Coyote Trail

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Chapter 17: Return of the Spencer Brothers

Over a week had gone by.

The only thing that Ted Morgan had learned was that the man called Hank Duggan was hiding out at the ranch and getting all lovey-dovey with Ellie Masters. There had been no sign of the half-breeds, either at the ranch or back in town!

Morgan stared out from his concealment behind the rocks and kept the ranch house in view. From his vest pocket he produced a flask of whiskey and took a swig.

He’d been dividing his time between the ranch and town, spending a day or two here and a day or two there. The folks in town had gotten used to him being around. Sam Ellery, the saloonkeeper and Everett Marsh over at the hotel had come to consider him a regular. So did Joe Dent, over at the livery.

They knew he was one of Ransom’s men and he had become the subject of gossip in the little town. When asked where it was that he was disappearing to, he had answered that he was going out on patrol, looking for signs of the Coyotes and the Spencers. It appeased people’s curiosity and also made them feel more secure. In fact, they had come to appreciate his presence. He was the closest thing to a lawman the little town had ever had. He had even been asked if he would consider being their Sheriff!

Ted Morgan took another swig of whiskey and chuckled.

Maybe after this job was done and over with, after he’d killed them two half-breeds and collected his share of the reward money, he might consider taking the townspeople up on that offer! Maybe it was time for him to change his ways and try his hand at a different kind of life.

Morgan chuckled again at the thought, but then some activity down by the ranch house interrupted his thoughts.

Digger and Miguel had hitched up the buckboard and were pulling it up in front of the house. Apparently somebody was getting ready to go somewhere, probably to Red Holler for some reason.

Ellie Masters appeared in the doorway and stepped out onto the veranda. She wore a man’s shirt and trousers but they sure didn’t fit her like man! Right behind her was Hank Duggan. Morgan remembered the day back in Coyote Canyon when that man had nearly shot his head off!

“Son of a bitch.” He muttered to himself.

The old man and the Mexican spoke with Ellie and Hank for a minute and then waved and drove off towards town. Morgan watched as Hank and Ellie kissed and then walked over to the stable.

A few minutes later they emerged, each leading a saddled horse. They mounted up and rode off to the north at a leisurely pace, the big dog following along behind them.

Morgan watched them depart and then he took another swig from his flask. It looked like the lovebirds were going on a joy ride! There was no telling how long it would be before they came back and he considered packing it in and heading back to town. It was getting hot hiding among those rocks in the sunshine.

As he reached into his pocket for the makings of a smoke, a trickle of sweat dripped down his forehead and into the corner of his eye. One thing he hated was getting sweat in his eyes! He untied his neckerchief and wiped off his forehead.

He never heard Joe Spencer sneak up behind him and he never expected the gun-butt that came down hard on top of his head, knocking him unconscious! He slumped over and sprawled out face down, on the dusty ground.

Joseph Spencer stood over him as Daniel and Luke appeared.

“Did you kill him?” Luke asked excitedly.

“Hell no, I didn’t kill him!”

“Well why not? You’ll just have to kill him later!”

Daniel had heard enough. He grabbed his little brother by the hair and shook him violently.

“You best shut up boy!” he threatened. “We agreed not to kill Morgan, it’d only make Ransom more determined to hunt us down! If we just kill the half-breeds, we’ll be doin’ him a favor. Now, tie up that son of a bitch!”

Luke glared back with hatred at his brother, but proceeded to do as he’d been told while Joe and Daniel looked out at the ranch house.

It had all been quite unexpected.

While skirting past the town of Red Holler, they had spotted Ted Morgan on the road heading north. Letting him pass and staying well behind him, they trailed him to the ranch and observed him as he took up his position in the rocks atop the knoll.

It soon became apparent that he was hiding out and keeping the house under observation. But why they wondered? The answer was obvious, it had to be the Coyote Bandits! Morgan must have suspected that the two half-breeds were held up inside the place.

Daniel Spencer’s suspicions were confirmed when he recognized Hank Duggan!

