Apache gunhawk, p.11
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       Apache Gunhawk, p.11

           Monogram Press
 
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Bill Noonan stood in the glow of the early morning sun, watching Tom, once again dressed as a dandy, ride out of camp and disappearing over the ridge above the arroyo. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing, Pa,” Little Bill said as he sauntered up beside him.

  “So do I son,” he said, not looking at him. “So do I.”

  “Are you sure, you’re not going along with this because you’re afraid of him?” Little Bill taunted.

  “Afraid of Tom? Of course not. I’m the boss here.”

  “No, I meant Coburn.”

  “Coburn? The marshal? What are you talking about boy?”

  Little Bill slapped his leg with his hat and spun completely around to face his father with a look of exasperation and disbelief on his face. “He didn’t tell you, did he? I should have known he wouldn’t.”

  ‘Tell me what?” Bill growled, anger beginning and eyes questioning suspiciously.

  “Coburn’s in town. In Dry Springs.”

  Bill’s eyes narrowed and he thought about it a beat. “No,” he almost hissed. “He said there was a U.S. Marshal in town, but he didn’t mention it was Coburn.”

  “Sure,” Little Bill urged him on. “He didn’t tell you because he knew you wouldn’t call the job off and pass up a chance at Coburn. I’m telling you, Tom only wants to protect that girl from getting hurt. He doesn’t give a damn about the money or you getting even with Coburn.”

  “I’ve got to think, boy,” Bill said and stalked away. Little Bill smirked to himself with satisfaction while Bill paced about the camp remembering that day in Mud Flats, so many years ago. Although Bill’s father had always known the risks of this business, Bill had always hated Brace Coburn for Ace Noonan’s death. To make matters worse, Brace Coburn had carried on a one man vendetta against the Noonan gang ever since. Too many times, Coburn had intervened and ruined one of their jobs. Too many times, the tireless lawman dogged their trail.

  Suddenly, Bill stopped pacing. He turned and raised his voice to the camp. “Saddle up, men!” He shouted with strong determination in his tone. “We’re going to town!”

  Brace Coburn stopped in the middle of the street and eyed ‘Sarah’s Café’. A sign in the window proclaimed it open. He had eaten at the hotel, the night before and found it not much to his liking. He was hungry and had not had breakfast since the hotel had not yet started serving this early in the morning. Brace was in the habit of rising early and even though he had slept later than usual, it was still considered early by the town folks. The bed at the hotel had been a welcome change from many nights on the hard ground under the stars. Had it not been for the early morning sun streaming through the window, he might not have stirred for some time later. As was his habit, he checked the time on his pocket watch and once again gazed at the picture within. He pocketed it and left the hotel.

  Coburn remembered Corey Dillon speaking of this little café and decided to give it a try. Apparently, he was the first customer of the day, for as the little bell above the door tinkled with his entrance, he heard a woman’s voice from the back room call out. “Take a seat anywhere. I’ll be right there.”

  He pulled out a chair at one of the tables next to the plate glass window, where he could look out into the street, and settled his bulk into it. He removed his hat and placed it on the chair next to him.

  The swinging doors to the kitchen burst open and a young dark haired girl hurried to his table, placing cup and saucer before him and starting to pour coffee. “What’ll it be mist…?” She started to say, but then noticing the marshal’s star on his shirt, she finished “uh..Marshal?”

  Coburn smiled warmly. “Got ham and eggs?” He asked.

  “Sure do. How do you want ‘em?”

  “Sunny side up and keep the ham moist. I have a way of cooking everything hard and dry on the trail.”

  “Coming up.” She whirled and disappeared through the swinging doors.

  He sipped at the steaming hot coffee and gazed out into the almost empty street. Here and there he began to see movement as merchants began to open their establishments.

  The girl was back with his breakfast before his coffee had cooled down to a comfortable temperature. “You’re Collette, aren’t you?” Coburn said conversationally as she set the plate before him.

  “Why…yes.” She seemed a bit startled. “How…?”

  “I’ve heard a lot about you from Corey Dillon,” he explained.

  “Oh. You’re his friend,” she said with realization. “Marshal Coburn?”

  “That’s right,” he answered. “I’ve known him all his life.”

