DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

Every day he stepped out of the bunkhouse, tension was building within him. His nerves were frayed, taut. He was waiting for the crack of a rifle, the impact of a bullet. Every sharp sound startled him. That morning was no different from any other, and yet when it happened he wasn’t surprised, he’d been anticipating it too long. It was almost a relief.

Tyree heard several horses and stepped out of the livery. He saw a group of men gathered in front of the bunkhouse; two men were on the ground, one was laying still, the other was struggling to get up, and he saw Tulsa kick that man in the chest.

“I tried to stop the bleeding, but it was too much. I couldn’t get him loose from the wire.” Lonny was sobbing as he leaned over the limp body. Tyree wondered who was dead.

It was John. John was dead, his face ripped by barbed wire, his clothes shredded in places, his skin had a bluish tinge, a bullet had torn through his thigh just above his knee, his pant leg soaked in thick clots of blood. Seeing John twisted his stomach, but seeing the man responsible for killing John froze his blood and caught his air in his throat. The other man who sat on the ground, his eyes spitting fire and his hands tied behind him, was Donny Larson. His stomach lurched, and his lunch came up.

“Get this asshole away from me.” Donny kicked out at Tulsa, and Tulsa kicked his legs aside and put a rifle butt into the side of his head. Tyree winced as Donny slumped onto his face in the dirt. Tulsa looked up at Tyree, rage in his face as he lunged at Tyree. Tyree went for his gun, but they were too close for that, and he took Tulsa’s fist on his chin. His teeth slammed together. Staggering back, hearing men yelling in confusion, he tried to get his feet under him. They dragged Tulsa away from him, and someone dragged him to his feet as Tulsa lunged at him again.

It was Pete who took his gun, throwing it aside as Tyree tugged free of the hands that held him.

“Tulsa, what the hell is wrong with you?” Pete yelled. Two ranch hands grabbed at Tulsa, holding him back.

“Tyree Kettering. This little bastard is one of those pieces of shit. This is Donny Larson, he and Tyree are practically brothers. Let go of me. I’m going to hang both these bastards,” Tulsa barked.

Lonny and another rider held Tulsa back. Several of the men, still confused, turned to Tulsa for an explanation.

“What’s he talking about, Tyree?” Pete asked.

“I ain’t one of them. I been working here for six months for Christ sakes.”

“You know him?” Pete asked, jerking a thumb at Donny, now slumped on his side.

“I know a lot of people. What does that prove?”

“Allison’s real name is Kettering. You know the Ketterings, Pete.” Tulsa said.

“I know who they are. But why would you say he’s one of them?”

“I was just waiting for proof, like the rest of his gang to show up. I been watching him for months. He’s done nothing but cause trouble. He’s vermin, plain and simple.”

“You a Kettering boy?” Pete asked.

Tyree shook his head and Tulsa grabbed a handful of shirt. Tyree used his shoulder to push Tulsa away and Tulsa punched him in the face, bloodying his lip. Pete stepped in and pushed Tulsa back.

“Tell the goddamn truth, you piece of street trash,” Tulsa yelled over Pete’s shoulder.

“I don’t ride with them,” he mumbled through crushed lips.

“Did you ever?” Pete asked.

He glared at Tulsa and Pete clamped down on his arm.

“How you know this fellow?” Pete jerked a thumb toward Donny.

“He’s my brother,” Donny rasped as he looked up with blood and dirt on his lips.

That was all they needed. Mark tried to get through, pushing at Tulsa, but they blocked him. They took his gun belt, his knife, and tied his hands behind him, dragging him and Donny to the stable. Shoving them both to the floor.

“Where the hell is Malone?” he yelled at Mark. “Get your brother. Goddamn it, I ain’t one of them.”

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