Coyote Trail

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Chapter 18: Coyote Returns

When Hank Duggan finally regained consciousness, it was starting to get dark out. The first thing he was aware of was the pounding in his head and the blood on his hand when he reached back and touched the painful area.

He lay there for several minutes, unable to move.

The sound of Ellie’s scream and a gunshot going off came flooding back into his memory. He tried desperately to get to his feet, but his pain grew more intense with the effort and he collapsed back onto the floor. Everything went blank again! The next thing he was aware of was the sound of galloping hooves.

The sound grew louder and then halted.

They’re coming back to finish me off, he thought! He tried again to get to his feet. Again, the pain in his head increased, his legs failed him and he fell back to the floor!

Suddenly there was a man standing over him shouting “In here! I found Duggan in here!”

He felt a hand on his shoulder as the man knelt over him and only then did he recognize the face of Miguel.

Digger came running in and knelt down beside him and then together, they picked him up and carried him outside. They took him over to the bunkhouse and deposited him onto one of the bunks. The sound of Ellie’s scream echoed again through his mind and he struggled to raise himself up from the bunk.

“Hold on there partner! Where do you think you’re goin’?” asked Digger as he restrained him.

“I’ve got to get to Ellie!” Hank cried as his mind began to clear and focus returned to his vision. “It was the Spencer brothers! I recognized the one that clobbered me!”

“The Spencers? Are you sure?”

“I’m positive!” He answered. “I heard Ellie scream and then I heard a gunshot and that’s all I remember.”

“They shot the dog.” Digger replied.

“And Ellie?”

The worried look on Digger’s face spoke volumes before he opened his mouth. “Looks like they made off with her.”

Realization hit Hank and he cursed, the sound of his own voice sending waves of pain through his head. Ellie was alive but in grave danger and there was no telling what they would do to her! He had to pull himself together and overcome the pain!

“We got to get after them.” He said in a lowered voice.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea right yet.” Digger advised.

Again Hank tried to get to his feet.

“It’s Alright!” He insisted. “I’ll be OK.”

Digger and Miguel looked on as Hank slowly raised himself from the bunk and stood upright. He managed only a few wobbly steps before the room began to spin around and he collapsed face first to the floor.

He was out cold again.

“I knew it.” Digger said as he and Miguel picked him up from the floor and laid him gently back on the bunk.

“I think this time he will be out for awhile.” Miguel said. “Maybe he needs doctoring.”

“It’d take a good four or five hours to go fetch Ma Tate.”

“Si, but my family’s place isn’t very far.” Miguel replied. “I could ride there and get my Mother. She could doctor him! I could bring my brother Juan and some fast horses too!”

Digger knew it was no use trying to pick up the Spencer’s trail in the dark, but come morning they would need the horses and any help they could get.

“Good thinkin’ boy.” the old timer said. “You get a move on and get back here as soon as you can!”

“Si, I will hurry amigo!”

Miguel disappeared out the door and with a sigh, the old man sat himself down in a nearby chair. He should have known better. First, the Coyotes showed up and then the bounty hunters after ’em! Now Duggan was back! He should have realized the possibility that the half-breeds or the bounty hunters would show!

The Spencers were the last thing anybody expected. They should have been long-gone across the border into Mexico, what with Ransom and his boys after them! What the hell were they doing around here?

Suddenly, he realized the possibility that if Ransom and his men were on the Spencers trail, they might be showing up next. In that case, he, Miguel and his brother Juan, and maybe even Duggan, could ride along with them! The question was; how long would it be before Ransom got there? And how long could he afford to wait for him?

Then the old 49er remembered something else.

He got up from the chair and started heading over to the house.

He had to bury Sanchez.

The sky over the eastern horizon was just beginning to glow with the light of a new day when Hank opened his eyes. There was a dull throbbing in his head as the memory of where he was and what had taken place the evening before focused in his mind.

`Slowly, he got up from the bunk and stood on his feet. A momentary dizziness passed and he took a few steps towards the door. If he could walk, he thought, then he could ride! He would have to saddle a horse and take off after Ellie and her kidnappers.

He emerged from the bunkhouse into the chilled morning air. Just then a movement caught his eye and he froze in his tracks. Not ten yards away, there sat the dark, gray form of the coyote!

