They were cowboys. Alex and Hank endured long, saddle sore hours, thunderstorms, two stampedes, a rustling attempt and three fist fights in Dodge City's Long Branch Saloon. A few bruises and the swollen eyes were gone. So was most of their wages. Now it would be odd jobs until they hired on somewhere for the next summer roundup.
* * *
The two cow punchers drifted south to winter at ranches in Arizona Territory. They rode for miles with little conversation. After a week of steady travel, Alex suddenly stopped just south of Flagstaff. He dismounted and tightened the cinch on his saddle.
"I been thinkin'" he said. "Here we are . . . same as last year, headin' to Arizona Territory with no money and no wages 'til Fall. Why don't we try some other line of work?"
"I don't know no other kind . . . and I like bein' on horseback," said Hank.
Alex studied the angular face of his lean partner and grinned. "You like dusty sweat, chuck wagon food, sleepin' on the ground and stampedes too do you?" asked Alex as he stepped back into the saddle.
"Well, puttin' it that way, if I had my druthers, maybe guiding eastern dudes and game hunters would be better."
Hank drifted from job to job each winter; satisfied if he could do the work from the back of a horse. Alex tried to save enough to purchase a small spread of his own; but good times and costly carousing at the end of trail drives always seemed to get in the way of his plans.
"What was your wages this season?" asked Alex.
"Same as you . . . Thirty a month and board," replied Hank.
Alex paused in thought; then shook his head. "Hank, there's lotsa gold on those coaches that run in Arizona Territory. If we held one up, we could easy get three or four year's pay quick like."
Hank reined in. "I ain't cut out to turn outlaw," he said. "But then, I don't hold with the law all the time neither."
Alex studied his partner: Uncomplicated man with a hair-trigger temper and a long memory of those who wronged him. He shot a gambler in Contention over a card game; and a saloon girl in Albuquerque after she flung a knife at him. Other cowboys gave him a wide trail when he was on the prowl. Hank was shy of common sense, but fast, practiced, and deadly with a six-gun.
"How old are you Hank?"
"We been ridin' together for four years and you never asked me before, why now?"
"Well, my guess is you're about thirty . . . same as me. I say it's time to get enough to take a year or two away from joining some Texas outfit, and marchin' up the Chisholm Trail and crossin' all those danged rivers."
"There could be some shootin'," said Hank. "I might kill somebody and end up in a noose."
"You think on it Hank," said Alex. "You're good with a gun. Why not use that for quick profits? Then you can stay away from poker cheats and fights over whores."
They rode on, silently, for the next hour. Finally Hank pushed his hat up off his forehead and turned to Alex with a wide grin. "I quit schoolin' after three years, and didn't do too well in the first two either. You're my Pard. Have you got a plan?"
"I'll let you know when I'm ready," said Alex.
After that brief conversation, it was decided. They would become outlaws. Just temporary you understand. Only long enough to take a couple of years off. Rob a stage or two, and their outlaw days would be completed.
That night they stopped at a lonely, dilapidated miner's shack near the top of Mount Union in the Bradshaw Mountains. The Prescott saloons were near, but the two cowboys were played out, and besides, they were near broke.
Alex laid out his plan: Hank would stop the coach as it ascended the hill in the country between Skull Valley and Wickenburg. The coach would be moving slowly due to the steep incline. Hank, being handier with the gun, would disarm the driver and guard. Alex would ride in the coach and disarm the passengers. Alex knew the country, so he would take the heavy gold and hide in the Bradshaw Mountains. Hank could dash to Mexico for a week or so.
"I will meet you back at the miner's shack on the Fourth of July so you can take your half," said Alex. "I give you my word on it."
"Done," said Hank. They shook on it.
Marshal Calley looked up from his desk and smiled at the stout man who entered his Prescott office. "Jess Bodie, you mighty manhunter," he said. "I figured you'd show soon. 'Spect you're lookin' for yer blood money."
* * *
Bodie smiled. "I brought the Dayman brothers to you, didn't I Calley?"
"Yeah, you brung them in . . . dead. Did you have to kill 'em? They weren't nothin' but a couple of drifters."
