roll of the saddle and the hypnotic creaking of the leather had just about lulled
Ben Turner to sleep when a rustling of the bushes some twenty yards downstream
rousted him to full alert.Ben’s horse,
Compadre’s ears perked up and the muscles of the big sorrel’s hindquarters
twitched in anticipation of danger.Ben’s gun appeared in his hand.He didn’t remember drawing it.
of practice had made him a fast draw.The W. T. carved in the handle announced that the notorious gunfighter, Wade
Turner, had been the previous owner of that gun.Although credited with twenty-two gunfights,
Wade actually had only been involved in seven.
and watched the clump of brush.
Compadre’s nose flared and his eyes rolled back into his head. The bush shook violently. Ben holstered his handgun and drew his Winchester from its scabbard.A large brown nose poked through the brush followed
by the huge shaggy body of a very startled grizzly.He growled and sniffed at Ben and the horse.He hesitated and Ben wondered if it was going
to be a Mexican standoff.The last thing
he wanted to do was shoot such a magnificent animal.Besides, how many bullets would it take to
bring a grizzly down?The bear
approached slowly.His head appeared to
be about the size of a whiskey barrel.He sniffed the air as if trying to figure out what animal belonged to
that scent.He stopped, lifted his head
and shook it from side to side.With a
final growl he ambled off toward the river.The giant animal stopped at the water’s edge and took a drink.Ben quickly turned his horse and continued on
his way, thankful that he and the bear could part company peacefully.
always smells fresh and clean following a rain.Yesterday’s soft steady drizzle brought out many pleasant smells.The scent of pine drifted down from the
mountains mixed with the fragrance of wild flowers that wafted from the meadow
just this side of the river.And a
strong odor of wild onions as well.Feeling
he had traveled far enough from the bear, Ben gathered some of the larger
stalks for the evening stew.Night was
fast approaching and so far Ben had failed to find a suitable place to set up
camp.One thing for sure, he still
wanted to put a few more miles between him and that grizzly.
Later, as the
last of dusk was being swallowed, Ben’s attention was drawn to a light from a
campfire in a stand of trees under a rock outcropping.From a distance it looked to be a good spot
for a campsite.He made sure to make
plenty of noise as he approached and yelled to the fire.
fire.Can I come in?”Ben caught a glimpse of a figure sitting cross-legged
by the fire holding a cup in his right hand.
on in.No sudden moves though.I get a mite nervous around strangers.”
the firelight and explained, “Smelled the coffee and couldn’t resist coming
in.I ran out of real coffee a couple of
days ago.Never did acquire a taste for
mesquite coffee.Mind if I have a cup?”
yourself.”The man had not moved and Ben
noticed his left hand was concealed under the blanket wrapped around his
shoulders.His hat was pulled down so
Ben could only see the bottom half of the man’s face.A handlebar mustache separated a small mouth
from a nose that had obviously been broken several times.
Harley.”The man said in a low gravelly
Ben pulled a
dented coffee cup from his saddlebags and poured some of the hot liquid.“Oh, that coffee tastes good.Much obliged.”A slight nod of the man’s head was Ben’s only
“You’re the first person I’ve seen in over a
week.What brings you way out here?”Silence hung in the air for a full
minute.Ben’s friendly question crossed
one of the invisible boundaries the West observed.Don’t judge a man by his past, and don’t
intrude upon one’s private business.The
uncomfortable feeling Ben had when he first approached the camp intensified.
lawman or just plain nosy?”
chuckled.“Sorry.I’m just plain nosy.Don’t mind me.I was tryin’ to make small talk.”Ben considered the campsite as he sipped his
coffee.It was well chosen.The base of a twenty foot cliff joined the
forest providing an impenetrable backdrop.A patch of thick brambles formed a third side.The only entry was from the front which had
been cleared and the fire was placed between the camp and any approach.Anyone entering the camp was also temporarily
blinded by looking into the fire while they would be highlighted by it.Ben saw no sign of a horse, or anything
else for that matter.No bedroll, no
dishes from supper.He was uncomfortable
and regretted letting his desire for a cup of coffee over come his usual sense
called Harley didn’t move except to drink his coffee.
hands up sonny.”The voice came from
behind a large boulder off to the side of the trees.“Move closer to the fire and unbuckle your
gun belt, slowly.”Ben edged toward the
fire.Harley had dropped the blanket
revealing a gun in his hand.
it worked again, Harley.”
“Shut up you
old fool.Turner, toss the gun belt into
the brush and don’t make any funny moves.”
Ben did as
he was told and raised his hands.Harley
stood up and started to move closer.Movement behind Ben let him know the second man was leaving cover of the
boulder.Ben’s mind worked to figure a
way out of his dilemma.Men like these
would not simply set him free when they were done.He decided not to wait to find out how they
intended to dispose of him. He still had
a weapon.In his right sleeve was a
perfectly balanced knife.He had
practiced many hours throwing that knife.
smiling, a very nasty smile.Usually
some warmth and softness is evident on a person’s face when they smile.Not Harley’s.“Take off your boots, Turner.Folks have a tendency to keep their money in their boots.”Cold
steel blue eyes narrowed and an extra furrow on his brow almost made Ben
shiver.Death was in that smile.
right.You win.My money is in my left boot.”Ben did have about fifty dollars in his boot
but around his waist a money belt carried almost two thousand dollars, his life
savings.He lifted his foot and pulled
off the boot balancing on his right foot.Taking his chance he tossed the boot at Harley and in the same motion
released the knife into his hand.Swinging around he shoved the knife underhanded toward the second
man.A look of total surprise filled the
man’s face.He pulled the trigger and
Ben felt a tug at his shoulder, but oddly little pain.The man dropped his gun.Both hands grabbed the hilt of Ben’s knife
now protruding from his chest.It had
been delivered with such force that he could not pull it out.With a sigh he pitched forward.
already diving at Harley.His reflexes
were not quite quick enough.Harley
dodged the rush and fired at close range.The bullet slapped Ben’s head in an explosion of bright white light.The next few minutes were lost.Then partial consciousness allowed him to
sense Harley searching his body.Through
a veil of haze and pain he tried to concentrate on a flickering light in front
of him.He realized it was the light
from the campfire reflecting on Harley’s belt buckle.It looked to be solid silver and had a carved
image of a coiled rattlesnake.It was
the last thing he remembered.