Joe and Luke were insistent.

This was their chance to get the Coyotes and to take out one of Ransom’s men in the bargain! He had argued against it, suggesting that they just keep moving on, but his brothers would have none of it! The best he could do was to get them to agree not to kill Morgan.

Reluctantly, Daniel considered the situation.

“One of ‘em is hold up down there for sure.” He said. “The woman’s hidin’ him out! As far as the other two, there’s no tellin’. They could be in there.”

“There’s only one way to find out.” Joseph replied. “We should move now and try to surprise ’em!”

Daniel checked his Peacemaker.

His brothers followed suit.

“Well boys, let’s see if there’s any Coyotes in there!” He said. “Stay low an’ stay under cover. Remember, this is supposed to be a surprise.”

He gave his brother Luke a stern glance.

“And there’ll be no shootin’ ’till I say so!”

Slowly, silently the three men moved out, circling around, keeping under cover as they made their way to the back of the stable.

Daniel cautiously led the way inside.

Except for an old workhorse, the stable was empty and there was no evidence of the half-breeds’ horses or gear.

“Maybe they ain’t here.” said Joseph.

“Maybe.” Daniel replied. “You stay here. Keep hid an’ cover us! Luke, you an’ me are goin’ to check out the house. We’ll circle around by the creek and come up through the trees. You make your way ’round back. Don’t you use that gun unless you hear shots first! You got that?”

“I got it.” Luke answered.

The two outlaws slipped out the back of the stable and cautiously made their way along the corral fence and around towards the creek. Once there, they moved from tree to tree as they crept back up towards the house. Daniel got there first and stood with his back against the wall, his gun raised and ready.

He motioned to Luke to move around the back.

Daniel peered cautiously around the corner and then swung himself up over the handrail. Once on the veranda, he couched low, took off his hat and peeked through the window. Seeing nobody inside, he started creeping towards the front door and then quietly unlatched it. With his gun at the ready, he pushed the door wide-open and charged inside!

There, standing in the open back doorway was his brother Luke!

“There ain’t nobody here.” he said casually.

Anger flared up in Daniel’s eyes as he stood and returned his gun to its holster. Just then, Joseph appeared in the doorway behind his older brother.

“They’re not here?”

“Do you see ’em?” Daniel retorted.

Joe returned his gun to his holster, stepped over to the dining table and sat himself down in a chair.

“Then I reckon we’ll just make ourselves at home an’ wait for a spell.” He said, “Maybe them half-breeds’ll show up.”

The kid followed suit.

“Looks like you been out-voted two to one.” He said.

Daniel looked at them as if they were crazy.

“Do you two fools have any idea of how big a risk you’re takin’?”

Joe removed his hat and dropped it on the table.

“We got Morgan hog-tied out there in the rocks an’ Ransom’s on his way to Mexico! The way I see it, we can afford to sit here an’ wait a few hours. Just what the hell are you so worried about Matthew?”

“There you go not thinkin’ right again” said Matthew, “What if Ransom didn’t fall for our game? Think about it! I’m tellin’ ya, don’t underestimate the sonovabitch! Them half-breeds are prob’ly nowhere’s around here!”

Joe seemed to think about it for a minute.

“We could force their friend to tell us where they’re at!” he argued.

“Or the woman, she might know!” Luke added with a wicked smile.

Daniel stared back at his brothers in disgust, his face reddening in frustration and anger. One thing was sure, his authority was being challenged and he was losing control.

“I’m tellin’ ya both, it’s too damned risky! We shouldn’t’a stopped here at all. We ought to be ridin’ an’ ridin’ hard!”

Joseph let out a sigh, removed his hat and scratched his head, torn between his angry desire for revenge and his trust in Daniel’s judgement. He looked at his older brother and then over at the kid.

“Look, I’ll make a deal with ya.” He said. “Let’s hold up here just till sundown . . .”

It was a perfect day for Hank and Ellie’s ride. Ellie showed him the spring that fed the irrigation system that she and Ben had designed and constructed. It fed several acres of corn and other vegetables.