"So you say," said Bodie. "You're just mad 'cause I cheated you out of a hanging."
Calley laughed. He spun the dial on the safe behind his desk. "Here's your bounty. Three hundred per head."
"Wrong Marshal, the poster said three hundred per ear."
Calley shuffled through the posters on his desk. "Yer plumb right, I guess. Here you go."
Bodie counted the twelve one-hundred dollar bills.
"You headed back to Tucson?" asked the Marshal.
"Yeah. Getting on the noon stage in a minute. Gonna gamble a spell." He pulled his hat level over his long blond hair. "Adios Calley. Send a wire if you come across any bad ones who carry a bounty."
Jess Bodie secured his wallet in his inside coat pocket and stopped at the stage station to buy his ticket. "Any other passengers?" Bodie asked.
* * *
"The manager handed him his ticket. "Yep, a cowpoke just off a trail drive. He's getting hisself all prettied up at the barber shop. And," he continued with a bold grin, "a pretty young lady going to see her father. He's the Sawbones in Wickenburg. There ain't no extra guard since the stage ain't carrying gold."
Bodie stashed the information in his memory bank, and ambled to the coach. He needed a few days of relaxation. Dressed in a black suit and dark gray hat with string tie under the collar of his white shirt, he looked like a professional gambler. Actually poker was his second occupation. He invested in poker with about half of his bounty earnings, and the rest he put into mining interests.
He carried a Colt forty-five in the holster on his left hip and a derringer in his vest pocket. Well known in the Southwest, most men avoided him because of his reputation as a dangerous man, especially when on the hunt.
Alex climbed into the stage. He was surprised that there didn't seem to be an armed guard riding along.
* * *
He watched a gambler leave the marshal's office, buy his ticket and saunter to the stage. The two men exchanged a silent tip of the hat and a casual look.
"No guard and no gold on this run," said the gambler. "Probably be a hot boring ride."
Alex stirred. Mixed thoughts bothered him as he tried to relax. No gold? What now? Would Hank remember my plan? Will he be at that sharp rise on the stage coach road? Will he remember the Fourth of July? I'm probably a damn fool for partnering up with a chancy addlehead like Hank.
His thoughts drifted away when he noticed a smallish dark haired woman leave the hotel and walk toward the coach. The gambler immediately took the lady's arm to help her step up into the coach.
She smiled and took a seat next to Alex. Their eyes met. "Hello," she said with a soft voice.
"Settle back folks," yelled the driver. "We're hittin' the trail." With the crack of a whip and a string of curses the driver set the stage in motion on the road from Prescott to Tucson.
The gambler ignored Alex and concentrated on the dark eyed girl who stared out the window at the gray outline of pine covered peaks to the east.
* * *
"I understand you are going to see your father who's the Doc in Wickenburg," he said with a friendly smile.
"Yes," she stated, and then turning toward him boldly asked, "And why are you on the stage?"
The gambler grinned at her inquisition. He seemed surprised. Apparently people seldom asked him about his plans. "I'm on a short vacation and plan to gamble a spell in Tucson."
"And then?" she asked.
The stout man grinned and shook his head. Her audacious questions apparently intrigued him. "Ma'am, I will go out and hunt down some more outlaws. The job has its dangers, but," he patted the inside pocket of his coat with a significant gesture and smiled with satisfaction, "It pays well." Alex shifted slightly in his seat and sent a narrow-eyed sideways glance toward the bounty hunter.
"I see," said the woman. "When you find these bad men do you kill them or bring them to the law?"
"That is up to the outlaw," he said. "My name is Bodie. You can call me Jess."
"Do you like your work Mister Bodie?" she asked with a bit of sarcasm.
"I guess . . . "
Not waiting for a complete answer she turned toward Alex. "And where are you headed?"
"A'm headed to some Tucson ranch to find work for the winter," he answered.
She looked at the holster tied down on his right hip. "Are you hired to shoot people too?" she asked.
"No ma'am," he answered. He thought a few seconds, and continued, "Generally I bust horses for ranchers near Contention City. Hope to own my own spread in that area someday."
