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Malone’s office felt bigger than it had yesterday. Malone dragged two chairs together facing each other and indicated one of them. “Sit.”

What more did they have to talk about?

Tyree thought about months ago how he had been so angry at Malone for barking orders at him, fetch this, do that, like he was a dog. He didn’t feel angry now, just resigned to the fact that he was a dog, a cur dog with no business here. He should have just kept moving down the trail that first day he’d stopped at Ms. Aileen’s. He was no farmer, no rancher, nothing more than an outlaw passing time until a rope settled around his neck.

He sat down and stared at the rug. A thin stream of light played across it, the waving of the curtains making it dance languidly against the dark reds and browns. Blood colored.

“I just talked to Donny Larson.” Malone told him. Tyree didn’t look up. He couldn’t.

“I guess you watched the hanging?”

“He’s hardly older than you.” Malone commented. “He said you were like brothers.”

“He was Jace’s cousin.”

“You weren’t related to them?”


“But they called you Kettering.”

“Jace raised me. I was a Kettering.”

“Then you changed it to Allison? After you killed Jace?”

“Yeah.” There was no emotion in him. He was wrung dry. “They gave me the name, as a joke. I was born in an alley to some whore. The Alley’s son,” he said tonelessly. Malone recoiled at his words, but didn’t call him down.

“Who are Pye and Pym Carson?”

“Where’d you hear those names?” He asked, the names sending chills up his back.

“Donny. He said they were in Montana till recently, Clem was in Texas till a few months ago. Donny said they tracked him down for Clem.”

“Oh.” Tyree shivered. “That’s what they do. They are trackers. They can track the shadow of a bird on a boulder.”

“I see. He wants you pretty bad. I guess him and his brother were close.”

“They fought like dogs over a bone, but they… yeah. Close.”

“I talked to the sheriff too, got hold of a wanted poster on Clem. He’s worth two thousand dollars.”

“That’s a lot of money.”

“Now why do you think Brown was offering a hundred dollars to Tulsa? Your bounty isn’t but fifty dollars.”

“I dunno.”

“Tulsa came straight to me with that information. It didn’t make any sense to him either.”

“I woulda thought he’d be happy to just take it. No questions asked.”

“You figured wrong. Tulsa rides for me.” Malone growled. “My question is, do you? Have you been riding for me or have you been working both sides?”

Tyree felt cold. He braced himself against the onslaught of emotion. He clamped his teeth together to keep his chin from quivering. It didn’t help that much.

Malone pulled the poster from his pocket and dropped it in Tyree’s lap. Tyree unfolded it.

He didn’t look at it, letting it slide to the floor as he blinked to clear his eyes.

“Tulsa got that from Brown the day he stopped here. He brought it to me. Said it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.” Malone stated.

“What?” He didn’t understand.

“The man who put that bounty on you died two weeks after it was printed. Got thrown off his horse, broke his neck. There is no reward on you. Hasn’t been for four years.”

“I don’t understand.” Tyree said in confusion.

“Brown isn’t after you. He wants Clem Kettering. He used you for bait.” Malone told him.

“You been knowing this? How long?”

“Tulsa gave me that poster the day Brown made his offer. I’ve been trying to work out the whys and wherefores since then.”

Tyree wiped at the tear trying to crawl over his lashes. “So you knew I wasn’t wanted but you brought me back here? For what? To get me away from Brown?” Tyree spewed it all out and then sucked in his breath. “Let me have my guns. I’ll leave right now. You won’t see nothing more of me in this life.”

“Leave for where? Where do you think you are going to get away from this Clem fellow?”

“I dunno. Don’t matter.” Tyree shrugged.

“No. You stay right here. Let Brown get Kettering.”

“That’s why you’re keeping me here? Thanks Malone, but I ain’t staying.”

“I mounted guards around the jail and now here to keep Clem from killing you.”

“Not to keep me from escaping?” Tyree asked in astonishment.

“You’re an arrogant little shit.”

“Guns. I want my guns.”

“You eat breakfast and get yourself to chores. Do. Not. Leave this ranch.”

“If I do?”

“I’ll rip off your arms.”

Tyree grunted. “Malone?”


“I still don’t understand. You never liked me. So why not just let Brown have me?”

“You think like a damn kid.” Malone said. “You think just cause I stayed on your ass it was because I didn’t like you?”

Tyree’s shoulders scrunched together. “Yeah.”

“Jackasses, all you young jackasses. I swear to god I’d like to cram you all in a gunny sack and drop you in the creek sometimes,” Malone growled as he left the room.

Tyree sat in Malone’s office long after the man left it. He rolled himself a smoke and helped himself to a shot glass of whiskey, hoping the boss didn’t return and rip his arms off for it. All that had taken place since he had walked his horse into Ms. Aileen’s yard tumbled around in his head. Malone had infuriated him more than once, pushing at him, ordering him around, humiliating him. He didn’t understand him at all.

He wasn’t free, even though he wasn’t in jail. He wasn’t free to leave. Malone still had men watching him. Tulsa was watching him. He thought about Pym and Pye. They would find him. There really was nowhere to run.