“No wonder you call this place Oasis.” He observed. “It’s more like a farm than a ranch.”

“I was raised on a farm back in Missouri.” She told him. “I know all there’s to know about farmin’, carin’ for crops an’ animals. An’ that’s all on top of cookin’, cleanin’, washin’ an’ everything else a woman has to do around here!”

“You’re an amazing woman, Ellie Masters.” Hank replied.

“Well, I got Digger and Miguel to help and sometimes I hire help when we need it.” She replied.

They came to a bend in the creek where it broadened out and deepened, creating a natural swimming pool. There, in the shade of a cottonwood tree, they dismounted.

“This is my little hide away.” Ellie said. “It’s where I come to think, or to go swimmin’ every now an’ then.”

“Swimmin’ eh?” replied Duggan.

“Sure! Why, me an’ . . .”

She stopped, angry with herself for bringing up the subject of Ben again. It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Duggan. He stepped over and kissed her on the forehead.

“It’s alright.” he said softly as he took her hand and led her over to some rocks beside the creek. “Tell me what happened to Ben.”

She sat herself down and he sat beside her, holding her hand. A tear dripped down her cheek.

He reached out and gently wiped it away.

She looked into his eyes.

“One day Ben hitched up the wagon and went into town to pick up some supplies.” she began. “The Spencer brothers were in town. They’d been drinkin’ all day at the Stagecoach an’ they were drunk an’ crazy! Luke Spencer got mad at a whore ‘cause she wanted him to take a bath. He started beatin’ up on her and then he threw her out into the street! That’s when Ben drove by.”

She paused, fighting back more tears and Hank put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her hand gently to comfort her.

“It was horrible.” She continued; “Luke was laughin’ and cursin’ at the woman as she raised herself up from the ground. Her lip was split an’ bleedin’ an’ her dress was all dirty with mud and horse manure! Ben pulled up and hopped down from the wagon to come to her aid. That’s when Luke pulled his gun an’ shot him down where he stood! The woman started screaming and took off runnin’ down the street! She didn’t get far. Luke shot her down too! Red Holler ain’t much more than a stage stop an’ there ain’t no law! Those killers just got on their horses and rode out of there an’ nobody did a thing to stop ’em.”

Hank’s fingers brushed her cheek lightly and they came together in a passionate kiss, their arms wrapping around each other as they became lost in the moment.

And then she knew . . . this was the man she wanted, this mysterious stranger from another time and place!

“It’s alright Ellie.” He told her. “I understand.”

She looked at him with big, teary eyes.

“You’re some kind’a man yourself, Hank Duggan.” she replied. “But you still haven’t told me about the place you come from.”

Hank paused, not knowing where to begin. How do you describe something so complex? He had to think about that for a moment.

She was smiling at him, eyes wide in anticipation.

“The time I come from is pretty amazing.” Hank Duggan began thoughtfully. “It’s very complicated, confusing and contradictory! You might say, it’s the best of times and the worst!”

She rested her head upon his shoulder.

“In the future, people will fly through the skies and travel under the ocean depths. Men will journey towards the stars and walk on the moon!” He said as he gazed up at the sky. “People will have electric lights and hot and cold running water inside their homes; they’ll fill their houses with heat in the winter and cool air in the summer! They’ll buy all their food from great, big, supermarkets and drive around in horseless carriages!”

“People will be able to talk to each other instantly over thousands of miles and create buildings that are hundreds of stories high! They’ll entertain themselves with moving pictures and recorded sounds.”

She turned to him and he searched deeply into her eyes.

“I wish I could show you some of the things that are so common in my world but then, it would all be so alien to you! I don’t know whether you’d love it or hate it.”

“Why would I hate it?” she asked, trying desperately to understand what he was talking about.

He kissed her forehead gently and held her to him.

“Because there’s a price to be paid for all those things. The human race begins to threaten the well being of itself and the whole planet! There’s the pollution of the land, the waters and the air, the extinction of countless species of animal and plant life! See; the industrialists have no respect for the earth and they don’t care about future generations! And it’s all because of greed, because some people just can’t amass enough wealth and power!”

