfortable. The sheets appeared to be fresh. At least there were no bugs hopping around ... that Falcon could see. He'd know for sure come the morning.
Falcon wadded up some dirty clothes and took them over to a laundry, then he walked over to the general store and bought new britches, shirt, socks, and underwear. He also bought a box of .44s.
At a bathhouse, he soaked and scrubbed until he was clean and free of fleas and dirt, then had the barber shape up his beard and trim his hair. He felt a hundred percent better as he located a cafÃ© and walked over for a meal.
The stew was hot and there was plenty of it, and the apple pie was tasty. But the coffee was too weak for Falcon's liking. He walked back to the livery to check on his horses . . . mainly to see if Hell had killed anyone who got too close to him. The big chestnut had his nose stuck in a feed bag and was quiet, as was Falcon's sturdy packhorse.
“Be careful around the chestnut,” Falcon warned the liveryman.
“I done figured that out, mister,” the stableman told Falcon.
Falcon went in search of the marshal's office, found it, but the door was locked.
“Out of town, mister,” a little boy playing in the dirt of the alley said. “Won't be back for a couple of days.”
Falcon thanked him and walked on. One less obstacle he'd have to hurdle. Not that he was all that worried about what the local law might do. In the early days of the settling of the west, local lawmen took care of local business. What happened outside their jurisdiction was of little concern to many sheriffs and marshals unless the man in question caused trouble in their town or county.
Falcon strolled the town's business district, which did not take all that long . . . up one side and down the other. He did not want to attract undue attention by wandering through the residential areas. His tour of the town complete, Falcon went back to the hotel, took a chair under the awning on the boardwalk in front of the hotel, and lit a cigar.
A cowboy, by the look of his clothes, walked up and sat down in the chair beside Falcon. They were the only ones sitting on the hotel's boardwalk. The cowboy pulled out a sack of tobacco and rolled him a smoke. He licked and lit and said in a whisper, “Your pa befriended me a few years back, Falcon. He was a good man. I was bad down on my luck and headed down the wrong trail. He seen some good in me where nobody else could and straightened me out. You ride careful. Nance Noonan's got friends all over the damn place; any direction you want to ride for five hundred miles. What they're doin' is, they're all workin' to set up a cattle empire. I don't know if they'll be able to pull it off, but if they do, small ranchers won't have a chance. Rod Stegman married Nance Noonan's sister. He owns the .44 Brand. And Rod is one mean son of a bitch and his sons is all about half crazy. Same with his brothers, and they's about six or seven of them. They're all power-drunk. But the thing is, when one itches, they all scratch.”
“And I cause them to itch,” Falcon said.
“You shore do. In the worst way. Noonan and Stegman and some of the others has had riders out all summer lookin' for you. It's about to drive Nance even nuttier than he is already. They's federal warrants out for you, Falcon. Chet Noonan really was a deputy federal marshal. I don't know how he got that appointment, but he did.”
“Probably his brother arranged it. How about the marshal here?”
“Oh, he's all right. For the time bein', that is. But he better watch his back. If he tries to buck the powers that be, some of Nance's cohorts will put a bullet in him and stick that badge on one of their own. It's gettin' really bad out here, Falcon. Worser than most folks realize.”
“I've been thinking about heading back to Colorado.”
“I don't know where to tell you to head. Ain't no place gonna be very safe for you as long as they's a single Noonan or Stegman alive. And maybe some of their friends. They're all a bunch of thieves and murderers.”
“How'd you recognize me?”
The puncher chuckled. “Man, you and your pa look so much alike it's scary.”
Falcon smiled. “We do resemble some.”
The cowboy stood up and toed out his cigarette butt on the boardwalk. “Watch your back trail, Mr. Mack.”
“I'll do it, friend. And thanks. Cowboy?”
The puncher cut his eyes.
“If you're ever in Valley, Colorado, look up any MacCallister and tell them about this meeting. They'll help you out. No questions asked.”
The cowboy touched the brim of his hat with his fingertips and walked away.
Falcon walked over to the general store and bought supplies enough to last for several weeks. A different clerk waited on him this time. Falcon added several boxes of .44s to the list, then asked, “You got any dynamite?”
