Coyote Trail

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Chapter 9: The Reluctant Back-tracker

The Coyote Bandits hurried through Crow Canyon and then high-tailed it out of the area, swinging around to the northeast. There was no telling how long it would take their pursuers to figure out that they were gone, but in that space of time, they had to move and move fast!

Onward they drove, pushing their horses till they were spent! Finally, Clay pulled up and halted. Edgar swung around and came to a stop as Duggan rode up beside him.

“We gotta hold up!” Clay said; “We can’t keep on pushin’ these animals like this.”

“Sounds good to me.” Hank replied.

The men dismounted and flopped themselves down on the ground, catching their breath and stretching sore muscles.

“Those dirty bastards.” Edgar panted. The hard riding and loss of blood had left him weak and a shade paler in color. “We can’t hold up here for long. We gotta keep movin’!”

Duggan sat on the desert floor panting and brooding. Only hours ago he was planning on hiding out for a few days and enjoying the peace and serenity of Coyote Canyon. Afterwards, he could have bid the Big Thunder brothers goodbye and headed back to Ellie’s place. Instead, as it turned out, he was involved in a shoot-out that nearly cost him his life and he was on the run again!

“Do you gentlemen have any idea where we’re going?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as we keep movin’!” Edgar answered.

“Maybe we should split up?” Hank suggested hopefully.

Edgar wearily shook his head.

“You’re a damned fool Duggan.” he said: “You wouldn’t make it out here all by yourself. You’d sure as hell just end up gettin’ yourself killed.”

“He’s right, you know.” Clay added.

Hank made no reply.

“The first thing you’ll do when you leave us, is head straight for that woman back at the ranch.” Clay said with a smile and taking note of the sudden look of surprise that appeared on Hank’s face.

“Yep, that’s just what you would do!” confirmed the half-breed. ”You just can’t wait to get away from me an’ Ed so that you can head back to her place an’ get to romancin’ ’er!”

Hank’s face blushed with a mixture of embarrassment and anger over the fact that Clayton had obviously guessed his private intentions.

“Where do you come off?” he protested; “How the hell do you know what I intend to do? Besides that, it’s none of your damned business!”

Edgar managed a laugh.

“Sounds to me like you struck a nerve, brother.”

Clayton burst out laughing and then looked over at Duggan. “If you miss her so much, then maybe we ought to do somethin’ about it!”

Duggan sensed the direction Clay was going and he had an uneasy feeling about where it would lead.

“What are you gettin’ at?” he asked.

The half-breed shot a sly glance at his brother and said, “We think that maybe, you should go and visit her.” Clayton replied. “My brother and I will ride along with you!”

“No!” Hank protested. “I don’t want you guys goin’ back there! I don’t want her involved in all this insanity! You leave her out of this!”

“Nobody will expect us to double-back there.” Clay explained.

“No way!′ demanded Hank. ”You guys find someplace else to go!”

Clay and Edgar looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Neither of them said a word but both rose to their feet. They walked over to their horses and proceeded to mount up.

“What are you doing?” Hank demanded.

“We’re goin’ back to the Oasis ranch!” Clay answered as he and his brother reined around and started off.

Duggan jumped to his feet!

“Damn it all to hell!” He cursed again and again in frustration and then hurriedly mounted up and started off after the Coyote Bandits.

He hadn’t planned on this at all!

He burned with anger that his intentions had been so easy for the two outlaws to read. It was something they weren’t supposed to know! Sure, he wanted to return to Ellie’s ranch, but not with them! The presence of those two would invite nothing but trouble!

Hank found himself worrying what Ellie would think of him. What kind of a man would she think he was, to still be running around with the likes of these two? He sure didn’t want her formin’ the wrong opinion of him and his character! That’s just what would happen if he returned there with them!

What he wanted was to work for her; that’s all! He wanted to spend some time talking to her, getting to know her, to be near her. There was something about her. Hell, he couldn’t explain it. He certainly didn’t want the Coyotes screwing it up for him!

Hank wanted her in his arms, not in danger!

Then came the realization that he was going to have to try and explain it all to her, tell her the truth about how he got into this mess! He realized that he might yet have to stand up to the Coyotes in order to protect her! What he didn’t realize, at least not yet, was fact that he was in love with her.

The Coyote Bandits continued heading north through gently rolling desert country dotted with sagebrush, cactus and squat cedar. To the west loomed great purple mountain peaks. The sun had nearly disappeared behind them and the clouds in the sky took on shades of red, orange and yellow.

It had been a long, hard day for the horses they rode. They had been moving since early morning, alternately riding and walking but seldom stopping. The men were exhausted, especially Edgar, but even though he had taken a bullet wound and lost a lot of blood, he grit his teeth at the pain and pushed on.

He was now visibly swaying in his saddle.

In a sandy dip, Clay drew up and reined around.

“This looks like just as good a place as any to hold up.” He said.

Edgar drew up but made no attempt to dismount. His head drooped and his eyes closed, he remained silent and sat his saddle. Clay and Hank swung down and Clay looked over at him.

“Ed, you can come down from there now.” he said.

“I’m thinkin’ about it.” Edgar replied in a low, disengaged drawl.

Clay handed his reins over to Hank and then helped his brother down from the horse and onto his wobbly legs. Edgar took only a few steps and then promptly sat himself down on the ground.

“I’m just gonna sit right here for a while.” He announced.

“Suits me.” Clay replied as he and Hank went about tending to the horses and pulling the bedrolls and saddlebags.

Duggan began looking around for some firewood and tinder. When he returned a few minutes later with a meager load of dead wood, Edgar was laid out on his bedroll, asleep. Clay was searching for something in one of the saddlebags.

“Thought you got lost out there.” He said.

Hank put down the firewood. “We’re goin’ to need more.”

“It’s enough.” Clay replied. “We don’t want to make a white man’s fire. The white man’s fire is always big and wasteful. He lights up the night and lets every living thing for miles around know where he’s at. We’ll make us a little fire, just big enough for what we need.”

As Hank looked on, Clayton started the fire burning and then set about preparing to make coffee. Watching the flames, Hank mulled over his most immediate problem. How could he avoid returning to the ranch with his present company? If only he could talk them out of it somehow. He knew Edgar would be the harder one to deal with. Now would be a good time to try and level with Clay, he thought. At least it was worth a try.

“Tell me something Clay.” He asked. “Why is it that you guys are so insistent on going back to the ranch?”

Clay looked confused at first.

“You mean, why do we want to go there?”

“I mean why don’t you guys just go off in some other direction?”

The outlaw let out a sigh.

“It’s really very simple.” He said. “The woman has an interest in you. She would want nothing bad to happen to you.”

“And how do you know that?”

“I can tell such things amigo.” Clay replied. “It was in her eyes and the way she looked at you . . . and in the way you looked at her! If she wants nothing to happen to you, then she’ll hide you out!”

Duggan was beginning to understand.

“So if she’ll cover for me, then she’ll cover for all of us.”

“Very good!” Clay replied. “That’s just what I think!”

The outlaw smiled shrewdly. “It would be for only a few days, until my brother’s ready to move on. Then me and him will be off and you two love birds can do whatever you want!”

Duggan rubbed his jaw in thought. There was really nothing he could do, whether he liked it or not. The Coyotes had made up their minds and that was all there was to it! The only thing he could do would be to level with Ellie, explain to her the situation.

“Very well then.” he said. “Maybe she’ll understand. But you two better be respectful! I don’t want to hear any talk like I heard before!”

’You worry too much.” Clay answered.

Hank scratched his stubbly face and hoped she’d understand.

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