Alias the hangman from h.., p.1
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       Alias: The Hangman From Hell, p.1

          
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Alias: The Hangman From Hell
ALIAS: THE HANGMAN FROM HELL

  Franklin D. Lincoln

  PUBLISHED BY:

  Alias: The Hangman From Hell

  Copyright © 2012 by Franklin D. Lincoln

  ISBN 9781476258744

  ****

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  ****

  Chapter One

  The posse was closing in behind him, Comanche warriors were waiting for him up the trail ahead, and The Devil was riding on his back. The wind created by the galloping horse, pushed his tousled light brown hair back from his high forehead. His battered gray hat had flown from his head and had fallen across the broad part of his back, between the shoulder blades. Its crown and brim occasionally streamed behind him, held by the chin strap, now pulled tight against his short neck and stretched across his Adam’s apple. It occasionally subsided in the wind and pounded against his broad back. His bottom slapped hard against the leather saddle, forcing him to half stand in the stirrups and leaning low across his horse’s neck.

  The mouse colored horse beneath him was breathing hard. Lather flecked his chest and haunches. His speed was slowing and there seemed to be an occasional slight stagger to his stride.

  The rider could feel the faltering gait of the animal. He whipped the reins savagely across the horse’s neck; first to one side and then to the other. He rolled his spur rowels across the cayuse’s hide, digging deeper into his sides, careful not to rake the animal brutally, but with enough urgency to keep him in stride.

  The horse was wheezing now; his sides heaving, sucking in the dry hot air of the New Mexico high country. The rider pushed him forward, continually urging the mount to the limit of his endurance.

  The blazing noonday sun flashed brilliantly in his eyes and the ground beneath him seemed to lurch upward at him, confusing his senses in a blur of topsy-turvy sun, sky, and grass as the horse stumbled and fell; its front legs buckling beneath him, his neck arching forward and downward as his head tucked beneath his chest and he rolled forward and sideways to the left.

  The rider flew forward over the horse’s neck, his hands releasing the reins and becoming airborne.

  Air whooshed from his lungs as his back landed flat against the ground. The sun flashed again into his eyes as he rolled sideways, over and over, down a grassy slope until he came to an abrupt halt against the trunk of a cottonwood tree; his hand upraised to break the jolt and wrapping his arms around the trunk. His hands scraped along the rough bark, skinning his palms and fingers.

  The scene before him was still spinning in his brain as he tried to regain his senses. He shook his head to clear his vision, but it didn’t seem to work at first. After what seemed like forever he began to regain a clear focus, but in actuality it was only mere seconds.

  As his vision cleared, he could see the mouse colored horse struggling to his feet and shaking himself loose; reins dangling from the bridle and dragging in the grass before him.

  The man on the ground glanced from the horse to the trail behind them. A cloud of dust plumed in the distance. A much larger cloud than the last time he had checked his back trail, for the posse was much closer now. In the midst of the cloud, he could see the dark forms of the horses and riders now. He could hear the pounding of hooves and shouting voices mingled in the air.

  The man quickly pushed himself to his feet. When he stood, his full stature failed to reach an average height, but he was tall enough not to be considered short. His face was broad and round. He had a ruddy complexion although thoroughly tanned by the sun and wind.

  He fitted the flat crowned, wide brimmed sombrero on his head; tucking the shocks of brown hair inside. He pulled the slide on his chin strap tight against his throat as he hurried toward the horse.

  The animal was nearly spent and he was gasping for breath; wheezing heavily.

  The man lifted the drooping reins, and still holding them, he stepped to the left side of the exhausted horse as if he were about to mount. Once again he checked his back trail and saw the posse looming closer. His instinct was to climb into the saddle and push the tired horse forward, but he knew he couldn’t do that just yet. Knowing that he was risking the posse overtaking him, he knew he had to give the horse a few moment’s of recovery time.

  He patted the animal’s neck, gently, and stroked him along his forehead down to his muzzle and rubbed his nose lightly.