  “He said you’ve been like a father to him.”

  “I hope so.” There was a tinge of regret in Brace’s tone, he picked up his knife and fork and began to attack the ham. Then changing the subject. “So when are you and Corey getting married?” He lifted a bite.

  “Excuse me?” She answered with a start. “We’re not getting married.”

  “Oh, I’m sorry, miss. I just thought….well the way Corey spoke, I thought it had already been decided.”

  “Well, it hasn’t,” she snipped and started to turn away.

  “I guess I talked out of turn,” Coburn apologized. “You must know how Corey is. Head strong and brash. Gets himself into a lot of trouble, that way.”

  “Like yesterday? With that bounty hunter?”

  “You saw that?” It was more of a statement than a question. Brace sighed, “Yes that’s what I mean. He got off lucky this time. Hawk only cooled him off.”

  “You know this Hawk well?” She was curious.

  “Well enough to know he’s a real dangerous man. He’s still a savage.”

  “He seemed quite civilized when he was in here, yesterday,” she retorted.

  Coburn noticed a little more than just a passing interest in the girl’s tone. “Don’t kid yourself, Missy. It’d be best if you stay away from him. He’s still an Apache.”

  “Only half, Apache,” she defended.

  Coburn was startled at that and a look of complete surprise spread across his round face. “He told you that?” He asked with disbelief.

  “Yes. He said his mother was French like me.”

  “Well, I’ll be,” Brace smiled, knowingly. “Seems you’re the only one who knows that. Wonder why he’d tell you, when he’s never told anyone else.”

  “I really don’t know,” she tried to hide the blush, then quickly turned and hurried into the kitchen.

  Tom Noonan tied up in front of the bank at exactly nine o’clock. He would probably be the first customer of the day, but he wanted to get this over with and put this town behind him as soon as possible. As he stepped through the door of the bank and closed it behind him, he noticed that he was indeed the only customer. The wizened male teller was not at his cage this time. Only Julie was at her post, still getting things organized for the day’s daily activity. It was when she looked up, that he saw it. Anger began to build inside of him as he noticed the puffiness under Julie’s left eye and dark discoloration showing through the excess powder and rouge she had used to cover the bruise.

  She quickly glanced away, turning her head slightly to hide that side of her face. As he started across the room, Lee Hadley stepped out of his office and greeted him boisterously, “Come in. Come in, Mister Brogan. Nice to see you again. I suppose you’ve come for your money. Right this way.” Hadley ushered him past the cage and into his office. Tom noticed the look of warning and victory, that Hadley passed to his wife as he passed by her.

  Tom could hardly speak. He just let the banker overpower and lead him. When Hadley shut the door behind them, he waved Tom to the leather chair in front of his desk. “Please sit, down. And I’ll get you what you’ve got coming.” He sat behind his desk, pulled open the top right hand drawer, reached inside and then with a sudden movement, he whipped out a sixgun and leveled it at Tom, with his forearm braced against the top of the desk.

  Tom was startled by the sudden action, but hardly surprised. Obviously, Hadl
ey had seen him talking to Julie and had beaten her for it. Julie had probably told Hadley who he really was and why he was there. But why didn’t he have the law here? Why was he taking on a known wanted outlaw by himself? Surely, he must know he was outclassed. “What’s this all about?” Tom asked coolly.

  “I know all about you and my wife, Mister Brogan or whatever your name is,” he said icily. Obviously, Julie had not revealed his true identity, Tom acknowledged to himself.

  “And, just what is that?” Tom asked as if the accusation was preposterous.

  “I saw you two together yesterday. Don’t try to deny it.”

  “Deny it? Of course not. I saw her on the street and we spoke. That’s all there was to it. Now if you’ll just give me my money, I’ll ride out and you’ll never see me again.”

  “Well now,” Hadley said. “Maybe I’ll just keep your money. Shoot you right here and I’ll be sure you never bother my wife again.”

  “You’re crazy, man. How would you explain shooting me?’

  “Easy. You came in here with a gun and made me open the vault. But I managed to engage in a struggle and the gun went off. Voila! You died.”

  Tom nodded his acquiescence. “I guess you would at that,” he said. “And I suppose you’d beat your wife again to make sure she didn’t tell on you. I suppose you had this all planned out. Is that why your man Crumm, isn’t here this morning? No witnesses besides your wife.”

