Apache gunhawk, p.10
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       Apache Gunhawk, p.10

           Monogram Press
 
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Bill Noonan sat his coffee cup down on the ground and stood up from the shady area beneath the oak tree. He brushed off the seat of his pants, then hooked his thumbs beneath his gunbelt, and waited expectantly as he watched Tom Noonan ride into camp.

  It was a secluded spot in an arroyo about three miles out side of town. The banks on both sides were covered with brush and it sat back aways from the main trail, just far enough not to be seen by passer-byes. The tall trees would mask any smoke from the campfires and prevent sound from carrying.

  Tom dismounted near the tree, held the reins, and led the horse into the shade. The others members of the gang, Sid Denglert, Charlie Noonan, Dewey Howe, and Kansas Kane gathered around.

  Bill could see the concern on Tom’s face and knew something was wrong. “How’d it go, son?” Bill queried, caution in his voice and expecting bad news.

  “I think we need to scrap this deal and move on, Dad,” Bill said almost apologetically.

  “They do have a Pierce and Hamilton safe, then?”

  Tom nodded, “You were right about that. But that’s not the problem. If it were, we could handle that all right.”

  Bill waited a beat, then Tom added. “The town’s buzzing with activity right now. The Army is town. Captain Stowe is with them. And there’s a U.S. Marshal and that Apache Bounty Hunter hanging around too.”

  Bill grimaced and thought about the news for a moment. “We could hold off a few days. Wait for things to die down. Wait for them all to leave. Then do it.”

  “That could be days,” Tom said. “I can’t see wasting time lying around here, doing nothing. I think we ought to just push on North to Nevada Territory. See what the pickings are there. That way we’d be on our way home.”

  Bill cocked his head to the side, thinking over the suggestion. Somehow, he sensed that Tom had not told him everything and although he thought Tom had made a good suggestion, he felt uneasy about it.

  He was still mulling the proposal over when he heard the sound of an approaching horse. He glanced up and saw Little Bill guiding his mount out of the trees and riding up.

  Bill said quickly, before Little Bill could dismount. “Tom thinks we should call the deal off and move on.”

  “Oh,” Little Bill said with an attitude and stepped down. “Tom running the show, now, is he?” His eyes bored into Tom’s face.

  “Of course not,” Bill Noonan retorted with irritation. “He says the town is full of law and cavalry.”

  “Is that all he told you?” Little Bill said, not letting his gaze leave Tom’s face. “Did he tell you about the girl?”

  “The girl?” The outlaw leader repeated. Then to Tom, “What’s he talking about, son?”

  Tom flushed and turned toward his dad, but before he could say anything, Little Bill provided the answer. “There’s a girl working in the bank. The same one Tom was sweet on a few years back. Remember? When we helped that wagon train and the kid took an arrow?”

  Bill nodded, remembering, ..thinking.

  “Could be he don’t want her getting in the way. Maybe getting hurt.” Little Bill suggested with more than a trace of sarcasm in his voice.

  “That right, boy?” The outlaw leader demanded.

  “He was sparking her in the street. I saw him.” Little Bill chimed in.

  “I’m asking Tom to tell me. Not you.” Bill Noonan’s irritation was growing stronger.

  “She recognized me,” Tom started to explain. “She followed me out into the street and we talked.”

  The elder Noonan waited for his son to continue. “She’s married to the bank president now. She said she wouldn’t tell anyone about me, if I rode off and left them alone.”

  “And, you agreed, I suppose.”

  Tom pursed his lips and shrugged. “Yeah,” he said meekly with a nod.

  Bill sighed with suspicion. “And I suppose, you believe her. You know she could have the law on your trail right now.”

  Tom looked straight into his father’s eyes and said, “Yes. I believe her.” He waited for his father to respond.

  The outlaw leader mulled it over for a bit. He looked from one son to the other. There seemed to be a sadness in Tom’s eyes and there was definitely anger in Little Bill’s. “Alright, son,” Noonan said. “We’ll forget about Dry Springs and head north.”

  “What? You gonna listen to him? What about that money he put in the bank. We just gonna ride off and leave it behind?”

  The elder Noonan rubbed his chin. “I hadn’t thought about that,” he said thoughtfully.

  “I think we ought to go for it. Hit the bank in the morning, just like we planned.”

  “Little Bill’s got a point there, son,” he said to Tom.

  “She said….,” Tom started, then hesitated, thinking how it might sound, then continued, “She said I could come back for the money. She wouldn’t tell anyone. At least until after I was gone.”