  The horse whickered softly. His heaving rib cage had subsided to a mere ripple and he seemed to be recovering his strength a bit. At least enough to breathe a little more naturally.

  “Sorry, old boy,” the man said. His voice was deep but soft and reassuring. “I don’t like to treat a horse like I just treated you. Somehow, I hope you can understand why I had to.”

  He raised his eyes and gazed over the horse’s withers toward the trail behind. He could see the posse plainer now; the coat tails of their black and gray dusters flapping wildly in the wind. He could hear the chink of trappings and the creak of leather amid the clatter of horseshoes on the hard packed ground. They were closing in fast.

  He turned his gaze in the opposite direction from the oncoming riders. Up the trail ahead he could see the towering buttes looming in the distance. From one butte, he could see a plume of smoke rising intermittently into the air. Smoke signals, rising in puffs sending messages of war and impending danger.

  The man swallowed hard; his Adam’s apple rising and falling in his parched throat. He glanced longingly at the canteen hanging from the saddle and knowing he had no time to partake of even one quick swig of the tepid, no longer cool liquid.

  His choices were only two; let the posse catch up to him or ride on straight into hostile Comanche territory.

  To let the posse catch him was unthinkable, for if they did, he would surely hang, known as the outlaw, The Laredo Kid. Although he was known as The Laredo Kid for the past three years, he was in fact, not the notorious outlaw at all.

  By a strange twist of fate, he had switched places with a dead man, not knowing that he was a wanted outlaw called The Laredo Kid. From that day on, he, himself had become known as The Laredo Kid and had been pursued by lawmen and posses all over the west.

  Time and time again, he had tried to escape the mantle of The Laredo Kid by taking on other identities: always hiding, always running. But, somehow it never worked out for him. No matter how bad it was to be him, it always seemed to be worse when he tried to be somebody else. Somehow, he seemed to be forever cursed and he had never been able to shake himself free of The Laredo Kid’s reputation.

  He had always tried to avoid towns, but occasionally it would be necessary to venture into civilization.

  Yesterday, had been one of those times. Keeping to the old adage that “no good deed goes unpunished,” the man now known as The Laredo Kid had once again put himself in jeopardy.

  He had come across the charred remains of three covered wagons that had been left by the Comanche. Men, women, and children had been killed and mutilated; their bodies left to rot in the blazing sun.

  But, not everyone in the party had been killed. In the bushes nearby, he had heard a faint sound. At first he thought it was the wind, but soon he recognized it as a baby crying.

  He found the baby crawling in the grass next to the body of a young woman. An arrow protruded from between her shoulder blades and she lay on her side, arms outstretched before her.

  Obviously, she had run from the wagons, badly wounded, yet with enough strength to carry her baby into the brush and hide.

  Apparently, she had succeeded, for if the Comanche had known of her presence, the baby, being a boy, would have been taken to be raised as a Comanche brave. Instead, they had ridden away with their loot while the young woman bled to death from her wounds.

  The man now known as The Laredo Kid was faced with a dilemma; what to do with the child? Knowing the dangers involved he had taken a chance by taking the baby into the town of Nueces, hoping to find someone who could care for it. He also knew he had to warn the townspeople of the impending danger of warring Comanche.

  He had been successful in leaving the baby with the town doctor, but the news of it spread fast and before he could leave town, someone had spotted him as The Laredo Kid.

  He had been caught off guard with own horse tethered some distance down the street. In his haste to leave town before capture, he had taken the nearest mount available. It was a mouse colored grulla that lacked speed and stamina. This proved to be a mistake that would cost him dearly as he tried to outrun a gathering posse.

  Now, here he was with a nearly spent horse, on the verge of capture as the posse bore down on him. With only twenty more miles ahead of him before reaching the border that would let him pass into the Texas panhandle, leaving the posse behind limited to New Mexico jurisdiction. Capture appeared imminent, unless he mounted up and rode off directly into the heart of Comanche territory, where he would be one man alone in the midst of hundreds of hostiles.

  He looked again toward the buttes and the smoke signals. “Well, old boy,” he muttered to the grulla. “I’ve got to ask more from you.”

