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“Let go of me, you slimy toad.” Tyree took a swing at Brown and Kyle backhanded him, and twisted his arm behind him. Tyree was shoved out the front door and down the steps. The sheriff stopped Brown.

“You can’t just take him like that. If he’s wanted in Dakota –”

Brown shook out a flier and pushed it in the sheriff’s face. “I can and I am.”

He dragged Tyree down the steps and shoved him toward his horse. He tripped on the last step and went to the ground. “Get up, Allison. Get on that horse.” Brown kicked his thigh. “Get up.”

Tyree rolled to his knees and staggered to his feet. Close behind him he heard a gun being cocked, then a second. He looked around and Kyle Brown was staring down the barrels of Malone and Pete’s guns.

“Back off, asshole,” Malone growled.

“I have every right to take him. He is wanted, and I am taking him to Valentine to collect on that reward.”

“Only you didn’t catch him. I did,” Malone said. “I will claim that reward if anyone is going to. Now drop that gun belt in the dirt.”

Tyree was shaking. He wiped blood from his lip as Malone pushed him toward his horse. The buckskin mustang shoved its nose into his chest and Tyree leaned against it, rubbing its ears.

“You can have a reunion with that mule when we get home, kid. Get on him and head to the house.”

Malone threw himself on his horse, Malone crowded close on one side, Pete on the other. Tyree saw Malone had his Schofield and gun belt looped over his saddle horn and carried Tyree’s Sharps across his saddle. Malone looks grim, riding in silence. Behind them there were several ranch hands following with their rifles out.

“If anything moves that shouldn’t you duck for cover, kid.” Malone told him. He looked over at the man and said nothing. Weeks in jail had taken it out of him. The last two days he’d had to listen to Donny weeping, in fear of hanging. Donny would hang tomorrow morning. He was glad to miss that.

Pete tapped his arm, and the ramrod handed him a cigarette and lit it for him.


“Sure, kid.”

It was a quiet ride to the ranch. Mark was there waiting. He stepped up beside Tyree as he dismounted. “Tyree. It’s over. You’re home.” Tyree raised an eyebrow, shook his head slightly. This definitely ain’t home.

Pete took the reins of the buckskin, handing them off to Blaine who led all their horses into the corral.

Tulsa was leaned against the livery door frame, his cool gaze on Tyree. Malone pointed toward the house. “Inside,” he said shortly then left him to walk with Mark.

“I ain’t going to the house.” Tyree shook his head and turned toward the bunkhouse.

“Yes, you are.” Pete stepped out of the barn. “Malone wants to talk to you, in the house.”

“Malone can go to hell.” He said angrily.

“He’ll be happy to hear that. Let’s go.” Pete put a hand on his back and pushed him toward the house. Mark took his elbow and pulled him along.

“We need to talk.” Malone said grimly as he stepped into the living room. He waved toward his office.

“Can’t it wait, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

“I’d as soon do it now.” Malone said flatly. He was glad Mark was there, he still thought he might retch on Malone’s high dollar Persian rug.

Malone went to the liquor table and picked up a fist-sized glass and filled it with rye whiskey. “Have a seat, Tyree.”

Pete and Tulsa came in and Malone shut the door behind them. He felt like a coyote surrounded by yard dogs. He almost wished he was back in jail.

Malone poured himself a brandy and went to sit behind his desk. Pete poured his own drink and sat down opposite Malone, turning the chair toward Tyree.

“Joel.” Mark indicated the liquor table. Malone considered his little brother and nodded. “Go ahead.”

Mark poured them both a drink.

“I’m guessing you are confused why you are here. Why I didn’t let that bounty hunter take you.” Malone stated.

“I’m ain’t confused. You think I was working with the Ketterings. I just got lucky you didn’t catch me out there with Donny. Now you have a change to watch me hang by taking me to Valentine. Nothing to be confused about.”

“Careful, son. You don’t want to sound like you could have gotten caught with Larson.” Pete told him.

“You know damn well I wasn’t with them,” Tyree growled.

“We don’t know that,” Tulsa protested.

“You want to put a rope around my neck so bad you can taste it. You would have too, if Pete hadn’t stopped you.”

Tulsa looked at the rug and his face reddened. “I had every reason to think it. You been with vermin most of your miserable life – I had no – ”

“Yeah, I remember what you said, once vermin, always vermin. They’re hanging my friend tomorrow. Tell me what you want from me. When you taking me to Valentine?”

“I want to know about this Clem Kettering. I know of the Ketterings, they been down here before, but who is Clem?” Malone cut in, his voice said he was tired of the banter.

“He is Jace’s brother. They didn’t ride together much.”

“So he’s a rustler?” Tulsa asked.

Tyree was curious why Tulsa didn’t know better than that. “Oh, Clem wasn’t around when you was a lawdog. He was still in prison. He stole a few head of cattle, but he makes his living as a hired gun.”

“Like you?” Malone asked, only it wasn’t so much a question as a statement.

“I lied. I was never a hired gun. I was mostly chasing wild horses in Texas.”

“I see.”

“Clem the one who killed that gambler over in Overton?” Tulsa wanted to know.

“I wasn’t there either.” Tyree said sharply. “I never rode with Clem.”

“He’s looking for you.” Tulsa said.

Tyree’s nerves strummed, his stomach tightened up. “How do you know that?”

“Why?” Tulsa asked. “Why would Clem be looking for you? Why would Kyle Brown come here looking for you?”

Tyree didn’t have an answer for that last question. He shrugged. “I don’t know.” He pulled out his tobacco and tried to roll a smoke, but his hands trembled. Mark took it from him and rolled. “Same as you. He reckons I work with him.” He finally answered.

He saw Tulsa nod and say something low to Pete. Pete frowned and shook his head.

“Why is Clem looking for you?” Malone asked.

“I killed his brother Jace,” he said simply.

“That’s bullshit,” Tulsa said sharply. “Jace Kettering wasn’t that easy to kill; trust me, I tried.”

“He’s dead. I killed him,” Tyree said. “Ask Donny. He was there. Oh, that’s right, Donny will be swinging before you can ask him.”

Malone jerked a thumb at the door. “Mark, take him and feed him some dinner. Tyree, we’ll talk later. You don’t go out of this house without my say.”

“I ain’t going to run. I’m tired of running,” Tyree said tiredly.

“Not a foot outside this house. There’s a bed upstairs, Mark will show you.”

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