  “You believe that?” Little Bill exclaimed. “Little brother, you’re getting stupider every-day.”

  “That’ll be enough of that,” Bill said to Little Bill. “Tom has a level head and I don’t like the way you’ve been acting lately. And I think I know why.” He glanced toward Charlie. “I’m going to think on it awhile.” He took a step toward Charlie, took him by the elbow and led him away from the circle.

  “That tears it,” Little Bill spat angrily, taking his battered hat off and slapping it against his thigh. “You’ve always been able to wind my father around your little finger with your pansy, wimpy ways. I’ve had enough you. I wish my father had never found you.” He turned and stomped off leading his horse behind him.

  “I know how you feel, boy,” Charlie Noonan said to Little Bill. They were both sitting under a shade tree. Charlie had his back propped against the bark of the tree trunk and chewing on the end of a long strand of dried grass. Little Bill sat cross legged, wiping his gun with a rag. His face was still sagging with a scowl.

  “My dad always favored Bill over me,” Charlie Noonan said. “Gave the gang over to him, when he died. It should’ve been me to take over. Hell, I was the oldest one. Bill’s always Lorded it over me. I know just how you feel.” Little Bill didn’t bother to look up. “Now my brother says I’m a bad influence on you. That I’m getting you all riled up and crazy like.”

  Little Bill stopped fussing with his gun and looked up. “Is that what that was all about, when he dragged you off today?”

  “Yep,” he drawled. “Always gotta find something to blame me for. If you don’t watch out you’re gonna end up like me.”

  “How do you mean?”

  “I mean, one day he’ll turn the reins over to Tom and it will be Tom telling you what to do.”

  “I’ll never stand for that.” He stood up brusquely and slammed his pistol into its holster. “I’ll kill the little bastard first.”

  By late afternoon, Captain Randall Stowe halted his detail for a short rest. They had been riding north by northeast for three hours now and had just crossed the San Pedro River. The sun was beginning to drop below the horizon of the Santa Catalina Mountains, behind them, casting long fingers of shadows, over them and bringing a cooling respite from the searing afternoon sun. To the east, the Caliuro Mountain range loomed before them.

  Stowe and Hawk had led the column, with Sergeant Dillon and Eli Cobb directly behind them. The Captain had reined his horse down and had lifted his hand in signal, giving the order to Sergeant Dillon, to halt the troop. The order echoed down the column and the riders all came to a halt. Dillon gave the order to dismount. The men stretched their legs and broke out their canteens.

  Eli Cobb rode forward and halted beside Stowe and Hawk. “Camping for the night, Captain?” He asked expectantly.

  Stowe glanced to Hawk. He didn’t need to ask the question. Hawk said flatly. “We’ve still got some daylight left. If we don’t use it, Geronimo will.”

  Stowe nodded his understanding, and shouted to The Sergeant. “Tell the men ‘ten minutes’. Then we’ll move out
again.”

  “Ten minutes?” Cobb exclaimed. “The men are tired and so are the horses. It’ll be dark soon. I say we should camp for the night.”

  “I think I have to agree with Eli, Sir,” Dillon put in eagerly.

  “Hawk says we keep moving and I agree with him.”

  “Hawk says? What makes him so special? We’re both scouts and I say it’s getting too late to push on,” Cobb protested.

  “The Captain makes him special,” Dillon offered the answer, sardonically.

  Stowe glared at him and the sergeant backpedaled quickly. “Begging the Captain’s pardon, Sir.”

  “Never mind Sergeant. Just see to the men.” Corey Dillon wheeled his mount and rode back along the column.

  “How long before Nugents Pass?” Stowe asked, leaning on what passed for a meager saddle pommel on his McClelland saddle, standing in the stirrups and easing himself gingerly away from the leather.

  “Another hour and a half. Maybe two.” Hawk answered. “The terrain gets really rough from here on out and once we get into the mountains, the going will get slower and it’ll be dark with shadows. His grayish black mora danced impatiently in place a little, and Hawk held a tight rein to keep him close beside Captain Stowe and his mount.

  Cobb, feeling ignored, growled something under his breath, slapped the reins to his horse’s flank and jogged away.

  Hawk and the Captain grinned at each other. Then Stowe settled in his saddle and asked. “You think we’re ahead of Geronimo?”

  “Hard to tell. I’m sure he headed into the Caliuros. There’s enough places in there to hole up where the Army could never find him. If he did go that way, he’d have to travel the entire length of the range and that would be slow going. Once we get to the pass, we should be able to pick up a sign of their passing if they get there first. If they do, we’ll head south toward the Dragoons and hope to high heaven that we catch up to them before they get in there. Once we lose them in the Dragoons, there’s no way of getting him until he comes out to raid again.”