Could he be seeing things or was it really there?

The animal sat still and silent, its ears erect and alert; its yellow eyes aglow. No, he decided, it was real enough. But could it be the same creature that had led him to the Coyote Bandits? Was it the same one that he saw in the canyon?

Clayton had referred to it as his ‘spirit helper’ he recalled.

The animal stood up, wagged its tail and moved off towards the creek, looking back at Hank in expectation. The coyote seemed to have a habit of showing up right before something happened. And then, some sixth sense told him it could mean that the Big Thunder brothers were somewhere nearby!

Of course! The coyote had come to lead him to them!

Suddenly there was hope and Hank felt a surge of energy pulse through his body that brought steadiness to his limbs and clarity to his thinking. For the first time, he would actually be glad to see the Coyote Bandits!

As the eastern sky grew brighter, Hank followed the coyote along the footpath that led from the bunkhouse down to the creek. There, in the dim light, Edgar and Clayton Big Thunder stood beside the flowing water!

“Hey!” He hailed as he hurried towards them. “Am I ever glad to see you two again!”

“Don’t you know better’n to make all that noise?” Edgar scorned.

“What happened to you guys?” Hank asked, his voice in check. “When I came to after the shoot out, the both of you were gone!”

“That’s what you wanted wasn’t it?” Clayton replied. “We knew you’d live. We knew you’d head straight for here. We decided to head west to our Navajo brothers. We stayed there ’till Ed got his strength back.”

Still feeling weak and his head throbbing from all the exertion and excitement, Duggan sat himself down on a rock beside the trickling water of the creek.

“There’s been trouble.” he told them. “I need your help!”

“We know that.” Clay said. “Old Man Coyote showed up an’ told me all about it. That’s why we’re here now.”

Duggan looked around, but the animal had disappeared.

“It was the Spencer brothers! They’ve made off with Ellie! You guys have got to help me get her back!” Hank pleaded. “Every minute that passes is an opportunity for them to do her harm!”

Suddenly he thought of something else!

“Besides that, there’s a good chance that Ransom and his boys will be showin’ up here soon! We got to get out of here!”

“Calm down.” Clay said. “First, I’ll take a look at your head. Coyote is lookin’ out for Ransom. He’ll let us know if there’s any danger. After I fix up your head, then Coyote will lead us to find the woman!”

Suddenly, a voice rang out from behind them!

“You boys ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

It was Digger Ryan and he had a double-barreled scattergun pointed at them.

“Drop your guns real slow and get your hands in the air where I can see ’em!” he said.

The Coyotes slowly reached for their guns and let them drop to the ground. After all, the old coot didn’t need to be a good shot with that cannon he was pointing!

“What the hell are you doin’ Digger?” Hank asked.

“I’m fixin’ to hold you boys here till Miguel an’ Juan show up . . . and then we’re all gonna sit together nice an’ cozy and wait for Ransom to get here!”

“What are you, crazy?”

“Ain’t crazy nor stupid!” the old man replied. “The game’s up for you boys! You done been caught!”

“What about Ellie?”

“What about Ellie?” the old man repeated. “It seems to me that you’re responsible for what happened to Ellie! I told her if she took you in, trouble would follow! I told her she was flirtin’ with disaster and now look at what all’s happened! It’s mainly you’re fault, you sonofabitch!”

I don’t need this now, Hank thought; there’s no time for this.

“Look old-timer,” he said. “I’m in love with Ellie and I intend to go after her!“ He motioned to the Coyotes. “These men are gonna help me do that! If you really care about her, you won’t try to stop us!”

As the old 49er stood looking at Duggan, his body began to tremble and a tear rolled down his leathery cheek.

“She’s been real good to this old man.” he said in a quivering voice. “She give me a home an’ a job an’ a place to belong! She’s the only fam’ly I got in this world.”

“Then let us get on with it!” Hank pleaded. “Me an’ the Coyotes’ll get her back! Time’s wastin’ an’ every minute counts!”

Digger eyed Hank and then the Coyotes. There was a moment of hesitation, of indecision, and then he lowered the shotgun.

“Then get to movin’.” he said.

“And don’t come back without her!”

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