  “I can see that you are a very perceptive man.” Hadley stood up and smiled menacingly; his thumb over the hammer of his six shooter and pulled it back to full click. “Shall we go to the vault now?”

  The Noonan gang pulled rein, just outside of town. “Tom should be in the bank about now. Everyone clear on what we’re doing?” Bill Noonan was making a last-minute check.

  “Yeah sure,” Charlie answered for the group. “We’ve done this a thousand times.”

  “Just make sure you follow orders. And if anyone sees Coburn first, let me know. I’ll deal with him personally. Got that?” There was a nervousness, and a certain amount of recklessness in his voice, that usually was not there on a job.

  The others seemed to be in agreement and Bill said, “Alright let’s do it?”

  Brace Coburn was just finishing his meal when he saw the first two riders ride into town. The older man looked a bit familiar to him, but with the face full of gray whiskers on Sid Denglert’s age thinned face, he was unrecognizable.

  Sid and Kansas Kane had ridden in first and rode past the bank to guard the upper end of the street, as was their usual practice. Charlie and Dewey Howe followed a couple of minutes later and reined up before reaching the bank. They would cover this end of the street, while Bill and Little Bill would follow and tie up in front of the bank.

  Traffic on the street was suddenly picking up, the marshal mused to himself as he drained his coffee cup. The second pair of riders had just ridden by. Then as he pushed his chair back and stood up, reaching for his hat, he saw Bill Noonan and Little Bill ride in and pass on by. “Well, I’ll be,” he muttered. “Bill Noonan, the old he wolf himself.” He tossed some bills on the table, settled his hat on his head on went out the door.

  He leaned out from the shadowed doorway of the café just far enough to be able to see down the street. From here he could see the first two riders pulled up beyond the bank. The second set had reined up a distance this side of the bank and Bill Noonan and the young man were entering the bank with saddle bags.

  If Coburn stepped out into the street now, the closer pair would spot him, so he decided against it. He turned and went the opposite direction, down the street from the café, turned into an alley and circled behind the row of buildings for cover and headed back in the direction of the bank until he found an alley that would take him back to the street and almost opposite the bank.

  Lee Hadley swung his office door open and waved Tom Noonan through the entranceway. Tom did his bidding and stepped through. His body tensed a moment in hesitation and then he moved away toward the vault. Hadley followed close behind. Suddenly, the banker halted, his eyes growing wide with surprise as he felt hard steel jab him against the middle of his spine. “Hold real still, my friend,” Bill Noonan’s quiet voice warned. “And, real careful like, release the hammer on that hogleg and let it go.”

  Tom turned toward the banker and smiled triumphantly. He pulled the pistol from Hadley’s grasp with his left hand, while he balled his right fist and let it fly, landing a roundhouse blow against the banker’s cheek. Hadley fell to the floor, blood dripping beneath his eye. “Doesn’t feel so good, when you’re on the beating end, does it friend.” He glanced to Julie. Although she looked shocked at the violence, there did seem to be a glimmer of satisfaction in her eyes.

  While Tom held the pistol on Hadley, Bill and Little Bill wasted no time going to the vault and filling their saddle bags with as much money as they could hold. Tom said to Julie, apologetically. “I didn’t plan for this to happen. You have to believe me. I told them the job was off. They came here on their own, but as things turned out, I’m glad they did. I’m sorry.”

  She gave no answer, but her eyes told him she understood. He would have to let it go at that. Anything more might give Hadley all the more reason to beat her after they were gone. On second thought, he was sure Hadley would hurt her anyhow. For a fleeting second he thought about squeezing an extra ounce of pressure on the trigger and making Julie a rich widow with no more beatings to fear.

  Brace Coburn pressed his broad back against the shadowed wall side of the alley and peered out carefully and quickly, trying not to expose himself too much. The quick glance took in both sets of sentries, if in fact, that was what these men were. There was no evidence that they were with the Noonan gang, but the way they sat their horses, just looking around and not bothering to dismount, Coburn was fairly sure they were. But, before he could decide what his next move would be, the bank door opened. Bill Noonan and Little Bill stepped through, looking up and down the street. They nodded to both sets of riders, then stepped to their mounts and untethered them. They still had the reins in their hands when Coburn’s voice boomed.