The lady smiled. "I'm going to help my father in Wickenburg," she volunteered. "I haven't seen him for three years."
A sudden darkness appeared in her eyes. She spoke softly. "My husband was with Sherman at Atlanta. He came home with only one arm and bad lungs . . . consumption." Following a deep breath she continued. "He died in seventy eight."
"So sorry to hear that," said Alex. "My condolences."
Her winsome glow returned as she studied Alex. "Thank you," she replied. "My name is Hannah." She smiled and held out a gloved hand. "What is yours?"
"Alex Jen . . . Jones," he replied.
Bodie reached out toward her with his right hand. She did not take it.
Bodie slumped back in his seat and turned to stare out of the window.
Alex grinned and slowly cleared his throat. "Will you be staying with your father long?"
"Long enough for you to call if you wish."
Alex reddened, stunned into a few seconds of silence. "I will do that," he said.
Her gaze returned to the landscape. "Those mountains are beautiful, especially that high one in the middle," she said.
"That's Mount Union," said Alex.
After a supper of steak and beans at the Kirkwood station, Alex stepped out of the dining room and rolled a cigarette. He lit the smoke and leaned against the top rail of the station's horse corral. The lengthening shadows of from fading sunset suited his muddled mind. Would Hank be waiting tomorrow as planned? No gold on board, but Bodie has cash. Bodie? Not a man to trifle with. And then Hannah, beautiful Hannah, why did she have to be on this stage?
* * *
He noticed Hannah stroll out of the hotel. She looked toward the downtown area and back. Spying Alex, she adjusted her scarf as walked toward him. "Care to take a walk through the town?" she asked.
The moon rose to slowly light the town's only street. Lamp light from the open door of the general store cast a warm glow on the boardwalk. The town appeared almost deserted.
They walked in silence. Alex wondered what to say. Suddenly he hated the thought of his ill-conceived plans for tomorrow.
He found his voice. "Kirkland ain't much of a town is it? Not like the cities you've been in back East."
Hannah pushed back a wisp of hair from her brow and looked up at him. "I like small towns," she said. "They are friendly and peaceful and I like walking through this one with you," she said.
She hooked her arm into his. "Alex. You seem a bit preoccupied. Do I make you nervous?"
"Oh no," he said. "I like the way you talk; I mean forthright and honest and all."
They stopped at the end of the boardwalk and sat on a bench in front of the bank.
"Will you really call on me when we get to Wickenburg?" she asked.
"Oh yes," he answered. Then, rather shyly, he added. "I want to see you once again, and a great deal more after that."
She stopped turned and quickly gave him a peck on the cheek. "You are a handsome man. And a decent one," she added. "That will be nice."
With a sudden impulse he turned to her and took her head in his strong tanned hands and kissed her. She responded to the kiss and he held her for a minute.
Back at the hotel door, he held her close and kissed her again.
Later he lay in a bunk at the Kirkland Stage Stop, rolled another cigarette and blew smoke rings at the ceiling.
He had always been free. Now he was trapped by his own greed. Hannah was beautiful and sincere. He couldn't
run. He had given his word. And Bodie? He was the wild card in this complicated game of crime and love.
A hot Arizona June morning greeted the travelers. With the four horses hitched and passengers boarded, the coach continued toward Wickenburg. Weaving along the twists and turns of the trail it approached the hill country just outside of Skull Valley. Before the downhill ride into Wickenburg they would pass over dried creek beds lined with rock formations and scrub pines.
* * *
Old Ollie, the stage driver cracked the whip and urged the horses forward as he tried to gain some speed to help the coach as they neared a steep incline.
Alex leaned forward and peered out of the window. Hank should be about a mile up the trail. He should have two mounts rested and ready.
"Whoa! Whoa!" yelled the driver.
The stop shook Bodie out of his nap. "What's the trouble?"
"Holdup! Road Agent," yelled Old Ollie.
Bodie hand slid toward his gun. Alex reacted quickly and poked the business end of his pistol into Bodie's neck. "Don't try it! Everybody out." he commanded.
