Apache gunhawk, p.17
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       Apache Gunhawk, p.17

           Monogram Press
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“Alright, Mister Cobb,” Lee Hadley growled at the scout. “Just where the hell are we?”

  Eli Cobb spat a stream of tobacco juice off to the side, darkening the hot sand for a moment, at his horse’s feet. “I’d say we’ve gone too far west, sir,” he answered.

  “Tell me something I don’t know,” the banker said sarcastically. “You bumbling idiot.”

  “Now just a moment, Mister Hadley,” Sheriff Meade interjected. “Mister Cobb may have made a mistake, but there’s no call to go bad mouthing him.”

  “It’s my money, Sheriff. I can call him anything I want. I’m calling the shots here,” Hadley said.

  “You haven’t paid anyone anything yet, you two bit tin horn,” Eli Cobb came back angrily.

  “Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Sheriff Meade pleaded. “Just settle down. I need to remind you that I’m in charge here.”

  “Then be in charge,” the banker commanded. “You tell us what to do now. Forget about this old bag of wind.” He nodded toward Cobb.

  “All right, all right,” Meade said. “I say we turn North. We follow the San Pedro off to the east, toward Alkalai Flats. If they went that way we should be able to cut their trail somewhere in that circle.”

  “If there’s any trail left, when we get there,” Hadley complained. That rain last night has probably wiped out any sign of them.” He was still irritable from spending the night, in the rain with only the meager covering of some scrub oaks.

  “They would have had to have holed up for the night too,” the Sheriff reminded him. “And at least two of them were carrying lead. That would have held them up, some. With any luck, maybe we can still catch them.”

  “We need more than luck, Sheriff,” Hadley sneered. “We need leaders with brains.” He gigged his horse forward, turning toward the north. The others followed meekly, behind.

  Hadley fumed to himself. He had no idea how far behind they had fallen by riding in the wrong direction. Hatred was consuming him. In his mind’s eye he kept seeing Julie riding with the outlaws. Her words, kept echoing in his brain. “Tom, I want to go. I’ve got to get away from him.” Well she would never get away, he told himself, as he pushed his mount onward. He would find her and he would kill her for the shame she had brought down on him. And the outlaw too. The man who had called himself Grogan, but the banker now knew he was in fact Tom Noonan. He didn’t care much about the rest of the outlaws, but Tom Noonan had to die. And, by his hand only. He licked his lips in anticipation.

  “We’re going to wear the horses out, if we keep up this pace,” the Sheriff said to Cobb who was riding next to him.

  “Why do we have to keep up with him?” Cobb answered. “We’re the posse. Not him. If he wants to kill his horse let him. Besides, when he sees us falling behind, he’ll slow down. The damn fool knows he’ll never find his way around the country without us.”

  The trail wound upwards into the hills; the air becoming more stale, as the riders climbed farther into the high country. They had ridden steadily for the last half hour and had lost sight of Hadley for the past fifteen minutes. The trail twisted and turned and had eventually spilled the posse out into Mescal pass. The hills on each side of the trail rose high, casting shadows along the banks of the trail. The air seemed a little cooler here, but there was a loneliness and foreboding that would make any man apprehensive. It was half way through the pass that the posse finally caught up with Lee Hadley. He was sitting his horse sideways in the trail, waiting for them.

  As the posse approached, no one seemed to notice a movement in the hills on each side of the trail. Geronimo had ridden out onto the ridge with five warriors beside him.

  On the other side of the trail, Natchez, Torrio and four more Apaches were gazing down on the riders in the pass, below.

  Geronimo raised his rifle and waved it above his head as a signal. Then all at once, both bands of Indians bolted their mounts forward, half sliding and half galloping down the steep slopes. They raised their voices into a babble of war cries and whoops. Their rifles echoed across the hills as the rifles spewed a hailstorm of bullets into the unsuspecting posse men.

  Three men went down with the first volley before the riders realized they were under attack. Horses reared and flailed about in a melee of confusion. The remaining posse members clawed for their guns while fighting to bring their mounts under control. Cobb had his rifle out and firing first. Two Apaches spilled from their horses’ backs, their weapons spinning away as they went down.

  Sheriff Meade had pulled his pistol, but took a bullet in his left side before he could get off a shot. He bent doubled over in the saddle, his eyes glazing with pain, but managed to raise his revolver and fire just as an Apache charged him, sliding his own mount into the Sheriff’s horse. The warrior’s pistol had been raised high to chop down on the lawman’s skull. The attacker fell backwards from his horse, blood gushing from the wound in his chest.

  Another Apache blindsided Cobb, coming up on his left. He stretched his red body high and leaped from his horse onto Cobb, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and pushing him from the saddle. The two fell as one onto the hard-packed ground. They rolled from side to side, Cobb fighting for an advantage, but the Indian came up first, straddling Cobb’s body; a knife raised, ready to plunge into the his chest. Fighting to hold off the warrior’s blade, Cobb wriggled just enough to move his arm, holding his six gun. As the blade came within an inch of his nose, the scout brought the barrel of the weapon into the Apache’s midsection. The weapon thundered with a deafening roar at such close proximity. The attacking redskin stiffened, his eyes widened in surprise, then glazed over and he fell sideways off of Cobb.

  As Cobb pushed himself up to a sitting position, he realized the fight was over. He could see the remaining Apaches retreating, heading north out of the pass and all shooting had ceased. He could hear the clatter of hooves advancing from the other end of the pass, and when he turned to look, he saw Cavalry soldiers approaching. Apparently, their arrival had caused the marauders to turn tail and run.

  As Cobb glanced around at the remaining posse men, he saw the ground littered with bodies. Sheriff Meade lay dead, only a few feet away from him. Two members of the posse remained alive, but what of the banker, Lee Hadley? He was nowhere to be seen.

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