Coyote Trail

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Chapter 4: The Bounty Hunters

Ted Morgan and Howard Pinder sat in a dimly lit Santa Fe cantina. The two men sat quietly and discreetly at a small table in a dark and private corner of the room.

Howard was a short, thin man of 34 years. He wore his dark hair cropped short and he sported a neatly trimmed goatee. Dressed in a gray business suit and wearing a bowler hat, he appeared non-threatening and respectable except for the Peacemaker in his shoulder holster.

Ted Morgan on the other hand, looked more like an old mountain man that had just come in from the wilderness. He was a well-built and powerful man of 40 years and although he had a belly on him, he was solid. He was dressed in an old red checkered shirt, worn and faded denim pants and a fringed, buckskin vest. His shoulder length red hair had streaks of gray in it and so did his long beard.

Both men were bounty hunters by trade and had been so for many years. During the course of those years, each man had developed his skills through hard, tough experience. They were solitary men, preferring to work and ride alone. Still, there had been several times when they had worked together and each had come to respect the other as a seasoned professional.

A bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses were on the table before them as they sat there in silence. Having ridden into town only hours before, they were tired and saddle weary.

They had received word from an old friend, a man who they respected not only as a professional bounty hunter but also as an expert, a master at the trade. His name was Matt Ransom and he had said he had a job for them.

They had ridden with him before, as members of his ‘posse’ and they considered it an honor to ride with him again. The man had become a walking legend and his name struck fear into the hearts of every outlaw and gunfighter in the west. It was a foregone conclusion that if Ransom picked up your trail, you were as good as got and you could be sure your days were numbered.

Presently, the batwing doors swung open and into the room walked a man wearing a long, dark coat and a black ten-gallon hat. Twin gun belts were slung low on his hips. Two silver studded holsters held twin, ivory handled Colts, butts forward. He stood and slowly surveyed the room. Seeing the two men seated in the corner, he walked right over to their table.

Matt Ransom was a man of middle age with dark shoulder length hair. He was a man all of six feet tall with a lean yet powerful build. His dark features were rough and unshaven, his eyes stern and wary. He was a dangerous man.

That is, if you were an outlaw with a price on your head.

Where he came from, no one knew, but he’d been a drifting cowboy for many years. He rode for several outfits and made many a cattle drive up from Texas to Abilene and Dodge City. Along the way, he developed an interest in shooting and it wasn’t long before Matt Ransom was handling a hog leg like it came natural.

Then one night in Dodge, he and a couple of his buddies got rip roaring drunk at one of the saloons. Matt said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong stranger and the man took offense. The man had the look of a dusty, old, trail-worn drifter, unwashed and unshaven, but on his hips he wore two ivory handled Colts!

Before he knew it, Matt found himself being called out. The whole thing seemed to take place in a matter of seconds. The stranger’s hands went for his guns but Matt got to his first! An instant later, the stranger was lying dead on the floor with none other than Deputy Bat Masterson standing over him!

It turned out that the stranger had been a wanted man with a price on his head for having committed a string of robberies. Matt had made out with five hundred dollars of reward money! It was more than an ordinary cowpoke could make in several years! That was when Matt Ransom made up his mind to turn from driving cattle to bounty hunting.

Eventually, he got real good at it.

Most of the time, he worked alone but after being caught outnumbered, outgunned and nearly killed in Amarillo, he learned not to bite off more than he could chew. After that, when the need arose, he’d put together a ‘posse’ of three or four men to ride with him as ‘deputies.’ It had proved lifesaving on several occasions when he got into a fix. Two of the men he had come to rely on were Ted Morgan and Howard Pinder.

“You boys been settin’ here long?” Ransom asked as he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table.

“A few hours.” Howard answered without looking up.

“Good to see ya again Red. How you been keepin?”

“Just barely Matthew.” replied Ted, or Red as most knew him.

“Well gentlemen, I got some work for you if you’re up to it.” Ransom said as he reached for the bottle of whiskey. “You’ve heard of the Spencer Brothers haven’t you?”

He took a swig out of the bottle.

Red looked up at him. “Four brothers, all of ’em mean and crazy, ’specially the youngest.”

“The youngest one would be called Luke and he’s wanted for cold blooded murder.” Howard Pinder added as he signaled the barkeep for another glass.

Ransom set down the bottle and leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “They’re in these parts and they’re worth five thousand dollars!”

“Now you’re talkin!” Red exclaimed, his interest sparked. “We’ll cash in them Spencers or we ain’t worth a damn!”

“There’s even more.” Ransom replied. “Have you boys ever heard of the Coyote Bandits?”

“They’re a couple of half-breeds, mostly robbers and horse thieves.” said Howard matter-of-factly. “One of em’s some kind of medicine man. They’re a pretty slippery pair.”

The barkeep stepped up, placed a glass on the table in front of him and Matt Ransom poured himself a drink.

“Well, it seems they’re ridin’ with the Spencer brothers and they’re worth a thousand apiece.”

“Looks like there’s some decent money to be made.” Pinder replied.

“The Spencer brothers and the half-breeds too.” Red added looking thoughtful. “I reckon we can handle the lot of ’em!”

