Apache gunhawk, p.5
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Apache Gunhawk, p.5

           Monogram Press
 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
The light was intense, although it flickered with expansion and contraction. At first, it seemed as if this glowing orb was all there was in the universe, but gradually, it seemed to recede, becoming just a part of the surrounding darkness. As young Tom Noonan tried to focus his eyes open, the brilliance of the light seemed to make them ache. He blinked the lids closed and half opened them again; this time letting the light seep in slowly. Gradually he forced his eyes open, staring into the light. After a few moments, his eyes started to adjust and as they focused, he could see that the light was the flame of a lantern hanging by a hook above him. As the darkness faded into the light, his surroundings became more clear, although just shadows and shades of light.

  “So, you’re awake.” The voice was deep, calm and reassuring. A face came forward through the shadows and loomed above the young outlaw’s head. It was a long, narrow face with a sharp pointy chin. “You’ve been out for quite some time,” the man said, leaning closer and placing his warm hand on Tom’s forehead. “I don’t think you have a fever, but you’ve had a nasty wound and I’m afraid you’ll be off your feet for a while.” As the man leaned forward, Tom could see that he was an older man. He wore wire rimmed glasses and his thinning hair above a high forehead was still mostly dark. What little streaks of gray there were around the temples were not noticeable in the light of the lantern.

  “Wh..where…?” Tom began to struggle and tried to ask where he was, but the kindly man merely pushed him back gently on the mattress he was lying on.

  “You’re in my wagon,” the elder said. “I took the arrow out of your shoulder and bandaged you up.”

  Tom moved his shoulder a bit. He felt the constricting tightness of the dressing and he became suddenly aware of the dull throbbing ache in his shoulder. “You a doctor?” Tom muttered, still a bit incoherent.

  “No, but I was a medic during the war. Patched up a lot of Yankee bullet holes. Name’s Joshua Trent. This is my wagon you’re in.”

  Tom could now see the hoops and billowed canvas surrounding him and curving above into an arcing ceiling. The flickering glow from the outside campfires filtered through the fabric and cast a ghostly cloud about him. He could hear voices and activity bustling about the wagon camp outside.

  “The Apaches?” Tom suddenly remembered and stirred with a start.

  “They’re gone,” Trent said. “Thanks to you and your friends, we drove them off.”

  “Are..are..they…?” Tom tried to choke it out, almost not daring to ask.

  “Your friends are fine, if that’s what you’re worried about,” the kindly gentleman said. “But they are worried about you. You were left out there for dead. It’s a wonder those heathens didn’t lift your scalp.”

  Tom suddenly remembered the painted face of the savage Indian that pinned him to the ground coming at him with a knife. The Indian should have killed him right then and there. But why didn’t he? Something. He seemed to remember an echo like a hollow gurgle in his ears. His fingers probed for the necklace he usually wore. It wasn’t there, but Joshua Trent had probably removed it before treating him. But then again…… There was something else. He wished he could remember. Then as the fleeting thought disappeared, he heard Trent say, “I’d better tell your Dad and the others that you’ve come around. I’ll have my wife bring you something to eat.” He faded back into the darkness and then his shadow reappeared outlined, for a moment, against the camp lit nighttime sky that filled the high hooped entrance of the big Conestoga as he stepped down.

  Another shadow almost immediately filled the opening as Bill Noonan climbed into the wagon. “Thought we lost you out there, son,” he said, sitting down and leaning over the young man. The outlaw leader’s face was still etched with grimness, with a faint smile of relief sneaking through. “Would’ve put us a man short,” he tried to joke and pretend that was his only worry.

  “It would’ve left you with a bigger cut. Sorry to disappoint you.” Tom forced a chuckle.

  “I wasn’t going to give you your share anyhow, kid. Seein’ as how you didn’t pull your weight against those damned Apaches.” Bill quipped. Then turning serious, “What the hell happened out there anyhow?”

  “I..I’m not really sure,” Tom stammered.