  “Hold it, right there!” Coburn shouted in warning. The two outlaws froze momentarily, instinctively releasing the reins and reaching for their guns. Coburn fired and Bill Noonan spun around, his right hand, still clutching his six shooter, grabbed at the hole in his left upper arm. Blood dripped around his fingers. Little Bill had stepped back a pace, drew his pistol and fired at the lawman. The horses shied and skittered away leaving the two outlaws completely in the open.

  Immediately a fusillade of bullets from right and left hailed the big lawman, as Sid and Kansas, from up the street, and Charlie and Dewey from down the street opened up, giving cover. Their horses milling about, churning up the dust in the street. Coburn fell back into the alley and against the wall. Bullets chewed the wall around him; splinters flying helter-skelter.

  Without sticking his head out or even bothering to aim, the marshal fired twice, straight across the street in the general direction of the bank. His bullets flew high and past the Noonan’s as Bill and Little Bill stepped backwards into the open bank doorway, their pistols belching flame and smoke amid the deafening roar of gun shots.

  The inside darkness of the bank swallowed them up and the door slammed shut as Coburn sent two more slugs into the wooden panels. Noonan’s watchdogs spurred their horses toward the alley way, all four outlaws firing rapidly, their bullets crashing all around the lawman, but miraculously leaving him unscathed.

  Shots fired from further down the street. Kansas Kane spilled from his saddle and sprawled flat on his back in the middle of the street, his horse running out from under him and skittering away, just barely missing the body, but Sid’s horse in the confusion stumbled over it, nearly dumping Denglert from his saddle. Meanwhile, Charlie Noonan and Dewey Howe, reeled their mounts around to face toward this new firing. Sheriff Meade was advancing in the middle of the street, hi
s pistol out and firing. Dewey Howe caught a slug and slumped in the saddle. Charlie fired in return and the Sheriff fell backward, his six shooter spinning loose from his grasp as he tumbled to the ground.

  Taking advantage of the diversion, Coburn slammed additional rounds into his empty chambers, then stepped out of the alleyway, blazing away at the riders as he ran farther down the street and dived behind a rain barrel. Sid poured lead into it and water spouted from the holes. Coburn ducked low behind it, reached around and fired at Sid, just as the old man’s horse reared and leaped forward to join Charlie and Dewey as they raced on down the street past the fallen sheriff. The shot went wild.

  The sheriff had regained his bearings by now, he rolled and reached for his fallen pistol, just as the outlaws rode by. His fingers closed around the pistol butt and he lifted the gun just high enough off the ground to squeeze the trigger. Sid Denglert flinched, bent low and grabbed his left leg where the slug had torn through the upper thigh.

  Coburn was still firing after them to no avail as they disappeared out of town in a billowing cloud of dust.

  “Sheriff!” Coburn yelled. “Get out of the street! Get some cover!” Then to the men in the bank, he shouted. “Noonan! You men in the bank! Come out with your hands up! Your partners have run off and left you! You haven’t got a chance! Come out now while you can!”

  Inside the bank, Bill Noonan pressed himself against the wall on one side of the bank’s window, his pistol held high and ready while Little Bill covered the other side. “What do you think, Pa?” Little Bill asked.

  “I think we’re going to kill a marshal.” Somehow, he didn’t even sound convincing to himself and he wasn’t about to admit that Tom had been right all along.

  “Don’t kid yourself,” Lee Hadley growled through his bleeding lips from where he lay on the floor. “That marshal’s going to kill you. You heard him. You haven’t got a chance.”

  “Shut up!” Bill spat, agitated.

  “What’s it going to be, Noonan?” He heard Coburn bellow. “You coming out? Or do I have to come in and get you?”

  “You’ll have to come and get us!” Bill answered. “Don’t forget, we’ve got the banker and his wife in here. They just might get dead.”

  Coburn thought a moment, then retorted. “No use hurting them. It’ll just make things worse. Send them out first, then you come out and I’ll see you get a break.”

  “Yeah. You’ll see me get a broken neck at the end of a rope.”

