Chapter 5: On the trail of the Coyote Bandits
After the colors of the evening sunset had faded and the first stars appeared in the sky, Pinder and Morgan mounted up and started worming their way down towards the little ranch in the valley. They approached a grouping of rocks atop a little knoll just to the northeast of the stable. There, they dismounted and left their horses.
Moving cautiously, they slowly moved towards the house. Red veered around to the rear of the adobe where, gun in hand, he would stand ready for an escape attempt out the back.
Pinder moved as quietly as possible, first checking the stable, then moving to the front of the house. There, he paused momentarily. The hard part would be getting close enough to find out if the half-breeds were in there. A step on a loose or creaky board could give away his presence.
With a sigh he slowly began up the steps, carefully testing the placement of each boot step. He had hardly made it onto the veranda when a dog started barking! Instantly, he hugged the wall to the side of the front door, his gun at the ready. Taking a deep breath, he rapped on the door.
Inside, a man’s voice shouted to quiet the dog. From the sound of it, it was a big one. “Who’s out there?” the voice demanded.
“The name’s Howard Pinder, I’m on the trail of three wanted outlaws!” he shouted in return.
Finally, there was silence from within the house and then the front door opened just a crack. Pinder glimpsed the barrel of a gun.
”You folks have nothin’ to fear from me.” He said as he holstered his gun and stepped out where he could be seen.
There was a hesitation from within and then the door opened and Digger Ryan stepped out onto the veranda, his old Navy .36 in hand and cocked. Sanchez positioned himself in the doorway, crouched and ready to attack at the slightest provocation. The dog let out a low, threatening growl in warning.
“The tracks of the men we’re after lead right to here.” Howard said. “If you don’t mind, I need to ask you some questions.”
Digger looked the man up and down with suspicion. “You ain’t wearin’ any badge as I can see.” he replied.
“I’m ridin’ for Matt Ransom.” Howard answered. “You ever heard of Ransom old timer?”
“Well, I reckon I have.” Digger replied. He lowered his gun slightly.
Just then Ellie Masters appeared in the doorway. Sighting Pinder, she raised and cocked the lever of her own Colt. “What do you want with us mister?” She demanded.
Before the man could reply, Digger spoke up.
” It’s alright Ma’am.” he reassured her. “He’s one of Matt Ransom’s men. Says he’s trailed some men to here.” Digger holstered his gun.
Ellie stood firm, the big .44 remained pointed at Pinder. “If you’re ridin’ for Ransom, you’re a bounty hunter and you ain’t the law!” She said flatly. “Who is it you’re after?”
Howard Pinder tipped his hat. “Right now Ma’am, Ransom’s off trackin’ the Spencer brothers and me an’ my partner’s after two half-breeds that call ’emselves the Coyote Bandits.”
She looked at him skeptically. “You after ’em on foot?”
“No ma’am.” He replied. “Our horses are up on the knoll. My partner’s around the back of your house, in case the men we’re lookin’ for were in there and tried to escape.”
Ellie glanced at Digger and he shrugged his shoulders. They both knew the bounty man was telling the truth and they knew he was after their previous guests.
“Well then, I suppose you can come on in.” she said.
“Much obliged Ma’am.” Pinder replied.
She lowered the .44 and turned back to Digger. “You go fetch his partner and take Sanchez around back with you.”
The old timer beckoned to the animal. It eyed Pinder one last time and then followed after Digger around the corner.
Removing his hat, Pinder followed Ellie into the house. She closed the door behind him and gestured at the dining table.
“You can have a seat Mister . . .”
“Pinder Ma’am, Howard Pinder.” He replied as he pulled out a chair and sat down. “I just need to ask you some questions and then we’ll be on our way.”
Ellie slipped the .44 into the pocket of the overalls she wore.
“Surely you’ll set an’ have some coffee Mr. Pinder.”
“Much obliged.” He replied. No sooner had he made himself comfortable at the table than Digger and Red came walking through the back door. “This here is my partner, Red Morgan.”
Morgan removed his hat. “Pleased to meet you Ma’am.” He said.
Again she gestured at the table.
“Please have a seat Mr. Morgan and I’ll get you some coffee.”