  “Whatever, it was, that redskin got back on his pony and lit out of there like the devil himself was after him.”

  “You mean he ran from the battle. Like a coward?”

  “That’s what it looked like.”

  Tom pondered that for a moment. “Couldn’t be. That was one dangerous savage. Doesn’t make sense.” He stopped suddenly, as if remembering something.

  “What? What is it, son?” Noonan asked.

  “I don’t know, Dad,” he answered amid his confusion. “There was something, but I just can’t quite remember.” He laid back against the mattress, “Maybe later,” he murmured.

  Tom Noonan awakened again just as dawn was beginning to break and the camp was once again alive with activity. Mrs. Trent had brought him some broth the night before and then he had drifted back to sleep for the night.

  He was now wide awake. His shoulder still ached dully as he squirmed beneath the blanket. He now remembered the battle with the Indians and the Apache that had failed to take his life. He remembered the warrior had taken the necklace from around his neck and telling him to lie still. But why?

  He was still pondering this, when he felt the wagon bob on its springs as someone climbed into the wagon. He pushed himself up on his elbows. He saw the skirts flip over the wagon seat. “Mrs. Trent?” He asked.

  “No,” a younger feminine voice said as she came through the hooped opening. She was carrying a tin plate and cup. “My Ma sent me to bring you your breakfast.”

  She came close and sat beside him. “Flap jacks and coffee’s about all we have for breakfast,” she said.

  “That’ll do just fine,” Tom said, pushing himself to a higher position, almost sitting. “Where’s your, Ma?” He queried, venturing forward the start of a conversation. He had not seen any young girls close to his own age in quite a long time. In fact, he had hardly ever seen a girl. And this girl, seemed nice and bright. She was no raving beauty, but she was definitely attractive, with brown eyes and long brown hair pulled back into a bun and tied with a blue ribbon

  “She’s helping with hitching up of the teams.” She smiled as she gave him his breakfast plate. Then with a blush, she said, “I’m Julie Trent.”

  “My name’s Tom.” He said starting to cut his flapjacks.

  “I know,” she said. Then, thinking she spoke to quickly, she added shyly, “I mean, my folks told me.”

  Tom put down his knife and gazed up at her and smiled without a word. She returned the smile.

  The wagons had been rolling steadily, since sunup. Bill Noonan and Sid Denglert rode their horses, one on each side of the lead wagon. Charlie and Little Bill rode as outriders, one on each side of the trail several hundred yards ahead of the train, keeping watch and ready to give out advance warning of any impending dangers. So far they had seen no sign of Apaches. No smoke signals and no sound of war drums. But no one thought for a moment that they were out of danger. The Apache was well known for lulling their prey into a false sense of security and then attacking with sudden surprise.

  “We’re beholdin’ to you gents for helpin’ us out like this,” Sam Larkin, said from his perch on the wagon seat, shouting over the creaking of the swaying Conestoga, the crunch of wagon wheels against the rocky ground and the plodding clatter of horses’ hooves. “I don’t know what we would’ve done if you fellers hadn’t of come along, like you did.”

  “Don’t thank us, Sam,” Bill Noonan shouted back to the heavy set wagon master on the wagon boot. He was resting his bandaged left leg against the foot rest, while his cook sat next to him on the bench, handling the reins and tooling the double team expertly. “Don’t forget, those redskins were after us too. We thank you for letting us trail along while my boy gets better.”

 
The wagon master chewed on the end of his drooping white walrus mustache. “Just the same. We’re all glad you came along.”

  Up ahead, Charlie and Little Bill had suddenly reined up. Little Bill whipped his mount around and galloped back toward the train. Dust spewed up from the horse’s hoofs as Little Bill brought him to a sliding halt just in front of the train. The wagons pulled to a halt as Sam Larkin bellowed out the command to stop.

  “Riders up ahead,” Little Bill said excitedly. “Kickin’ up a lot of dust.”

  “Apaches?” Bill asked, reaching for the stock of his rifle.