  “Have it your way,” the marshal shouted. “I’m coming in after you, no matter what happens to your hostages.”

  “Hostage!” Little Bill said to his father. “That’s what we got. We go out with the girl in front and take her with us and he’ll have to let us go rather than take a chance on her getting hurt.”

  “No!” Tom countered. “We’re not taking her with us. Take this piece of slime instead.” He waved the pistol at Hadley.

  The banker cringed, “No. Please don’t take me. Take her.”

  “He’s right,” Little Bill sneered. “Coburn won’t care if this weasel gets hurt, but he won’t want the girl hurt. I say we take her along.”

  “No!” Tom protested, looking toward Julie, an unspoken apology passing between them.

  Julie nodded. “It’s all right, Tom. I understand. Besides I want to get away from him.” She glanced toward Hadley.

  “I hope they kill you, bitch,” Hadley oathed.

  Tom kicked him in the chin and he rolled over unconscious.

  “Now you listen to me,” Bill Noonan shouted to Coburn. “Here’s the deal. We’re coming out, but the banker’s wife goes with us. You back off until we get out of town and we’ll let her go free.”

  “No deal!” The marshal came back, brusquely.

  “Have it your way then, Marshal,” Bill warned. “We’re coming out. The girl will be in front. The only way to get us is for the girl to die. Your Choice.”

  Coburn watched as the door opened. Skirts filled the opening and the girl stumbled out, Little Bill behind her; his left arm about her neck and a pistol in his right hand, holding the muzzle flat against her head. Bill Noonan and Tom crowded close behind with guns in their hands.

  Coburn had not expected the third man in the gray suit and had at first thought him to be the banker until he noticed the gun and the menace in his face. The hell with this, Coburn thought to himself. He wasn’t going to let these thieves bluff him down. If it meant the girls dies, then she dies. He brought his pistol up and aimed it directly at her. “Last chance, Noonan,” Coburn warned. “If I have to kill her to get you, I will.” The shooter wavered nervously in his hand.

  “I don’t think so,” Noonan answered as they shuffled sideways down the street to gather up the loose horses. As they passed Tom’s horse at the hitch rail, Tom pulled the leathers loose and pulled the horse after him.

  Sweat poured down Brace Coburn’s face, as his cocked the hammer and tightened his finger on the trigger. The weapon shook more unsteadily, the front sight wavering across the girl’s chest. His finger whitened and the trigger moved back waiting for another half ounce of pressure.

  Then with sudden defeat, the marshal let out a deep sigh, groaning with frustration as he released the hammer slowly and lowered the gun barrel to point at the ground.

  The outlaws had gathered up the loose horses by now, including the one Kansas Kane had been riding and had slung Julie Hadley into its saddle. Coburn watched helplessly as they all rode out of town.

  The defeated lawman stepped farther out into the street and sheathed his weapon. The Noonan’s were already out of range.

  “Sorry, I wasn’t much help, Brace,” Sheriff Meade said, hobbling up to his side. His hand was spread over the tear in his trouser leg. A trickle of blood seeped from the gash just above the knee.

  “Are you alright, Ike?” Coburn asked, ignoring the apology.

  “Just a scratch,” Meade answered. “But I think I put a bullet into at least one of them that took off first.”

  “Well, that’ll slow them down some.”

  “As soon as I get this wound cleaned and covered, I’ll get up a posse and head out after them,” Meade said.

  “Don’t bother,” the marshal said. “If they see a posse, who knows what they’ll do to that girl. It’s best if I go after them alone.”

  “Alone? What chance will you have against them alone? You didn’t handle them this time.”

  “That was this time,” Coburn was irritated. “Next time will be different.”

  At that moment, Lee Hadley came staggering out of the bank, his face a bloody mess. Coburn ran up to him and steadied him. “Those devils took my wife,” he ranted. “They robbed my bank and they’ve got Julie.”

  “Take it easy, Mister,” the lawman said calmly. “You said this is your bank?”

  “That’s right, Brace,” Sheriff Meade popped in. “This here, is Lee Hadley.” The banker let him speak for him. All he could do was shake his head and gasp for air.

  “Don’t worry, sir,” Coburn tried to console him. “I’ll get your wife and your money back. I promise.”

  CHAPTER TWELVE

 
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