Duggan stopped himself.

His ranting was starting to sound a lot like Edgar Big Thunder’s!

“That’s so sad.” she said. “You sound to me like a man out of place even in your own time.”

“Oh, I guess I just had a hard time findin’ my place in it.” He replied thoughtfully. “That’s the thing about my time; most people became wage earners and consumers, content to live like programmed computers. They became slaves to material possessions and giant corporations and they accepted it all as normality.”

Again he stopped himself and again, he thought of Edgar and Clay. He sounded like them because, to a certain extent, he was like them!

“I guess I’m what you’d call a free thinker.” He continued. “I just couldn’t accept things for what they were! Monotonous jobs that don’t pay, bills an’ taxes, an’ insurance, a house in a subdivision! Economic slavery is what it is! In the end I wound up drivin’ a truck.”

“A truck?”

“A truck is sort of a huge horse-less wagon with eighteen wheels.”

“You’re teasin’ me!” she laughed.

“No I’m not!” he protested.

The two of them burst out laughing!

It felt good and it felt right and in the next moment, they were in each other’s arms and their kisses flowed freely and naturally.

And then she looked up at him.

“Tell me about your dream, Hank Duggan!”

He was silent for a moment as he thought.

“Well, I guess my dream was to own some land and withdraw myself from the rat race!” He replied. “I used to daydream about it a lot. Sometimes it would be little farm with fields an’ woods an’ a stream. Other times it would be a ranch somewhere in the southwest, with an adobe house and some cattle. Some old wagon wheels out by the gate!”

She smiled at him.

“I kept hoping that some day it would come true. After all, I figured that aint too much for a man to ask for out of life! But back where I come from a man gets caught up in workin’ an’ payin’ an’ before he knows it, he’s forgotten his dreams! I guess that’s what happened.”

She smiled and looked at him with big, green eyes.

“Maybe your dream’s here, right now, in this time!” she replied.

“Maybe it is.” he answered.

It was late in the day when Hank and Ellie finally returned from their ride, with Sanchez happily trailing along behind them. They reined in their horses and dismounted.

“How about if you take care of the horses?” Ellie suggested as she handed the reigns to Duggan. “I’ll go rustle us up somethin’ to eat.”

“That sounds real good.” he replied.

Ellie smiled sweetly at him and headed off towards the house, Sanchez following expectantly behind her.

He was hungry too.

Hank turned and led the horses to the stable. Entering inside, he led them over to their open stalls and then set to work unbuckling their saddle straps.

Suddenly, something struck him on the back of the head!

Stunned, he fell forward and ended up sprawled out on the floor! Everything seemed as if it was happening in slow motion and in his blurred vision, he could make out the face of Joe Spencer!

Suddenly, he heard a dog barking!

A woman screamed and a shot rang out!

The pain hit him full force then and the room seemed to spin around! As he tried to get to his feet, he heard a man’s laughter, and then another crashing blow came down on his head!

It knocked him out cold.

Joseph stood over Hank’s motionless body and wiped a spot of blood off the butt of his gun. He returned it to his holster as he walked outside and headed off towards the house.

Entering, he saw Ellie Masters lying on the floor, a drop of crimson blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. Sanchez lay motionless on the floor beside her with a bullet hole in his side. Daniel was inspecting what looked like a dog bite on his left forearm and Luke stood in a corner, replacing the spent cartridge in his Colt.

Joe sat himself down in a chair at the dining table.

“Now all we gotta do is make him tell us where them half-breeds are at!” He said.

Daniel’s face darkened with anger.

“It’ll be sundown in little over an hour!”

“That’s plenty of time to kill him and take the woman.” suggested Luke as he stared at Ellie’s still form with lust in his eyes.

He spun the cylinder of his Colt.

“Let’s strip ‘er down naked an’ have a good look at ’er!”