Red walked over and seated himself at the table next to Howard.
While Ellie proceeded to put some coffee on the stove Digger sat down in a rocking chair just near the back door. The two bounty hunters sat patiently, looking about the room, neither venturing to speak.
When Ellie returned she took a place at the table opposite the two men. “I don’t hold much for the likes of bounty hunters myself.” she said. “But any man that’s goin’ after the Spencer brothers is welcomed here.”
“Now, why do you say that Ma’am?” Red asked.
For a moment, a look of anger and downright ugly hatred swept over her pretty green eyes.
“Because two years ago they killed my husband.” she replied, “Shot him down in cold blood for no reason!”
“I’m right sorry to hear that Ma’am.” Howard said, “Ransom’s trailin’ ’em as we speak and you can be assured he’ll get ‘em. He always does. Me an’ Red are after some friends of theirs and the trail led us right to your door.”
Ellie shot a look over at Digger who shook his head.
“I knew it!” he said, “I just knew those two Indian fellas were the Coyote Bandits! I wasn’t sure at the time but I warned Mrs. Ellie it might be them. We was ready for ’em if’n they tried anything!”
Morgan smiled and looked at Pinder.
“Three men showed up here yesterday in the late afternoon.” Ellie replied. “They were unarmed and they looked beat. One of ‘em was a good lookin’ man. Had fancy, pointed boots and went by the name of Hank. He seemed decent and polite enough.”
She paused, envisioning the strange man she’d met only yesterday.
“The other two were Indian. One was Ed and the other was Clay. They didn’t say much, but they behaved themselves. They washed in the creek and then I fed ‘em and this mornin’ they were gone.”
“They didn’t take any horses?” Morgan asked, a look of surprise on his face. “They left out’a here on foot?”
“When Digger warned me ‘bout who they might be, we took precautions.” Ellie replied. “We were all armed of course. Digger slept in here in the rocker and Miguel slept out in the stable. This mornin’ they were gone and there’s nothin’ missing.”
She rose up from the table to get the coffee as Morgan and Pinder looked at each other in wonder. It made no sense at all for the men to remain on foot.
“Well it was the Coyote Bandits for sure.” Howard said. “As far as this other man, we don’t know anythin’ about him ’cept that it looks like he helped ’em. He set ’em free after they were tied up and left for dead by the Spencers. Looks like he’s runnin with ’em now.”
“Too bad.” Digger said, scratching his stubbly chin. “He seemed like a nice enough feller.”
Ellie returned with the pot of coffee and some cups and placed them on the table before her guests.
“There’s somethin’ very different about him.” she said thoughtfully, “Somehow I don’t think he’s like them at all . . . an outlaw I mean.”
She placed a bowl of sugar and some spoons on the table and sat back down while the men helped themselves.
At length, Pinder spoke.
“The way I see it . . . as long as he’s runnin’ with those two, he sure can’t be up to any good.”
“Do you have any idea where they was headed?” Red asked.
“I reckon they’re headin’ into town.” Digger replied, “Red Holler’s not much of a town but it’s the closest thing to one around these parts!”
“They’re headin’ for Red Holler to pick up horses and supplies.” Said Pinder, “It makes sense, ‘specially if they’re on foot! Still, with them two, there’s no tellin’ for sure. ”
Red took a long drink of his coffee and smiled in approval.
“Good coffee Ma’am.” he said. “You know, you folks are lucky. You could’ve been robbed and done bodily harm too! Those are some right dangerous men.”
“I know that Mr. Morgan.” Ellie replied. “You don’t live out here without learnin’ how to make them kind’a judgments with strangers.”
“You’re a very brave woman, Mrs. Masters.”
“I make do.” She replied.
The bounty hunter looked over at his partner and Pinder spoke up.
“We might as well rest up here tonight.” He said, “We’ll camp in the rocks on the knoll if you don’t mind Ma’am. We’ll be headin’ out after ’em before sunrise.”
“I can offer you men two beds in the bunk house.” Ellie replied.
“Why that’s real nice of you, Ma’am.” Morgan added as they stood to leave. “And don’t you fret none at all ma’am, we’ll get them killers!”