Tried and True
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by D. L. Greenwood
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: The Old West was never wilder than in this tale of quick draws, revenge and humor as Shasta Coolidge, with his dead-on aim and easy-going nature is forced to return to his roots and settle an old score. Young Ty Calder holds his mentor Shasta in awe. But now that he's a man, it's time Ty fought his own battles. Little does he suspect his fate is intertwined with Shasta's violent past and that the two will reunite to settle the debt long past due. All trails lead to revenge, and blood will be spilled, as the stakes are life or death in Tried and True.
eBook Publisher: Books Unbound E-Publishing Co., 2004
eBookwise Release Date: December 2004
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [216 KB]
Reading time: 143-200 min.
The young cowpoke loosened the goat-haired cinch on the bay pegger. The small, agile cutting horse was done for the day. Too bad the same couldn't be said for Ty Calder. The cowboy pushed his white, broad-brimmed hat further back on his sun-blonded, sandy-hued head. It was no relief when the sun burned so fierce it scorched the sweat on a man's brow.
Two o'clock high at spring roundup was about as pleasant as squatting on a cactus. But cowboying was all he knew. That, and the plow-handled Frontier Colt strapped to his thigh. But, as his good buddy Shasta Coolidge always said, "You can't make an honest living by the gun, so best to go about the business at hand."
He was about to do just that by catching up a stout, skeebald roan to help with the roping and branding when he noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye, near the watering trough. He decided a water-soaked bandana would be right welcome about then. He sauntered on over, crossing the red, loose-powdered dirt as if it were his first chore of the morning, and not a midday trial.
There she stood. Yellow-haired, pale-skinned, dainty and delicate. The extreme contrast to the tough environment made her all the more attractive. In his estimation she was an angel with eyes that lived up to her name, Crystal Waters. She was the Boss's daughter but that only added to the exotic allure. She was young, younger than his twenty-four years, and educated in the East. But she wasn't uppity. If anything, she was as close to perfect as you could get. At least, Ty thought so. He didn't consider that after riding with scraggly cowhands, and looking at fur-matted cow critters all day, any woman looked appealing. Crystal Waters just seemed an angel from heaven.
The heat caused her to shimmer in his vision as he drew close. She'd drawn her skirt up just enough to show her creamy palomino ankles as she pretended to just notice him. "Oh!" She dropped the skirt hem demurely.
Such a sweet girl, Ty thought.
"I didn't know you had ridden in, Mr. Calder." She drew his name out, making it purr from her lips.
He took an inordinate time soaking his bandana. But there was nowhere to hang his hat, so feeling foolish he let the water drip from the red scarf. "I just came to change horses, Miss Waters."
"Crystal, please." She smiled coyly, her eyes holding promise before her lashes batted innocently. A dimple at the corner of her mouth drew Ty's eyes like a magnet.
He felt a blush creep into his neck. The square-jawed, sun-scorched face was well suffused with blotches already, so it hardly mattered.
"Allow me." She took the bandana from his fingers.
He, who could so smoothly draw a gun, like spreading a pat of warm butter, fumbled for his hat, doffing it quickly.
She ran the bandana over his neck, slithering it like a snake. The water was tepid, but Ty couldn't have felt it even if it was pure fire. She dipped the bandana in the trough, then placed it on his brow. She was a small thing and had to stand tiptoe to do it, leaning forward. Ty felt her brush against him. A noise from somewhere snapped him to attention. He stepped backward. The Boss's Apache slave lowered a pair of obsidian eyes in contempt as she made her way to the well in the middle of the yard, carrying a large basin to tote water.
"Best be gettin' back." Ty muttered.
"Another time." Crystal Waters spoke, a lilt in her tone that held promise and daring in the same breath.
Ty grinned. "Yeah." He headed for the corral. The spring roundup was in full swing. The ranch hands worked sunup to sundown, the dust so thick their bandanas were of little help. They swallowed dirt, choked on it, and spit it back up. Like bad tobacco juice, it clotted in the mouth till you wretched it out. Ty was tired and hungry. He was used to hard work, but this was a dry year and it was getting worse. Hotter each day. Boss Waters didn't cotton to half workdays, no matter the conditions. But he wasn't the one eating dirt, only supervising. Ty didn't care for a man who didn't get his hands dirty. It didn't sit well, no matter how rich the man was.