He chafed under constantly being watched. Malone’s men were still carrying their rifles out, even though things had been quiet. He concentrated on training horses, wanting to prove to Malone he wasn’t a worthless piece of shit. Malone hadn’t given his guns back. Apparently he thought Tyree would run for it if he did.

“Don’t let it get to you, Tyree. They are protecting you.”

“They are following orders, they don’t give two shits about me. I was a Kettering. I done a lot of things they say. You don’t think they are going to forget all that, do you?”

“We all make mistakes.”

“Nobody wants to hang you for yours. I am an ass. Nobody can argue that,” Tyree said.

Mark chuckled. “You are an ass. Who’s arguing with that?”

“Shut up, Porch dog.”

Two weeks later, the sheriff came to share a telegram with Malone. Tyree’s stomach was turning flip flops as he waited to find out what it was about. Malone waited for the sheriff to leave before he came into the livery where Tyree was waiting. “Kyle Brown sent a telegram to the sheriff to let him know he has Clem Kettering in jail in Valentine.”

Tyree’s knees went weak, and a sob escaped his lips as Mark squeezed one shoulder, Pete clapped him on the other shoulder. Going into the dining hall two of the hands patted his back as he went by. He glanced curiously at Tulsa, expecting him to be sour at the news but the man simply nodded at him and said nothing. The relief was immense.

He smiled as Mark slid into the seat beside him and jabbed him with an elbow. “Mother and Marcie will be coming home soon as they can make it to the train station. I reckon they got snowed in.”

Tyree nodded. “That’s nice.”

“I thought you’d be happy about that.”

“I am. I’m happy.”

“She likes you, you know.”

“We talked,” he acknowledged. He didn’t think she was hoping to see him here. She had come to tell him goodbye was all.

“She prolly went shopping in Denver, she always does. I bet she got you something for Christmas.”

“Mark, don’t, okay.”

“What is it with you? I thought you were ‘in love’?”

“I guess I figured out it wouldn’t work. You kept telling me I was a cur dog. You were right. Don’t rub it in, okay?”

“I wasn’t serious.”

Tyree studied his plate for a long minute. Mark was trying to josh with him, maybe get things back to where they had been before. It just wasn’t going to be that easy. He didn’t think it was going to ever be the same. “Mark. I’m sorry I acted like an ass with you. I know you were my friend and I didn’t appreciate it.”

“I’m still your friend.”

“You don’t trust me. You don’t have to pretend.”


“It’s okay. It ain’t your fault. I didn’t exactly give you reason to.”

“I believe you when you say you weren’t working with them. Isn’t that enough?”

“Yeah, but you had to ask.”

“You don’t think I had a right to ask?”

“If you had trusted me you wouldn’t have needed to ask. I ain’t blaming you. Just … you prolly ain’t ever gonna trust me. I done a lot of shit. Ain’t none of that your fault.”

“You’re doing it again.”


“Being an ass.”

Tyree nodded his head slightly. Nothing new there.“ When will Marcie be home?”

“Couple of days.”



“Um, huh. I can wait till payday.”

“To what?”

“Hit the trail.”

“You jackass.”

“Mark. I don’t belong here. Hell, half the riders here think they should have hung me.”

“You mean half the riders think you are an ass. The other half of them thought you were an ass the first day you rode in. So now only half of them think so.” Mark’s logic was tight.

“I think it’s time I just left.”

“Go ahead. Leave.” Mark said harshly. “I will miss you, but maybe it is for the best. I give it a lot of thought, Tyree. I tried way too hard to be your friend. That was on me. I accept that. I didn’t believe you when you told me you didn’t want friends. I thought you were just a kid who had it rough. Trying to act like a hardass. Again, that’s on me. I believed that even after you went after Lonny and tried to stomp him. I believed it right up till you killed that asshole in the saloon. That’s when I began to see the real you.”

Tyree felt every word like a punch in the gut. He hung his head as he listened.

Mark slammed his fist down on the table. “I’m done, Tyree. I am done trying to prove anything to you. Go. Go now before Marcie gets back. I’ll explain it all to her. Piece of shit.”

“Mark, I’m sorry.”

Mark was yelling now and the ranch hands were staring at them. “Dammit, Tyree. You say I don’t trust you but goddamn you, who do you trust? I have every right to question you. But me, I never ever lied to you. I didn’t hold anything back. And I am still your friend. And you are still an ass.”

Mark swept his plate off the table against the wall. Manny glared after him as he stomped out the door.

“I’ll clean it up, Manny.”

“Nah nah, you gie on an leef it fo me. Gah!” Manny put a hand on Tyree’s chest and pushed him away before he could pick up the plate. “Go!”

Tyree hung his head and walked away. He could feel eyes on him. It felt like a fist coming up in his chest, sliding toward his throat. He stumbled out of the bunkhouse and walked around back. Taking great gulps of air he put his back to the wall and slid down it, sobbing. I trust you Mark. It’s me I don’t trust. Why can’t I get this right?

Walking off to the farthest pasture he put the ranch buildings behind him. Alone. I need to be alone. I don’t deserve a friend like Mark.

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