  “Not unless you take us to the stronghold,” The Captain said casually. “You used to ride with him.”

  “You know I can’t do that, Captain. As an Apache, I’m honor bound to never reveal the hiding place.”

  “But you are no longer one of them,” Stowe said.

  “Maybe not, but I’m still Apache.”

  The afternoon sun faded beyond the Santa Catalinas. Dusk came and went and evening brought a drape of black sky overhead. The cavalry troop trudged ever onward into the Caliuros. Traveling had been slow and arduous. The narrow trails had become treacherous with the encroaching darkness. They had been on foot, leading their mounts carefully through the rocky ravines and mountain crags for more than an hour now. The sky above was black with cloud cover, without even one single star penetrating the thick blanket of night. Each step into the darkness held potential for injury and there was always the chance of someone getting lost from the group.

  Hawk led the way with the troop spread out behind. Each soldier pulled the reins of his reluctant mount behind him with one hand and held the tail of the horse in front of him, with the other. They had been ordered to strict silence, in case Geronimo and his followers were near enough to hear their passage. Only the scraping of iron shod hoofs on rock and hard pack along with the creak of leather and chink of trappings sounded. Occasionally, a horse would whicker or blow.

  The trail continued to narrow, but gradually became less winding. As it straightened out, it seemed to slant eastward. Up ahead, the darkness seemed to diminish a little and the dark sky above widened with a faint tincture of gray.

  Hawk halted on the trail. Each man feeling the non movement of the one ahead, followed suit. Captain Stowe stepped up beside his scout. Hawk was only a shape in the darkness. “What’s wrong?” He whispered.

  “Nugent’s Pass,” He said, not bothering to whisper anymore. “We’re here.”

  “How do you know that?” Eli Cobb stepped up. “It’s blacker than blazes in here. How do you know we’re not lost?”

  “I know.” Hawk answered flatly. Then, ignoring Cobb’s attitude, he said to the Captain, “Have your men split up and bed down behind some cover on each side of the pass. It’s alright to let them talk for now, but they need to keep it low, until everyone is settled. We need to be sure we know where everyone is for now. We’ll wait here until Geronimo shows.”

  “What makes you think Geronimo hasn’t already passed through here, ahead of us.?” Cobb asked mockingly.

  “He hasn’t,” Hawk said positively.

  “Just what makes you so sure?” Cobb taunted. “You think you can smell him?”

  “That’s just it,” Hawk answered dryly. “I can’t.”

  “Can’t smell him?” Cobb exclaimed. “Now I’ve heard everything.” He started to stomp away with disgust, but suddenly halted, turned and said with a grin that couldn’t be seen in the dark. “Well I guess maybe you just got a point their ole Chicken Hawk. ‘Cause, it seems I can smell Injuns too. Come to think of it, the stink of redskin is mighty strong around here right now.” He chuckled and led his horse off into the dark.

  Dawn was on the verge of breaking; the black sky beginning to gray slightly, but it would be another full hour before sunup. Hawk shifted restlessly, perched on a branch of an aging oak tree near the edge of an embankment that overlooked the trail below. He had waited until the soldiers were settled in place near the mouth of the pass. Then he took off his military boots and replaced them with ankle high moccasins. He removed his tunic and army hat. In place of the hat, he tied a bandanna around his head, to hold his flowing black hair away from his eyes. From his saddle bag, he withdrew a round tin containing bear grease and rubbed the oily mixture over his upper body and face. Leaving his rifle behind and armed only with his pistol and knife, he had faded off into the darkness of the mountains. Only Captain Stowe had been aware of the Apache’s leaving.

  From his perch on the branch, Hawk could see for miles to the north. To any other white man, only tree tops and brush would seem to be visible with the approaching hint of daylight, but Hawk knew his quarry was, indeed, out there. Not that he could actually smell them, as he had indicated to Cobb, but there was a sense that only another Apache could realize. He knew Geronimo well, and knew that he would have an advance scout purveying the area far enough ahead to signal any danger.

  Hawk knew that the scout would stay off the trails and keep to high country as he, himself, was now doing.

  The closer the scout came, the sharper were Hawk’s senses that he was in fact near. This sense was its strongest, now. His dark eyes pierced the shadows like a needle and searched for movement in the under-brush. Suddenly, his eyes fixed on a stand of sumac. All was still, but the sense was strong. Suddenly, the flexible strands parted and a horse and rider appeared from between them. A stocky, well-built Apache sat saddleless on his pony, picking his way through the underbrush. His eyes darted about as he rode on along the embankment.