  “Can’t tell, but maybe not. ‘Paches don’t usually come out so open.” Little Bill threw a glance back over his shoulder. The cloud of dust loomed closer and riders were becoming faintly visible.

  Bill swallowed hard, fear creeping up his spine as he began to make out the shapes emerging from the cloud. The approaching horde was most definitely not Indians. He should have been relieved at that. He was sure, however, that the wagon train would be pleased to see the blue uniformed men riding this way. But for an outlaw on the run, it would be most uncomfortable to be in the company of the U.S. Cavalry.

  Bill Noonan could hear his son laughing and heard the giggling of a young girl, inside the parked Conestoga as he stepped out of the light of campfires into the shadows near the wagon. He was just about to climb aboard the wagon, when Julie Trent emerged from the hooped opening with an empty tin plate, cup and utensils and started to step down toward the ground.

  Bill stepped back quickly out her way as she stepped down. She blushed slightly, pushing a wisp of hair back to the side. “Oh. I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t see you standing there.”

  “My fault entirely, Miss,” he said tipping the brim of his broad gray hat.

  She half smiled, then lowered her lashes and hurried off across the camp ground.

  “So. Who’s the young lady?” Bill said with a bit of tease in his voice as he climbed into the wagon and sat beside his son.

  “Julie Trent,” Tom said. “Her father’s been doctoring me.”

  “I suppose she’s the prescription,” Bill said. He could see that Tom was much better now. He was sitting up and his face had color to it, noticeable even in the light of the wagon lantern.

  “Oh. She just brings me my meals,” Tom said with indifference.

  “Sure.” Bill said as if refraining to continue the subject. He grinned. Then it faded and his voice turned somber and serious.

  “Did she tell you a cavalry patrol rode in today?”

  “Yes. She said they were going to accompany the train back to Fort Marcie.

  “That’s right son,” Bill said. “The officer in charge is a Lt. Stowe. We’ve seen him before, when we lifted that Army payroll in Tascosa last year. So far he doesn’t seem to recognize us, but I’m afraid if he sees us enough, he just might recall. We’ve managed to stay out his way most of the day and it’s dark now.”

  He grimaced and added, “It will be a two day trek to the fort and I don’t think we should be hanging around that long. For sure we don’t want to be seen at the fort. Besides, that will be backtracking the way we came and if there is any law on our trail, we could be riding right back to meet them.

  “I think me and the boys should ride out tonight before daylight.”

  “Alright,” Tom said. “I’ll be ready to ride whenever you’re ready.”

  Bill shook his head from side to side. “I’m afraid not, son,” he said, then added before Tom could protest. “You still need rest. Besides you’d just slow us up.”

  “You mean, you’d leave me behind? Just like that?”

  “Yeah, just like that.”

  Tom clenched his teeth and his eyes began to flare with anger, but before he could blurt anything out, Bill placed his hand on the boy’s good shoulder and held it reassuringly. “Listen to me boy. You stay with the train. Ride back to Fort Marcie. You’ll get a real doctor’s care there. The train is going to lay over for a few days, to make sure the Apaches aren’t rampaging. Then a military escort will accompany the train to Santa Fe. That will take more than a week and by that time you should be well enough to ride. Then you can head back to Wolf’s Lair and we’ll meet you there.”

  “But……”

  “No buts about it. This is the plan and I’m still boss of this outfit. You do as I say.” Then he winked, and with a chuckle, he added, “I’m sure you will be able to find something to do that will make the trip pleasant.”

  Morning came and the train was well on its way, before Lt. Stowe noticed that Bill Noonan and his companions were gone. Sam Larkin explained that they had decided to leave because their business was in the opposite direction than the fort. They had left during the night to try to make up for some of the time they had lost helping out the settlers. Larkin had escorted the riders past the guards, himself. The Lieutenant seemed to accept the story, but his brow had wrinkled a bit with consternation.