Matt went on. “Just over a week ago, south of Durango, the bunch of ’em held up a stagecoach carryin five thousand dollars worth of bank transfers. After that, they headed south together. You remember old Dan Blackwolf?”

“Sure do.” Howard replied, “Damn good tracker.”

“Well, me an’ him have been workin’ together lately. We heard they were seen here in Santa Fe.” Ransom looked back and forth at Morgan and Pinder. “Seems like they somehow got word who’s on their trail an’ they lit right out of here! From what me an’ Dan can gather, we think they headed west, across the Rio Grande. I left Blackwolf sniffin’ around an’ I come here to meet you boys. If you’re ready to ride and you’re up to the challenge, we’ll split the proceeds as usual.”

Ted Morgan pulled out the makings and started rolling himself a cigarette. “That’s four men goin’ up agin’ six! The way I see it, that’s some pretty good odds!” he said. “You can count me in Matthew.”

Pinder leaned back in his chair, tilting it against the wall.

] “I reckon you can count me in too.” he said.

Ransom swallowed down a final drink and then got up from the table. “Then I suggest we all get some shuteye! We’ll be ridin’ out of here in the morning.”

The four riders pulled up their horses close together and gazed down at the desert floor. On the ground all around them were the many tracks of horses and men. It was plain to see that a lot of activity had taken place there a day or two earlier.

Dan Blackwolf was a full-blood Arapaho with a round face and long, jet-black hair. He was a short, stocky man of 50 plus years with an uncanny talent as a tracker. He’d been just about everywhere and had worked with Ransom many times over the years. Ransom knew he could always depend on the man’s instincts and direction and he trusted him fully. When he decided to go after the Spencers, Blackwolf was the first man that he thought to recruit.

Ransom dismounted and walked over to the packhorse. He started digging through a saddlebag looking for some chewing tobacco. Producing it, he bit off a chunk and looked up at the Indian.

“Well Dan, what do you make of it?” he asked.

Blackwolf dismounted and without speaking, walked off a short distance. He took his time looking around, every once in a while kneeling down to inspect something on the ground. He made his way over to a nearby dry wash and then disappeared from view.

The other riders sat their mounts. Pinder busied himself rolling a smoke. Red reached for his canteen, took a swig of tepid water and offered it down to Ransom who waved it off.

Presently, old Dan Blackwolf returned and saying nothing, he swung back up on his horse.

“What do you say Dan?” Ransom asked.

“I count six riders. It’s our boys all right! They made camp over there by those rocks, three nights ago.” Said Blackwolf, “But there’s more.”

“Like what?”

“Well . . .” The Indian paused and shifted himself in the saddle. “Something else has taken place here. Looks like they were fighting with each other over something. I found marks where two men were dragged into that wash. They tied them to a wagon wheel and left them there.”

Matt gazed in the direction of the wash and then spat a stream on the ground. “So, the Spencer brothers got greedy and turned on the half breeds?”

“Looks that way.” said the Indian.

“Are they dead or still breathin’?”

“They’re gone!” Blackwolf replied. “Somebody else came along and set ‘em free. I saw three sets of footprints headin’ off to the south-west.”

The old Indian paused for a moment. “The strange thing is that whoever it was that freed those two, was on foot himself!”

Red Morgan cast a knowing glance over at Pinder. “Looks like we’re gonna have to split this party up.”

Matt Ransom let out a long sigh and adjusted his hat.

“Well, I reckon Dan an’ me . . . we’ll keep on after the Spencer boys. Red, you an’ Howard get after those half-breeds. They won’t be goin’ too far too fast.”

“You got it Matthew.” Red replied.

Ransom spit another stream and then swung himself back up in his saddle. “I don’t care too much for splittin up like this.” He said. “If the trail goes cold, then give it up and make your way back to us.”

He and Blackwolf reined their horses around.

“Don’t you fret any.” Said Pinder; “We’ll sort this out real quick!”

With that, Ransom and the Indian continued off to the west, while Red and Howard picked up on the half-breed’s trail.

They rode down into the wash, looked over the old wheel and picked up the trail on the other side. It wasn’t too long afterwards that they came upon the old, wagon wreck where Hank and the Big Thunder brothers had camped.

“They held up here sure enough.” observed Pinder.

Red replied. “I reckon they can’t be too far ahead of us.”

The two men continued on the trail. On horseback, they could travel in a few hours, what a man could walk all day, so they knew it wouldn’t take long to catch up to the fugitives. So too, the closer they got, the more they’d have to be on their guard.

During their man hunting careers, Red and Howard both had run across some pretty resourceful runners. They knew that the two half-breeds had a reputation for being smart and elusive, so they rode on cautiously and with senses alert for any signs of a trap. Still, just a few hours later, they found themselves sitting on a ridge looking down into a valley at the Oasis Ranch.

“They either went down there an’ stole themselves some horses, or else they’re down there waitin’ for us.” Pinder said.

“There’s no tellin’ which.” Morgan replied. “And we won’t know fer sure till we get on down there.”

“It’ll be dark soon. I say we wait an’ go down then.”

So much for getting’ it over quick, Morgan thought with a sigh. “Well, I reckon we ain’t got much of a choice.” he said.

The two men dismounted and sat down to wait. Howard reached into his coat pocket for his makings and proceeded to roll up a smoke. He handed it to Red and started rolling another one for himself.

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