Thursday, February 2, 2017

An Excerpt from “Partners”

At this point in the story Tom and Frank have returned to the Cyprus Hills and located a defensible place with water close at hand. They know the two whiskey traders who killed the two Blackfoot at their first meeting are close behind but they have given up trying to evade them and are taking a stand. Following a wait of several hours Frank, on one of his scouting trips, sees the killers their numbers swelled to four, move into the hills. He returns to his own camp, tells Tom what he has seen and they settle down to wait for the attack.

"Maybe make them killers nervous," Frank suggested. "They can't watch the country fer Injuns an’ keep an eye on us too. Blackfoot ain't noted as bein' real friendly folks. They won't treat us any better 'n they'll treat them whiskey traders, but it might give them two killers somethin' else t' think about."
            Following several moments of silence, Tom said, "I don't really believe Hank and Seth are capable of enough thought that it could be interrupted, but I suppose every little bit helps." Privately he thought that Frank was looking for any glimmerings of hope in the face of hopeless odds.
            Frank rolled up on one elbow and yelled across the hills, "Hey, Seth, yuh see them Blackfoot yet?"
            There was no answering call and Tom could detect no movement. He kept his eye on the ground below and to his right, the barrel of the Colt revolving rifle behind the logs, but ready to be thrust through a convenient hole.
            "Better keep an eye peeled, boys," Frank called, his attention trained on the ground below and left. "Them Blackfoot don't give much warnin'."
            "Traded with them Injuns," a voice called back. "Spent more 'n one night with 'em."
            "All night?" Frank asked. "And was it a village 'r just a camp o' young bucks gettin' drunk on yer rot gut?"
            There was a few moments of silence broken by Tom's call. "I don't think any of you have the guts to face a village of Indian families."
            "Listen t' the pilgrim talkin' 'bout guts," the voice from bellow responded. "Feller that hides behind a hill back t' the Old Woman Lake."
            "Now that is an interesting story," Tom conceded. "Did you tell your new partners how you backed down from a fifteen year old boy and a greenhorn?"
            Rock fragments flew from the breastworks in front of Tom. Smoke and sound came from the trees blow. Tom thrust his rifle forward, fired, then again to left and right. As he pulled the center pin and shook out the half empty cylinder he could hear shots from Frank's side. He forced himself not to look to his partner, but alternated his attention between changing cylinders and the source of the first shot. He had the fully loaded cylinder mounted and was priming the three fired chambers of the other when the firing stopped.
            "How are you doing?" Tom asked, just loud enough to be heard over the ringing in his ears. He could hear Frank slide the magazine tube from the butt-stock of his Spencer just before he answered.
            "Doin' better 'n them boys, I reckon. An' I ain't no fifteen, neither."
            Tom heard the magazine tube being pushed back in place as the boy finished talking. He had just finished loading, and tamping, three chambers that still required priming in the time it took the boy to replace four rim fire cartridges. That did not take into account the time it took to change cylinders. He knew his Colt would have some advantage over the Springfield muzzle loader, but the enemy also had a Spencer similar to Frank's. What other weapons did they face?
            "I thought you might be a few years older than that, but it was my intention to make them fire. Apparently, something I said was effective."
            Tom saw movement in the trees below him. Slightly to the right another shadow flitted from tree to tree.
            "They're getting ready," Tom said. Just as he spoke the man on the left broke from cover. Tom swung his rifle muzzle but the man dropped. The man on the right broke from cover. Tom kept his muzzle trained on his last sight of the first man. When the second man hit the ground, the first man rose. Tom fired.
            The man had risen from his face down position to lunge forward. The .44 caliber ball drove him over backward where he disappeared in the grass.
            Tom swung his muzzle to the right. He had only seen the second man move out of the corner of his eye. He was not sure where his target lay.
            Frank fired, levered the Spencer and fired again. At least three shots were fired in return. Frank fired again.
            Below his own position, Tom saw the grass move. The second man was working his way over to his wounded partner. Tom followed the grass movement but held his fire.
            "Still here?" Frank asked.
            The man crawling through the grass stopped near where the first man had gone down.
            "Yes, I'm still here," Tom responded. He moved several feet to the right, bringing the shotgun and extra rifle cylinder. He heard Frank replacing fired rounds, but made no move to reload his own weapon. He still had five shots. "I had given serious consideration to perhaps stepping over to the neighbors for tea, but decided against it."
            As he answered, Frank also moved. "Had enough tea, have yuh?"
             “Actually, I could use a spot. I just thought the weather was a bit warm for a long walk."
            The grass in front of Tom was moving again, but this time to the left of where he had shot the first attacker. He had expected them to move back to the trees, but perhaps the man had not been hit very hard.
            "Watch it! They're going to try again."
            Tom's warning was hardly out of his mouth when Frank began to take fire and return it. The wounded man began to fire at the spot Tom had just left. The second man made a rush. Tom saw his shot hit the center of the lunging man's chest. He swung his rifle back to the first man and fired twice.
            The wounded man began to crawl back toward the trees. Tom watched for several moments, and then quickly changed cylinders in his rifle.
            "They appear to be pulling back," Tom observed. "One wounded and one dead over here. I expect they have found it somewhat expensive."
      When there was no reply, Tom swung his gaze to the left. Frank lay near the fire, his head bloody.

By the way, the weapon on the cover is a Henry .44 rim-fire which does not appear in any part of this story. I told the publisher's designer that was the case but he wasn't prepared to change the image, and (since I liked the look of the cover anyway) I agreed to it. I then included a Henry in the story I was working on at the time which became "Homesteader: Finding Sharon" a follow-up to "The Great Liquor War."

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