  The day wore on without incident and as sundown approached, the train found a valley with green grass and water. Here they would camp for the night. If all went well, the next day, they should be at the fort for their next encampment.

  The wagons had been circled. The teams had been unhitched and corralled in a makeshift rope remuda inside the circle with the rest of the stock. The soldiers had been posted on guard outside the train covering the entire perimeter just as they had the previous night. Camp fires were being built and women were busy readying meals.

  “Rider coming in!” A soldier shouted from the south end of the train. Lt. Stowe stepped over a wagon tongue, between two parked wagons and looked out. Dust billowed around the lone rider and settled down as he rode into the grassy area. Sam Larkin hobbled up beside the young Lieutenant. “At least its only one of them. Don’t appear to be Apache neither,” he muttered.

  The rider slowed his horse to a trot and then to a walk as he came closer. Soldiers stepped forward, rifles held high. A corporal shouted the warning to halt and identify himself. The rider complied and the guards allowed him to ride closer, but at a slow walk.

  Apparently, the guards were satisfied with the stranger’s presence and allowed him to pass. The corporal had pointed toward where Lt. Stowe and the wagon master stood. The rider rode forward and Stowe and Larkin stepped to greet him.

  The visitor was a big man. Not overly tall, but he was a big man, with huge shoulders and muscles. His middle, while not running to fat, was broad and solid. A short brush of black mustache settled above his thick lips and sagging cheeks, which were not quite jowls, but, seemed to turn the ends of his gash of a mouth downward on each end. A battered black range hat settled low over his wide brow, covering his thinning dark hair and revealing only graying sideburns. He was riding a big bay horse and the badge of a United States Deputy Marshal was pinned haphazardly to his gray shirt near the buttons where it could be seen without being covered by the brown leather vest he wore. He wore a pistol at his left side, butt forward in a cross draw position. He came forward and stopped in front of his greeters. “My name’s Brace Coburn,” the lawman said, leaning forward, rising and shifting his bulk in the saddle while hanging onto the saddle horn with both hands. “I’ve been trailing a gang that held up the bank in Las Cruces, three days ago.” His voice was deep with a trace of raspiness. He seemed to assume that the leaders of the wagon train already knew he was a lawman. “Five of them. Seen anyone like that.”

  “No can’t say that I have,” Larkin was quick to answer.

  “What about those men that rode out last night,” Stowe quickly put in.

  Coburn suddenly sat erect. His slitted eyes above the puffy cheeks registered his interest.

  “No. No,” Larkin put in. “Those men were all right. They were family men, I gather. I’m sure they weren’t outlaws. They sure helped us out when those redskins jumped us the other day. Besides, there were only four of them.” Larkin was sure, Stowe did not know about the injured boy.

  “That
s right,” Stowe said thoughtfully and obviously beginning to wonder. “There were only four of them.”

  “They could’ve lost one along the way,” Coburn mused.

  “I suppose so,” the wagon master agreed.

  “Can you tell me what they looked like?” Coburn asked.

  “Well pretty much ordinary,” Larkin answered. “Three older men and a kid. As I say they sure didn’t look nor act like any badmen I ever heard of.”

  “You say they rode out last night?” Coburn asked.

  Stowe looked expectantly at Larkin. The wagon master shifted his bad leg. “That’s right. Left a few hours before dawn. Said with the army here, we didn’t need them no more and they had business to attend to.”

  “Which way’d they go?”

  “North, northeast, seems like. We always point a wagon tongue toward the north star at night and that was about the way they went. Leastwise until they disappeared over the horizon.”

  “They didn’t say where they had this business waiting for them?”

  “No. And I’m not a man who pries into someone else’s business. ‘Specially, someone who has just helped me out.”

  “You met those men too, Lieutenant?”

  “Yes. Briefly. I was more concerned about the train in general and didn’t give them much thought. I did think it strange that they left so suddenly, though. And there did seem to be something familiar about the oldest one. But then again, I get around the territory quite a lot. See a lot of people, yet I don’t see them. You know what I mean.”