Bodie raised his arms in surrender and Alex used his left hand to pull Bodie's pistol from the holster and stick it in his belt.
He gave a quick glance at Hannah who sat like a statue with her mouth open and eyes wide.
"There ain't no gold box," yelled Hank.
"I know," said Alex. He prodded Bodie with the pistol. "But this fine gentleman has cash aplenty."
Alex reached into the Bodie's inside jacket pocket and tossed out his money pouch.
Hank checked Old Ollie, then picked up the wallet and peeked at the cash. "Wooee!" he said.
Hannah found her voice. "Alex, nooo Alex . . . please tell me this is a joke . . . some sort of game . . . you're not, you're not a thief?"
Alex looked at Hank who was counting Bodie's bounty money. Then he turned toward Hannah. What now? The cards were played. Words would be useless.
"Crack!" Alex recognized the sound of a small pistol. He spun back toward Bodie and quickly slammed his six-gun into the temple of the bounty hunter's skull. Bodie went down with a moan and his derringer fell to the ground. Alex snatched the small gun and flung it into the brush.
Hank doubled over and dropped to one knee. Blood began to ooze from his midsection.
Hank pointed his pistol at Alex. "You . . . you were supposed to have the coach clean . . . no arms . . . no guns . . . you, you." He fell on his side.
Alex's attention went to Old Ollie who still sat transfixed; dumbfounded with his hands still in the air.
Hannah recovered her wits and ran to Hank. She pleaded toward Alex with her eyes. "He's hurt bad and needs a Doctor."
"It's all my doin'," said Alex. "All my doin'. I, I, I'll get him help."
He turned and peered into her eyes. "I'm sorry Hannah. Maybe we will meet . . . "
She stared with a blank look of disbelief.
Alex turned to the setting sun. He needed time. He checked Bodie for any other hidden guns, then strode to the front of the coach and unhitched the lead horses. They wouldn't wander far. When Bodie came to, he and Old Ollie could re-hitch them. It would give him a couple of hour's head start.
With a final look toward Hannah, Alex stowed the cash in his saddlebags. He helped Hank struggle into his saddle. With one hand, Alex kept Hank on his horse the three or four miles to Wickenburg.
Near midnight, Alex found the Doc's office. He knocked. When an inside lamp was lit, he slipped a twenty dollar bill from the holdup into Hank's vest pocket and left his unconscious partner on the boardwalk. He quickly mounted and dashed out of town.
If Hank lived he would not forgive and forget. Half the stolen money belonged to him. Alex tried to convince himself. "Too bad," he said to himself. "Hank knew outlawing is a dangerous business."
When Hank healed up he would be coming and Alex could not predict his reaction. Though he moved and talked slowly, he had seen the deadly impulses of his partner. Alex shook his head. "He might blame me more than the man who shot him," he thought.
The bounty hunter? Alex nasty reputation; a wealthy killer for hire. He probably will be thirsting revenge, even more than retrieving his blood money.
And Hannah. Hannah. "I'm a damn fool," he said to himself.
He knew the reputation of the Wickenburg sheriff; a political hack who avoided trouble if at all possible.
At any rate, Alex knew he needed to hole up for a week or so. He would camp near the miner's shack; moving every day, hiding in the tall pines. Even if Hank recovered it would be week before he could travel. It seemed doubtful that he would get there by the Fourth of July.
Near midnight, Old Ollie steered the coach into Wickenburg. He stopped at the hotel and went to wake the Sheriff.
* * *
Hannah spied a sign hanging over the board walk. It read "Dr. C. B. Turnbill".
"That's my father's office," she said.
Bodie walked with her. A lamp light shone through the window. Without bothering to knock Hannah opened the door.
"Hannah?" came a voice of surprise. "Hannah, Hannah. According to your letter I expected to see you tomorrow."
She ran and hugged her father. He held her at arms length. "How beautiful you are. Just like your Mother."
"What a night of surprises," said the doctor. "First somebody drops a wounded man on my doorstep and now my daughter arrives."
Bodie stepped forward. "Did the wounded man die?" he asked.