  Silently and patiently, Hawk let him pass by, for the Apache scout was too far away for him to attack. Hawk gazed about, waiting. As the scout advanced, his back turned towards Hawk’s position, Hawk swung himself silently to the ground and dropped low into the thicket. As silently as Hawk landed, the Apache sensed it and wheeled his mount with a start. He carried a Winchester rifle and he lifted it to a ready position. He seemed to sniff at the air, trying to discern if there was danger about.

  The Apache rode forward a few paces, eyes searching, ears prickling. Hawk held his breath as the Indian came near and dismounted three or four yards away from where he was hiding. The scout wandered about a bit, poking the muzzle of his rifle barrel into grass and bushes, here and there. Then as if satisfying himself, there was nothing to be feared, he turned back toward his horse.

  Immediately, as he turned, Hawk pushed himself to his feet and catapulted himself headlong through the air, after the retreating Apache. The Apache turned at the sound and
movement, but he was too late. As he turned, Hawk’s body was coming down on him, right arm arcing downward and plunging the eleven-inch blade of his knife deep into the scout’s chest. The Indian fell backward onto his back, Hawk following, raising and plunging the knife again and again, just to make sure of the kill.

  Quickly, Hawk gathered up the rifle, caught up the pony and swung aboard to ride back toward where the scout had come from.

  The sky was becoming more gray now, and dawn was rapidly evaporating the night. It was light enough now, that he could find the scout’s trail and backtrack.

  Geronimo’s main group was about a half mile back and as Hawk approached, he halted far enough away, that he would be mistaken for the scout and that his true identity could not be perceived. He waved his rifle in the air, indicating the trail was clear ahead. Then he turned and rode on toward Nugent’s Pass.

  Around a bend, Hawk, pulled his pony off to the side of trail and hid behind a growth of brush. As Geronimo’s men passed by, Hawk pulled out behind them, gradually moving into the band near the rear, trying to blend in.

  As the band of Apaches rode into the pass, Hawk let his pony slow and fell back a little ways behind the pack and pulled the mount to a sliding halt. The horse reared on his hind haunches, its forelegs pawing at empty air. Hawk, lifted his rifle high and squeezed the trigger, sending a bullet harmlessly into the air.

  Geronimo and his followers pulled up short with surprise and wheeled their horses to face the trail behind them. In the gathering light of dawn, they could see the Indian pony regaining all four legs on the ground as Hawk brought him under control.

  Hawk held his rifle and his other arm high above his head in a sign of truce and guided his mount forward at a steady walking gait. Geronimo, at the head of the Apache band, pushed his horse through the throng of followers as they separated to let him through. He emerged from the pack, with Natchez and Torrio following close behind, just as Hawk rode up and halted facing the famous warrior. “You are still the foolish one,” Geronimo warned. “It is dangerous for you to ride up on us alone like this. We could easily have killed you and left you for the wolves to eat. I’m sure your brother here would be glad to take your scalp.”

  Torrio grinned broadly, pride puffing up in his chest. “It would be a great honor to take the life of the coward who once called himself my brother.”

  Hawk ignored the arrogance of Torrio and said to Geronimo, “I may be foolish, great one. But I know you are not. I did not want to anger you to battle.” Hawk leveled his gaze at the craggy, aging face of the legendary medicine man. “I needed to talk to you.”

  “To tell me to return to the reservation? To take more of the white man’s punishment? I think not. You have convinced me before, but this time I will not go back.”

  “I’m afraid you’ll have to,” Hawk said resolutely.

  Geronimo glanced from one side of the pass to the other. “You have the Army with you?” He said.

  Hawk waved his rifle and the sides of the pass came alive with soldiers emerging from the underbrush with rifles ready. Geronimo sighed and his aging face seemed to look older. A mixture of defiance and defeat lingered in his sad eyes. “We will fight. We cannot go back,” he said gravely.

  “You have the wisdom to know that it is useless. I know you are ready to die, but I do not think you would let your men die with you. There will other times to escape the white man’s reservation. Better to live now and try again.”

  “For you to bring me back again?”

  “No. As long as you leave my worthless brother behind at the reservation, you have my word. I will never lead the Army after you or your people again. I have no use for the Army. I only came this time to send Torrio back.”

  “Don’t listen to him, great one,” Torrio retorted. “Let me kill him now.”

  “Go ahead, Torrio,” Hawk urged. “Make your move and the soldiers will kill you here and now.”

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

 
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