Coyote Trail

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Chapter 15: Sorocco

The hot mid-afternoon sun beat down on Ransom, Pinder and Blackwolf as they rode into the town of Sorocco. Dusty and trail worn, they paid little heed to the people who stopped along the streets and stared at them as they rode by. It wasn’t often that three strangers rode into town leading a packhorse with a dead body slung over its rump and it attracted attention.

Pulling up in front of the Sheriff’s office, Ransom dismounted and hitched his horse to the post.

He turned to Blackwolf. “Dan, take that smelly son of a bitch over to the undertaker, would ya? It ain’t fittin’ to leave ‘im here stinkin’ up the street for decent folks.”

Without a word or an expression to break the stoic face, the old Indian reined around and continued down the street leading the packhorse. Pinder dismounted, hitched his horse and stepped up to join Ransom on the boardwalk.

On the wall beside the door of the Sheriff’s office was a billboard full of wanted posters. Among them was one for the Spencers, complete with renderings of their images and the words; wanted, dead or alive.

Pinder plucked it down and handed it to his boss.

“That’s one down an’ three to go Matthew.” He said as he opened the door and they both stepped inside.

Sheriff Jim Calhoon was sitting back in his chair with his feet propped up on the desk and his hat pulled down over his eyes. Upon hearing the door open and the two men step inside, he sat upright and tipped back his hat.

“Can I help you gentlemen?”

Ransom tossed the wanted poster down on the desk before him.

“We came to collect on one of the Spencer brothers. You’ll find what’s left of David Spencer over at the undertaker’s.”

The Sheriff looked down at the poster and then up at the two men standing before him.

“The name’s Ransom and this is Howard Pinder.”

Sheriff Calhoon recognized the name.

“I’ve heard tell of you.” He replied as his eyes studied the man’s hard, unshaven face. “I had a feelin’ you’d be showin’ up.”

Calhoon produced a cigar, bit the end off of it and spit it out onto the floor.

“Word gets around Mr. Ransom.” He said. “I’ve heard tell that the Spencers and the Coyote Bandits are runnin’ around these parts. I also heard that you’re chasin’ after ’em.”

“You heard right then.”

There was a pause as the Sheriff leaned back in his chair, struck a match against the wall and lit up his cigar. Here’s a headhunter with a reputation and an attitude to match, he thought.

“You know if they came through here?” Ransom asked.

Calhoon motioned to a chair beside his desk.

Ransom lifted his leg and placed his boot on it. He leaned forward and gazed expectantly at the Sheriff.

“A couple of days ago, before sun up, three men checked into the Waefferly Hotel under the name of Smith.” He began. “Accordin’ to Tom Waefferly, the owner, they were a ragged lookin’ bunch, all dirty an’ trail-worn. About an hour later, one of ‘em left for a spell an’ when he returned, he had Doc Laye with him.”

Calhoon paused and puffed on his cigar.

“In the meantime, ‘ol Tom’s wife Edith relieved him an’ he went off to bed. They’re both getting’ on in age ya see. Well, accordin’ to Edith, ‘round about noon, the three men left! Now, Tom an’ Edith, they got a little Mexican girl that comes in an’ cleans the rooms for ’em.”

The Sheriff paused again and Ransom’s impatience grew.

Calhoon smiled inwardly.

“She came in later in the afternoon, went up to clean the room an’ found Doc Laye tied to the bed posts with one of his own stockings stuffed in his mouth!”

Ransom leaned forward, his face grim.

“You can spare me all the little details Sheriff. They were headed this way. One of ‘em was wounded, so they’d be needin’ the doctor. Obviously he wasn’t wounded enough! I need to know which way they headed when they left out’a here.”

Calhoon puffed on his cigar and stared back at Ransom.

He had little respect for bounty hunters. More often than not, they were cold, ruthless, greedy men that were little different than the outlaws they hunted down! Now before him stood Matt Ransom, renowned bounty hunter! One with a reputation for getting his man . . . dead more often than not.

“Accordin’ to Doc Laye, it was the Spencers.” He confirmed. “One of ‘em let slip that they were headin’ for the Mexican border. Before they left town, they stopped off for supplies at Bigsby’s general store on the south end of town. Accordin’ to him, that’s the direction they rode off in.”

Ransom turned to Pinder.

“South would be the most likely way for ’em to run.” He said thoughtfully. “But then again, I hear they ain’t all that welcome down there either!”

Pinder looked to the Sheriff.

“You say this all took place about two days ago?”

“That’s what I said.” replied Calhoon.

“Then they got a good start on us Matthew.”

Ransom glanced at Pinder and then tipped his hat to the Sheriff.

“Thanks a lot for yer help Sheriff.” He said. “About the reward money, I’d appreciate yer tendin’ to it before the bank closes.”

Calhoon stood, folding the poster and placing it in his vest pocket.

“I’m gonna have to confirm the man’s identity before any payment can be authorized. I’ll head over to the undertaker’s now an’ if it is Spencer, I’ll have a voucher for you within an hour.”

With nothing more to say, Ransom and Pinder turned and walked out of the office followed by Sheriff Calhoon. Out on the boardwalk, they stood and watched him as he walked off down the street.

“There goes a man with an attitude.” Pinder commented

“To hell with him.” Ransom replied.

He had sensed the man’s disapproval of him the moment he’d stated his name. No matter. Calhoon was just another two-bit Sheriff that resented his reputation. One he’d earned for being damned good at a dangerous job! Anyway, he’d learned what he needed to know from the man and what the man thought didn’t matter.

With a long sigh, he stepped down off the boardwalk, followed by Pinder. They unhitched their horses and swung up into their saddles.

Pinder shook his head and cast a worried look at his boss.

“They’re a long ways ahead of us Matthew!”

“If that’s the way they went.” Ransom replied coolly. “I got a funny feelin’ about that! They’d have to be careless or stupid to let their intentions slip to the doctor an’ leave him alive to tell about it. I don’t think they’re stupid or careless! I’m willin’ to bet that they’re tryin’ to pull another switchback on us!”

It made more sense.

“Besides, it’s just what I would do!” he added as he reined his horse around. “We’ll see what Blackwolf thinks.”

“Here he comes now.” Pinder said as he motioned down the street.

Ransom turned to see the stone-faced old tracker riding slowly towards them.

“We got about an hour before we can collect our money.” He said. “What do you say we locate us some beer an’ a juicy steak while we fill Blackwolf in on all of this?”

“Sounds good to me Matthew.” Pinder replied.

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