  He climbed into the saddle, turned the animal’s head toward the buttes, raised the reins, and prodded him in the ribs with his spurs. The grulla moved forward; a little stagger at first, then he seemed to overcome the stiffness of his tired body and began to run. Laredo spurred him sharply in the sides and the animal increased his speed. The Kid leaned over the horse’s neck, half standing in the stirrups and sent the horse into a full gallop.

  The horse had barely gained its full stride when gunfire erupted behind them. Laredo threw a quick glance over his shoulder and could see the posse clearly now. Another hail of gunfire sounded, but no lead projectiles came close. The posse was still far enough behind to be out of pistol or rifle range, but they were steadily gaining ground and range would soon be imminent.

  Knowing he couldn’t maintain his current course without staying in the open where he would be a clear target, The Kid angled his mount to the right toward a stand of aspen trees. The woods would slow him down some, but his horse couldn’t keep up the pace anyways. At least the woods would provide cover and slow the posse down as well.

  A rifle barked behind him and a bullet whizzed over his head and plowed into a tree trunk just as he guided the grulla into the woods.

  As he rode in, he discovered that this was merely a stand of trees and not a forested area at all. He quickly passed through the trees and found himself in a large meadow that fell away to a basin down below.

  The posse emerged from the trees; guns bellowing and filling the air with hot lead, just as The Kid dipped over the edge of the meadow.

  In the basin below, a creek trickled along its bottom, flowing from the north where it spewed out of a narrow canyon; just a remnant of what must have been a river years before when it had cut the gash in the high wall of shale, creating the canyon. Now the river was just a stream and the former path of the river was now a hard rock floor on each side of the stream running down the center of the canyon.

  Laredo angled the grulla up stream and darted inside the canyon entrance just as the posse thundered into the basin behind him. Bullets chipped at the shale walls over Laredo’s head as he ducked inside the canyon.

  The noontime sun seemed to disappear in the narrow chasm, filling the canyon with deep shadows, but looking skyward The Kid could still see the clear blue of daylight sky and occasional shards of streaming daylight.

  The grulla shied nervously at the sudden darkness, but Laredo skillfully held him in check and urged him onward through the canyon.

  The walls seemed to move toward each other as the canyon narrowed with every step the horse took. Footing became precarious and The Kid had to hold his mount to a steady pace.

  He could hear the echo of shod hooves on stone not far behind him. He pushed forward; panic rising in his chest. The canyon trail wound like a snake and his pursuers were still out of sight beyond one of the bends behind him.

  The canyon trail rose higher and higher as it continued its upward climb. The grulla was laboring more and more and his pace was slowing considerably. At this pace, the posse would be hot on his tail by the time he reached the exit to the canyon. Laredo knew that if he managed to emerge from the canyon before the posse caught up with him, he would once again be caught in the open and be a target once more. Capture or death would be almost assured.

  As he neared the end of the canyon passage, he could see more and more of the blue sky above him. The walls of the canyon were less steep and the sides were covered with loose shale that continually slid to the canyon floor. Large rocks and boulders lined the rim of the canyon. If they were to slide free, the canyon floor could be filled with falling rock and a man might never be able to pass through and be forever trapped in the canyon.

  On that thought, Laredo formulated a plan. Perhaps, he could escape from the canyon and leave the posse blocked off behind him. If so, he could hopefully make the border before they would have to retreat back to the canyon entrance. By the time they circled around the canyon The Laredo Kid could be long gone; that is, if the Comanche didn’t catch up to him first.

  The Kid tied the reins to the saddle horn, so they wouldn’t drag when he turned the horse loose, and leaped from the saddle without bringing the grulla to a full halt. As his feet touched the rock floor, he slapped the horse sharply on the rump, sending him forward on his own.

  Laredo scrambled up the rocky scree of the right wall toward the rim of the canyon. Loose rock slid beneath his feet until he was bent forward, almost on all fours, his hands digging into the loose shale as he climbed upward.