"Not yet. Probably won't if he gets some rest. Small caliber bullet in his stomach and he bled quite a bit. I patched him up and he's asleep in the back room."
"Father this is Mister Bodie," said Hannah. "He shoots people for a living."
Bodie scowled and the Doctor grinned. "That's my daughter," he said laughing. "Just a shy little girl."
The doctor studied the Bounty Hunter. "I heard of you Mister Bodie. You're known as a dangerous man. How come you shot this man?"
"He was robbing the stage. And, he took over two thousand dollars from me." He pointed at the lump on his forehead. "His partner, a man named Alex Jones cold cocked me with the barrel of his six-gun."
Doctor Turnbill pushed the hair away from Bodie's skull. "I'll put an ice compress on that swelling."
"You do that Doc," said Bodie. "And keep that other outlaw alive. I need him to tell me where his partner may be."
The doctor looked Bodie square in the eye. "You stay away from my back room. I've notified Sheriff Canton and when that outlaw starts to heal up he will be in jail."
Sheriff Luke Canton opened his office door. He looked up and frowned. "Jess Bodie," he said. "I heard you were in town. Still chasing bounties I s'pose."
* * *
"Not this time," said Bodie. "Only want what's mine. Two thousand stole from me when the stage was held up."
"Can't help you there," said Canton. "There weren't no gold on that stage, so getting' yer money back is yer business. When will you be leaving town?"
Bodie didn't answer.
He turned his attention to the young woman with Bodie. "Who are you?"
"Doc Turnbill's daughter. I'm here to change your prisoner's bandage."
Bodie brushed by the Sheriff. "I ain't expectin no help from the likes of you Canton," he said "I just want to talk to that prisoner the Doc patched up."
Canton opened the door to the cell room in the back of his office. "There he is. Says his name is Hank Mackey."
Hank lay on the bunk in the jail. His open shirt revealed a bandage wrapped around his waist. He looked up and fixed hateful eyes on the bounty hunter.
"You shot me," uttered Hank with a groan. "I don't know who I'd rather see pack it in . . . you or Alex Jenks. Alex didn't take yer gun like he promised."
Bodie cut to the point. "How would you like to help me find him and make, say, two hundred dollars to boot?"
"How?" asked Hank.
"C'mon," said Bodie with impatience. "Don't play me for the fool! You must have some idea where he's headed."
Painfully, Hank rose to one elbow and hesitated. He looked squarely at Bodie. "We're supposed to meet on the Fourth of July on a high peak up in the Bradshaw forest. Doubt if he will show though. He's probably half way to Californy by now."
Bodie walked back to the Sheriff's desk and looked at the calendar hanging on the wall. He sent a hateful stare toward Hank. "That's in five days," he said, "And I don't know that country. Your goin' with me."
Bodie looked to Hannah. "When can he ride?"
"Maybe in a week or two," said Hannah.
"I'll give him one more day," said Bodie.
"Good," interjected Sheriff Canton. "He's a lot of upkeep. Take him out. The sooner the better."
"That wound will open up and he will bleed to death if it isn't properly bandaged," argued Hannah. She took out fresh bandages and began her work.
Bodie shook his pointed finger at Hannah. "His thieving partner has a three day head start already. Hank Mackey will be guidin' me to his partner day after tomorrow."
Hannah shook her head. "He needs more time. You can try to find Alex on your own."
"Bodie's narrowed eyes studied Hannah with a sideways stare. "Now I see it," he said. "Ain't that too bad. Well, your sweetheart is a thief and needs killing. Smart talkin' females like you should be shut up."
Hannah stepped to the door; swung around, and put her hands on her hips. "Mister Bodie, your kind always ends bad. You just wait. Someday, someone will come along who is not afraid of big bounty hunter Jess Bodie."
Sheriff Canton turned his back to hide a grin.