Falcon bought half a case, caps, and fuses, and carried the supplies over to the livery, stowing them in the stall with Hell. No one would steal them from under the baleful gaze of the big chestnut . . . not if they valued their life.
Falcon went back to the hotel, ate an early supper, then went to bed. He was riding out of town before dawn the next morning, heading for the grasslands and cattle country.
* * *
He skirted a small settlementâwhich would be very nearly a ghost town in a few more yearsâgiving it a wide berth, and kept riding, riding for days. He saw signs of Indians, but if they saw himâand they probably didâthey decided to leave him alone. Then he remembered a trading post and cut toward it.
Falcon looked the place over carefully before riding on in. There were some saddled horses at the hitchrail that looked as though they'd been hard-ridden. He couldn't make out the brands and it wouldn't have made any difference if he could have read them. He was tired of riding around trouble. If there was trouble waiting for him at the trading post, so be it.
Falcon rode up and swung down at the rear of the building, now more of a huge general store than a trading post. He remembered the saloon section was at the west end of the long, low building, a partition separating the drinking area from the general merchandise part of the store. Falcon slipped the hammer thongs from his pistols as he walked around the building, entering the trading post from the front. He quickly stepped to one side, allowing his eyes time to adjust to the sudden dimness after hours of bright sunlight.
The interior of the place had been changed. There were now tables off to one side for eating. Falcon sat down at one, his back to a wall. He faced the closed door that led to the saloon. An Indian womanâhe remembered the owner had married an Indianâwalked over to the table and stared at him for a moment. Then her eyes filled with recollection. She cut them toward the saloon and Falcon nodded in understanding.
She smiled faintly and said, “Got stew. It's good.”
“Bring me a plate. And a pot of coffee.”
The stew was beef and potatoes, spiced with onions, and it was hot and good. The fresh baked bread was tasty and the coffee was good and strong. Falcon was working on his second plate of food when he heard horses outside, then a wagon rattle up. The Indian woman looked first at the front door, then at the closed door to the saloon, then at Falcon. She sighed audibly. Falcon made the sign for trouble and she nodded her head.
Falcon resumed his eating; the stew really was good and he was hungry.
The front door pushed open and a man who looked to be in his late fifties stepped inside, a woman of about the same age behind him. They were followed by another man of about the same age, then a young woman and a boy of about ten or so. Falcon could tell by their clothing and boots they weren't farmers. Small ranchers, he figured.
A man suddenly parted the curtains that led to the living quarters behind the counter and gave Falcon a very startled look.
So much for my growing a beard, Falcon thought. I might as well shave the damn thing off. Everybody I've run into has recognized me.
Falcon took a second look at the young woman. She was a beauty. Blond hair, pretty face, and a figure that would warrant a second look from a corpse. She was also dressed in men's britches, something that was rare in these days. The lad with the young woman was blond and the two bore a strong resemblance. The younger woman and the older woman also bore a resemblance and Falcon figured them for mother and daughter. The daughter must have married young, Falcon thought. She cut her eyes to Falcon and he smiled at her. He got a frown in return and feeling somewhat rebuked, went back to eating his stew.
“Mr. Bailey,” the store owner said. “Mrs. Bailey. How y'all today?”
“Fine,” the older man said. “We've come for our supplies.”
The man with Bailey, whom Falcon figured to be the foreman, stepped to one side and faced the closed door leading to the saloon. Falcon noticed he was all ready to hook and draw.
Mother and daughter moved to the bolted cloth section of the store. The older man, Falcon figured the husband of the woman and the father of the younger woman, paused and gave Falcon a look. It was not an unfriendly gaze.
“Afternoon,” Falcon said, tearing off a hunk of bread.
“Afternoon,” the man replied. “Haven't seen you around here before.”
“Just passing through.”
“Maybe he's one of them hired guns of Gilman,” the young boy blurted.
“Hush, Jimmy,” the grandfather said. He lifted his eyes to Falcon. “He didn't mean nothin' by that remark, mister.”
“I didn't take anything by it,” Falcon said. “Who is Gilman?”
“The man who figures himself to be the he-coon of this area,” the other man said. “Part of the cattlemen's alliance.”
“Well, I don't know what that is either,” Falcon replied. “I'm a long way from home ground.”