Daniel glanced at an oil lamp on the dining table in front of him. In one swift move he grabbed it and hurled it at his brother! It struck the gun in the kid’s hand and shattered, sending glass flying and dowsing him with oil! He staggered backwards against the wall and his eyes filled with rage.

“You son of a bitch!” he yelled. “Just who do you think you . . .”

Daniel sprang at him, knocking the gun from his hand and pinning him against the wall!

“You best go collect up the horses.” He growled. “Before I decide to strike a match an’ set your ass afire!”

Luke glared with hatred at his brother.

“You don’t scare me!”

Joseph saw the outrage boiling up in Daniel’s eyes.

“Do as he says Luke.” he warned.

The kid sneered hatefully as his brother released him. He picked up his gun and his hat and stomped out the door!

“One of these days, he’s gonna call you out.” Joe warned.

“It’ll be the last thing he ever does!” Daniel’s voice thundered. “And don’t you give me any lip e’ther! Both’a you are gonna do as I say or I swear to God, there’ll be hell to pay!”

Joe could see by the little veins that pulsed in his brother’s temples, that he’d been pushed too far.

“Alright, alright, calm down.” he said in submission.

There was a pause, a deafening silence as Daniel regained his composure.

“I’m gonna tell you one more time an’ you better damn well pay attention!” He said. “It wasn’t the Coyote’s fault that our brother David is dead. It was Luke’s!”

Joe remained silent. Deep down, he knew his brother was right.

Daniel went on.

“It’s just possible that Ransom could show up any minute. We can’t be sure that we lost him. It’d be downright crazy to hang around lookin’ for the Coyotes! To hell with them! We need to pack up and get the hell out’a here! Do you understand me?”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re right!” Joe replied.

Just then Ellie moaned and stirred as she lay there on the floor. Joseph leaned over in his chair and patted her on the bottom, his hand lingering and then squeezing.

“What do you say we take ‘er with us t’ keep us company?” he suggested as he rolled her over to have a look at her. “She could come in handy if Ransom does catch up with us.”

“She sure is pretty.” he added.

“Tie ‘er up an’ gag ’er.” Daniel answered. “We’ll take ‘er along as a hostage. When we’re away an’ clear, we can let ’er go.”

His head ached. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Was it from all the aggravation or from trying too hard to think? Why was it so damned hard to think? Maybe he just needed to be alone, get some air.

He stepped out on the veranda and another thought occurred to him, or maybe it was more of an intuition! He started walking over towards the stable and the closer he got to the building, the more he felt it and the lighter he stepped. As he approached the door quietly, he drew his gun from his holster.

Cautiously, he peeked inside.

There was Luke, kneeling over the unconscious form of Hank Duggan. The kid held a knife to Duggan’s throat while at the same time shaking him, trying to get him to wake up! For Luke, killing wouldn’t be much fun if his victim wasn’t awake! Finally, being unable to wake the man, Luke cursed.

“I’m about to blow your damned head off Luke!” said Daniel.

The kid turned and faced his brother.

He smiled and rose slowly to his feet.

“He’s one’a them Coyotes isn’t he? Why not kill him?”

Daniel’s gun remained pointed at his brother as he cocked the hammer back. The little voice in his head was speaking to him again. ‘Go ahead, pull the trigger.’ the voice urged, ‘You can do it!’

“You’ll do as I say.” he warned. “Get yourself mounted up! We’re movin’ out of here!”

The kid looked down at the unconscious Hank Duggan. He hacked up and spit on the unconscious man and then stomped angrily past his brother!

Daniel holstered his gun and followed after him.

Joe was already mounted up and waiting.

Right next to him, on Red Morgan’s horse, sat Ellie Masters with a gag in her mouth and her wrists tied securely to the saddle horn. There was a bruise on her left cheek and tracks of tears on her face but in her eyes, anger burned in defiance!

“Welcome to the family, lady.” Luke said to her as he mounted up.

Daniel swung up in his saddle and took the reigns of Ellie’s horse.

“Let’s ride!” he shouted.

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