Before first light, Hannah dressed in a pair of her father's pants and an old woolen shirt. She took his fringed leather jacket and his traveling hat. She picked up some grub in the kitchen. At the last minute she decided to tip toe into her father's office. His six-shooter lay in a bottom desk drawer. She took it and a few shells. With a rented spirited black gelding from the local livery stable she rode out toward the mountains. Hannah always loved a morning on horseback, but this was not a pleasure ride. It was a trip of definite purpose.
* * *
She knew the coach road had skirted the Bradshaw Mountains. She tried to remember the highest peak. But even when she spied it would she able find a trail that led toward the top? Would she find the shack? Would Alex even be there? She had to try.
Bodie caught outlaws, but he had dismissed the value of human life, deciding, like God, who should die and who should not. Humiliated by Alex, Bodie would have reason enough to become the cowboy's executioner.
Hannah had to find Alex, and soon.
Alex looked around his small camp site. He buried any remnant that might leave a hint of a camp. His jerky was gone and he needed supplies, a drink and a hot meal.
* * *
As the sun began to cast long shadows in the tall pines, he mounted his pony and left the deep woods of the Bradshaw Mountains. In Prescott he would go to the Palace Saloon and have a hot meal and a drink or two. If he arrived about midnight there would be only the cowboys and gamblers in the saloons. No one would care about a stranger.
Alex could run, but he had given Hank his word. He had forgotten the date, but knew it was close to the Fourth of July. If Hank was alive and able he would be coming. He would give him half of Bodie's money and hoped that would satisfy him.
He wondered about Hannah. Where was she? Where was her heart? I won't see her again . . . best put her out of my mind . . . but how?
In the dark alley behind the Palace Saloon he tied his horse and entered the back door. He walked to the bar and took particular notice of a calendar that had dates crossed out through July second.
No one bothered him or even paid any attention to him. The cowboys, gamblers and miners were more interested in the noisy small band and the three dance hall girls swaying with the music.
He asked the bartender for a drink and a couple of steaks that he could take with him. The barkeep brought them out in a few minutes. They were wrapped in the Prescott Times newspaper. Alex saw the headline near the bottom of the second page: Stage Robber In Custody, and in the sub headline: Second Robber At Large.
Alex paid for the drink and the meat and left. He rode quietly out of town and headed back toward the cabin, making sure that he was not followed.
The setting sun turned the forest into a dark, gray fortress when Hannah finally stopped. Looking back the tallest peak in the area was outlined on a graying sky away from the setting sun. She rode a short way off of the trail and tied her black filly to a scrub pine. She spread a blanket, built a small fire and sat down to a supper of boiled potatoes. With heavy eyelids she prayed a small petition asking for guidance to help her find Alex.
* * *
It was the evening of July third.
As Alex approached the foothills of Mount Union., he suddenly spied the flicker of a small campfire. Reigning in quickly, he dismounted and tread as softly toward the flame. A smallish man sat on a blanket and stareds into the fire.
* * *
With gun drawn he announced himself. "Stand easy mister! I mean no harm. I'm coming in."
"Alex, oh Alex!" Hannah rushed toward him and threw her arms around his neck.
Alex welcomed the embrace. "What are you doing here?" Then he looked her over carefully and laughed. "You certainly are a beautiful little feller," he said.
Hannah sighed with tears of relief, then grinned. "And you're a mighty handsome young feller."
Alex kissed her. "I didn't think we would ever meet again . . . or you would ever forgive me. The holdup was a foolish idea; a whim set about by laziness and greed."
Hannah smiled. "It wasn't a holdup. Sheriff Canton isn't pursuing it since no gold was taken. He told Bodie to go it alone if he wants his money back."
A fearful look replaced her smile. "I came to warn you . . . and run away with you, if you want. Bodie and Hank will be here tomorrow . . . on the Fourth.
"Hank? Is he able to travel already?"
"No. But Bodie said he'd pay him to guide. The Sheriff was anxious to get him out of his keep. Hank's wound will open up and he might bleed to death if he rides."
Alex looked into Hannah's eyes. "We'll wait. We will go up to the cabin and wait. I owe that much to Hank; gave him my word."
Hannah became uncharacteristically silent. She gathered the reins of her pony and followed Alex up Mount Union to the cabin.