  He had just reached the rim when he saw the first rider of the posse round a bend and come into view below. He knew he had to work fast before they progressed too far along the canyon trail. He only wanted to block their path. He did not want to bury them in fallen rock.

  Laredo quickly picked out a huge piece of rock that had broken off from the rim and was being held precariously in place by piles of loose shale around its base. He practically fell behind this rock as he crawled around it. The shale slid beneath his feet and the rock teetered a bit.

  Laredo forced himself to his feet, turned and put his back against the slab and heaved with all his might. The rock teetered a little more, but it still was not coming free. Laredo summoned all his strength and pushed again. At first it seemed as if the slab would never budge, but then suddenly, it let loose and started to fall forward.

  The Kid lost his footing and fell forward as the rock let loose. He lost his balance and fell backward, his shoulders digging into the loose shale as he slid down the canyon wall, picking up velocity until the piling shale around his legs and feet pinned him in place about a quarter of the way down.

  Below him the large rock had broken into several large pieces, dislodging other pieces of large rock and boulders dragging a torrential deluge of loose rock and shale with it; roaring down the canyon walls to the floor below in a deafening thunder that echoed up and down the canyon.

  A cloud of dust billowed above the raging avalanche as it hailed down on the unsuspecting posse. The cloud was so dense that Laredo could only hear the men shouting and the horses screaming. He could only imagine what was happening below.

  He felt sick to his stomach, knowing that he had brought the wrath of hell down upon innocent men who were merely doing their duty in pursuit of a known outlaw. This was the dilemma that Laredo found himself faced with time and time again. Lawmen and posses would come after him shooting and he would have no recourse but to shoot back. Many a time, Laredo had seen men fall by his gun, not knowing for sure if he had merely wounded them, as he hoped for, or had actually killed them. It happened way too many times and Laredo had tried to tell himself, many times, that it just didn’t matter anymore. But a gnawing sickness in his gut told him it did.

  The mushroomed cloud of dust below still hid the posse from The Kid’s view. He had only wanted to block the posse’s path through the canyon, but now he feared that he had been too late and had, in fact, sent all of his pursuers to a grave of shale and rock.

  Laredo pawed feverishly at the collected pile of shale around his feet and legs; the sharp edges of rock skinning and burning his palms and fingers as he shoved the stones aside until he could free himself.

  He scrambled over the debris before him, climbing the side of the canyon until he reached the top of the rim. He reached over the ledge and pulled himself upward. Then with a mighty heave, he rolled himself over onto a rocky outcropping. He relaxed as the flat of his back rested on the rocky surface and he gazed up into the sky above him.

  Sunlight streamed into his watering eyes and he clenched his eye lids shut as he lay there for a moment soaking up the warmth of the noonday sun. For several more moments, he just lay there, breathing deeply and slowly until his breathing became some what normal and regular. He rested like this until he felt his strength returning. The constant heat of the sun against his face was reassuring.

  Finally, as he willed himself to move, he rolled over onto his stomach and opened his eyes. Before him was the rim of the canyon. He could see across the gash in the rock to the other side. It seemed so far away. He crawled closer to the rim and looked down into the chasm below.

  The cloud of dust had begun to settle and the air began to clear. At the base of the canyon walls was a huge pile of rock and rubble, filling the entire passageway from one side of the canyon to the other.

  Laredo’s breath caught for an instant as he spotted movement below. Then as he stared more intently into the darkness, he could make out moving shapes in the shadows. He could hear men talking and he could hear horses stamping and neighing.

  Relief waved over Laredo. He had not sentenced these men to death after all. He had merely done what he had set out to do. He had blocked the trail through the canyon. Now, the posse would have to give up the chase and go home or find some other way around the canyon.

  Laredo figured they would opt for the former, for further pursuit could only put them in danger of the Comanche, while their quarry was already increasing his distance from them. For now they would probably let The Laredo Kid have his freedom for a while longer.

  But freedom for The Kid, now came with a bitter taste. Although he had eluded the posse, he was now all alone and on foot deep in the heart of hostile territory

  *****

  Chapter Two

 
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