  Coburn nodded, “Yeah, you don’t pay attention.” He said brusquely. “Mind if I look around your camp awhile? Maybe talk to the other members of the train?”

  “Oh, sure,” Sam Larkin answered. Then, “Where’s my manners anyway,” he said. “Guess I’m getting’ too old to think, or maybe it’s just this bum leg. How about steppin’ down and havin’ some supper with us? Then I’ll show you around.”

  “Be obliged,” Coburn agreed.

  Julie Trent was still in the wagon with Tom Noonan after he had finished his supper. Lt. Stowe, Sam Larkin and Brace Coburn could see the shadows of the two young people silhouetted against the canvas by the light of the lantern within, as they approached the wagon.

  Coburn had inspected three quarters of all the wagons by now and had spoken with many of the travelers. So far he had not gathered much in the way of new information, but his suspicions were growing and more and more he was sure these were the men he was after. A search of wagons only produced the usual contents and a few wounded men, who were recuperating from the Indian raid.

  Julie and Tom’s laughter stopped suddenly and they looked up to see a shadowy figure fill the canvas opening. “Sorry to bother you kids,” the wagon master said. “There’s a marshal here with me. No need to get excited. He’s just looking around and wants to ask a few questions.” His head ducked back and a larger frame filled the opening as Coburn crawled inside. He seemed to have a little difficulty with his right leg.

  Tom straightened with a start. His pulse began to race, but he tried to hold his composure. Julie saw paleness wash over Tom’s face and was instantly aware that he was afraid.

  “Looking for a gang of bank robbers,” Coburn said brusquely as he settled himself next to Julie and Tom. There was little room in the wagon to straighten his leg and he got to the point right away. “There were four men here with the train and they rode on. Did you happen to see or get acquainted with any of them?”

  Before Tom could think of what to say, Julie put in quickly, “I know there were some men who helped out when the Apaches attacked us the other day, but I don’t know who they were and I wasn’t aware they were no longer with the train.”

  “How about you, son?” The marshal asked Tom directly.

  Julie piped up again. “He couldn’t have,” she said much too quickly. “He was shot by an Apache arrow before those men arrived. And, he’s been laid up in this wagon ever since.”

  Coburn sensed the nervousness and if his narrow eyes could have squinted more, they probably would have. He stared directly at Tom, as if memorizing his face. “I’m asking you, boy.”

  Tom swallowed hard. Then forced it out. “Yeah. That’s right. Just like she said. You can see my shoulder’s bandaged where they took the arrow out.”

  Coburn leaned closer and examined the wound. “Looks like you were lucky,” he muttered coldly. “What’s your name, boy?”

  “Tom…” he started, the hesitated. “Tom Nolan.”

  “You traveling with anyone?”

  “Yes,” Julie supplied quickly. “He’s with us. I mean my parents and I. He’s my..my cousin.”

  “Girl, you annoy me. You know that. I’m talking to this boy here. What are you? His ventriloquist?” With that, he arose and climbed back out of the wagon.

  “How many more wagons left to check?” Tom heard the marshal say outside the wagon.

  “Just two more,” he heard Sam Larkin answer.

  Tom seemed to breathe a little easier now. Julie could see the relief and she smiled reassuringly.

  Dawn came and once again the wagon train rolled on. Tom had slept fitfully, through the night, remembering how the big lawman had looked at him and worried about the man’s presence. It wasn’t until he learned that the marshal had ridden on that he felt fully relieved.

  As the wagon bumped along the trail, Tom reflected on the last few days. His wound was healing. He was happy whenever Julie came to see him, but he worried about the marshal on the trail of his father and the others. He thought about the Apache who had attacked him and could have killed him, but spared his life instead. As his thoughts faded and he drifted off into a midmorning nap, he was not aware that three years later destiny would reunite him once again with the same Apache and Marshal Brace Coburn in a strange alliance with death.

  PART

  II

  CHAPTER SIX

 
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll

Other author's books:


Add comment

Add comment