A bright moon lit the trail up to the shack. The old dilapidated structure sat among a patch of maple trees. They tied their horses out of sight and entered the back door.
* * *
As the Fourth of July dawned, the rising sun enabled a glimpse of the trail that led up to the shack.
Alex rolled a smoke as he sat on a pine bench on the porch. Hannah gazed through the pines toward the trail. Finally she broke the silence. "What are we going to do?"
"I'll try to give the money back to Bodie and then take Hank back to your father for doctorin."
"Hank hasn't forgotten that you did not disarm Bodie. He might seek revenge too," said Hannah.
Alex nodded in agreement. "You might be right. I know he can carry a grudge for a long time. But we rode together for three years. That might count for something. Let's hope so since I doubt if I can take both he and Bodie at once."
Hannah lowered her head and peeked at Alex with pinched glance. "Well Bodie certainly won't forget and forgive. If there is money involved he kills . . . and he enjoys it."
Alex showed little emotion. "Then I'll have to try to kill him," he said.
Hannah shook her head. "He doesn't' know I'm here. I brought a gun and I can help."
"No you hide behind the shack until it is over."
Hannah put her hands on her hips. "Alex," she said, "Your cowboy gallantry won't work with me. I will not stand by and let you go into this fight alone."
"I hurt you once and that's enough on my conscience . . . not again," said Alex. "Go. Get behind the shack."
Hannah did as asked but as she retreated she plainly said. "Alex Jenks, you are one stubborn man,"
Bodie followed closely behind Hank as the two rode into the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains. A rifle was lashed to his saddle horn. He pulled his Colt from the holster and checked the loaded chambers. Hank's gun was stuffed in his belt.
* * *
Hank slumped in the saddle. Bodie noticed a crimson stain soaking the front of his shirt. The blood dripped onto his left boot.
Hank let out a long labored breath and reined in. "I can't ride no more," he said. "See that tall hill on the left? That's where the cabin lies. The trail up to it crosses this trail about a quarter mile farther up."
Bodie looked at him. "Get off then and stay here. You better be right, 'cause I'm comin' back this way."
"I can't go nowheres," said Hank.
Bodie tossed Hank's gun to the ground. "If Alex shows up here hold him until I get back."
Hank dismounted, picked up his gun and sat down on a pile of leaves. He removed his neckerchief and belt. He stuffed the cloth into the wound and moved the belt up around his waist to hold the cloth in place.
Bodie rode off.
Alex watched Hannah walk around to the back of the cabin. He picked out a spot near the front porch where he could see most of the trail leading toward him. He loaded all six chambers of his Colt and slid it back into his holster. He waited. It was a quiet, windless morning.
The crack of a shot and the splintering of wood on the door of the shack sent Alex diving to the ground. "Hell!" he muttered. "He's got a rifle."
He scrambled behind a small rock near the side of the house. "Bodie," he yelled. "Come out. I got your wallet right here. I'll throw it to you."
"Crack!" Another shot whizzed over his head. "Go to hell!" shouted Bodie.
"Boom," another shot from a different gun echoed from behind a stump maybe twenty yards to his left.
Alex looked over to the stump and watched Hannah taking aim and firing once more.
"Hannah. Hannah get down!" Bodie shouted.
Alex now figured he had no choice. He stood up, showed himself and drew his gun. In the distance he saw Bodie rise up taking aim with his rifle.
"Boom. Boom. Boom." Three rapid shots came from behind Jess Bodie. The Bounty Hunter grabbed at his arched back, spun around and fell face down into the weeds.
Hannah ran to Alex. "I think Bodie's down," she said. "Did you shoot him?"
"No," said Alex. "He was shot from behind."
They hurried to Bodie. He was dead.
"Who . . . " asked Alex.
He walked further down the trail. He found Hank leaning against a dead pine tree.
Hank smiled and spoke haltingly. "Bodie left me back aways. I follered him on foot . . . knew he would try to kill you." Then he sunk to the ground.
Alex bent over his cowboy partner. There were tears in his eyes.
Hannah stood next to Alex in silence.
"He saved me," he said.