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by Cindy Davis
Category: Young Adult
Description: Strangers appear in town and burn all copies of the latest newspaper. When the sheriff disappears Jesse and his friends have to find out what's happening before it's too late... Every day more of Cattle Creek's men are missing, including Jesse's father and Uncle Isaiah. When Matt goes missing from the search and rescue team, it's up to Jesse and LT to ride into the depths of Echo Valley to try and rescue them.
eBook Publisher: L&L Dreamspell/L&L Dreamspell, 2010 Spring, Texas
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [175 KB]
Reading time: 112-157 min.
"Hey, do you smell something burning?" I raised my head and sniffed, the same as Rags was doing beside me. His black nose wrinkled, his lips curled back a little.
Matt sniffed also. "Yeah."
"I smell it, too," LT said. "It does not smell like a cooking fire."
"Smells like...paper." I hopped off the porch with Rags right behind me. We pushed through the clump of cottonwoods in front of the old Bleeker cabin. A cloud of dust east of the Four Corners junction was just disappearing into the sky. I stood in the open air and sniffed a couple more times, then I went back to where my friends sat, legs dangling over the edge of the decrepit porch. A pile of junk loomed behind them: a couple of dresser drawers, a cast iron cookpot, and a small table with a leg broken off. We planned to take the stuff to one of our hideouts. Matt had found a mucking rake with a middle tine missing. I hoped he planned to take it home with him 'cause I saw more mucking rakes than I wanted to at home.
Rags jumped back on the porch, stuck his head under LT's arm and sat down. LT ruffled his ears.
"It's coming from town," I told them.
"Want to go see what's going on?" Matt asked.
"Yeah," I said.
LT inched his butt back some and stood up, being careful where he put his moccasins on the rotted porch. "I will go fishing. Mother wants me to bring trout for our evening meal. This morning I saw her making dahdiniilghaazh."
"Wow, what's that?" Matt wanted to know.
"A long word to say fried bread. I had it once at his village," I said. "Delicious."
LT hopped on his pony in a slick move I wished I could copy. He nudged him in the ribs with his heels and took off. Matt threw himself on Ben. Ben was the big old draft horse Matt rode when his father wasn't plowing or planting, which wasn't very often. Matt's father had a problem with work. So did Ben, and the only time he ever really got moving was when my horse, Sage, challenged him to a race, which is what she did today.
We barreled toward town after waving good-bye to LT. LT is short for Little Turtle, a nickname his grandmother gave him when he was little. His whole name is Robert Beavertail of the Running River Clan. He's a Navajo, and lives with a small group due east of the Four Corners. There was a big to-do between the government and the Indians, and LT mostly stayed away from town.
We heard the crackling before we actually saw the fire. Wisps of black-edged paper hung in the air. Sage didn't wait for me to slow her from a gallop to a trot. Her nostrils flexed open and shut with a whuffing sound. She didn't like the trouble that hung in the air any more'n I did.
The crackling got louder as we rounded the last turn. Someone yelled. I couldn't understand the words, but it didn't sound friendly. I grabbed a piece of paper out of the air. The edges were tinged with red and the heat was still in it. I slowed Sage to a walk and waved the paper in the air till the heat went out. I peered under the brim of my hat. "FLAGSTAFF NEWS. August 17, 1866." I let the breeze take the paper and grabbed another out of the air and read, "...weekly quilt square is based on the log cabin pattern." I recognized that column, my mother's favorite article in every Tuesday's paper. Suddenly a herd of butterflies knocked at my insides. Was the newspaper office on fire?
Couldn't be. If so, we'd surely see the sky lit up.
Sage and Ben hesitated as they passed the livery stable and clip-clopped round the corner to the right. The sight that greeted us made my stomach full of butterflies turn into big lead cocoons.
A small fire blazed in the middle of Main Street. One man wearing Levi's and a mean look, poked at it with a broken broom handle. Another man carried bundles of papers out of the news office and tossed them on the pile. Burning newspapers was bad enough, but my lead cocoons jumped into my throat seeing two more men, about ten feet behind the blaze, holding Mr. Cameron by the arms.
Cameron's face was red and his eyes were fierce. And even though he wasn't very big, he struggled, trying to get to his office, where he was the editor of the Cattle Creek branch of the Flagstaff News.
The men had a deuce of a time keeping hold of him.
He was saying, "...you can't just come into our town and--"
One of the men, big and hefty, like he should be working on a logging crew, socked Mr. Cameron in the stomach. Cameron doubled over and went to his knees, never taking his eyes off the door to his office.
"We can," the giant man growled. He reared back a boot and kicked Cameron in the ribs. "We can, and we are, and there's nothing you, or any of the rest of you, can do about it." His foul brown eyes scanned the townspeople cowering against the Town Hall and General Store.
They had about the same scared rabbit looks on their faces as Mr. Cameron, but instead of trying to help him, they stayed shriveled up, trying to look as small as they could.
Before the men spotted us, we reined left along Mesquite Avenue and slipped behind the Town Hall. I hit the ground square on both feet. We tied the horses side by side at the hitching rail. I told Rags to stay and waited till he sat beside the horses.
We sneaked past the back of the store and down the alley between it and the blacksmith. This brought us out directly across from the news office, on the right-hand side of Mr. Cameron and the two men.
Matt spoke for the first time. "Jesse, what in tarnation's going on?"
I wished I had a better answer than, "I don't know."
When the biggest man turned in our direction, I gulped down another mass of lead cocoons and ducked back in the shadows. He didn't act like he'd seen us. That's how it mostly was, adults not taking any notice of kids. Kids weren't any threat to anybody. At least that's what they thought.
A fifth man, who walked like he was the boss of whatever was going on, marched out of the sheriff's office. He stepped off the wood sidewalk and stalked toward Mr. Cameron, his bright silver spurs clinking on the hard-packed road. The two men let go of Cameron's arms.
That's when I noticed the fifth man held a gun. I shivered, even though it was the dead of August. He stepped up to Mr. Cameron and stabbed the gun in his kidneys. Cameron gurgled and doubled over even more, wrapping his arms around himself and burying his face in his chest.
The man with the spurs said in a voice that made Matt shiver against my arm, "Look at me." When Cameron didn't obey, he kicked him in the knees and said it again. This time he shouted it and Mr. Cameron slowly raised his head. Even though his eyes were full of pain, they flashed black with anger.
The man raised his arm. Cameron ducked his head, but the gun butt still caught him in the cheek. Blood spurted and Mr. Cameron dropped like a stone in the dirt.
"Don," the boss man growled, and tipped his head toward the guy with the shaggy black hair. "You and Zeke take him inside and lock him up with the sheriff."
Suddenly I couldn't breathe, and it wasn't from the black smoke coming from the burning pile of newspaper. Lock him up with the sheriff?