And Boss Waters was rich. The Waters spread, while not as obscenely enormous as the Goodnight or XIT holdings, was a respectable hundred thousand acres acquired by hook or by crook. Most of it was brush and scrub grass, but where there was water there was lush grazing land, and Waters made sure he owned the water rights wherever possible. Without water the land was useless, and he who held the water held destiny at his fingertips. If you owned land without water, you had to pay dearly with both money and pride, approaching the owner of the precious liquid and asking permission to use it ... then you had to pay for the privilege. It was the law of the land and there was no getting around it.
Later in the day, the hands returned to the ranch house together, too tired to whoop and holler, as they loped in. Ty was sullenly pulling his saddle off the skeebald roan when the range boss shook his head at him. "Boss Waters wants you to night-hawk."
"What? Where's Chester?" Ty demanded tiredly.
"Fired for drinking."
"I ain't eaten yet."
"Boss Waters is in a firing mood." The foreman warned.
"Hell, he ain't hungry, I'll bet!" But Ty moved his saddle to a tough black, half-Cayuse gelding. His own horse. The hands worked long hours and constantly rotated horses, using a combination of their own and the ranch's.
The foreman, not completely cold-hearted, threw him a sack. "Hard tack. If it don't fill your belly, it'll make your teeth hurt so bad, you'll forget your troubles."
"Boss Waters is a heartless son of a bitch!" Ty muttered. Night-hawking was greenhorn work and everyone knew it. And Ty was no greenhorn, but a seasoned hand, despite his young years. Many a cowboy began in his early teens doing pick-up chores and working up to the coveted positions.
And now what had it gotten Ty? Riding after a bunch of range-broke ponies, watching them eat till their bellies filled through the night and that weren't no job for a man, leastways not him. He pulled the cinch just in front of the black horse's barrel-sized gut, tight on the first tug. He heard the recalcitrant gelding suck up air, blowing up his belly to abnormal proportions. "Gawd-dammit, Bull! Don't pull that crap on me!" He gave the horse a fist wallop under the belly. The air whooshed out, like the wind through a mountain pass. He tightened the cinch further. The horse's ears flattened. "You and me both, buddy."
Ty swung up. He wasn't in the mood to let Bull get his kinks out the easy way. The horse waited till they got into the clear and began bucking like a wild cat. Ty easily stayed on. "One day Bull, I'm gonna put you out of both our miseries." When the horse was complacent enough, Ty put him to side-pass up to the gate to open the corral that housed the ranch horses. The horses, used to the nightly routine, filed out at a trot toward their grazing ground in the north pasture.
The moon was rising. A full moon so big it lit the countryside like a beacon. A quiet night, Ty mused. No chance of a stampede. A wolf or bear would be spotted before it got close enough to stir the horses. He almost regretted the fact, but consoled himself with the thought he could doze in the saddle.
He did just that till he felt Bull stiffen beneath him. His hand inched for the Frontier Colt at his hip, even before he fully opened his eyes. The Winchester Forty-Four-Forty rifle, in the saddle boot under his leg, was in reserve if needed, but Ty preferred the pistol, if warranted. But the shape coming across the pasture wasn't sneaking. It was two-legged and shapely. "Lord, have mercy! Am I still asleep?" Ty muttered in disbelief.
Crystal Waters was outlined in the moonlight. The horse herd paid her no mind as they grazed contentedly. "My, you do work hard, cowboy." The husky whisper carried far in the still night air.
"You walk all this way just to say 'Good evening,' Miss Waters?" Ty drawled.
"Maybe I did, would that please you?"
Ty chuckled, dismounting. He dropped Bull's reins, knowing the horse would stay ground tied, even if all hell cut loose.
"Here." She held out his bandana. He'd forgotten to take it back earlier.
Crystal Waters was a little thing, no taller than Ty's shoulder. It was no great feat to pull her forward and she did not resist. His kiss was gentle, shy. Hers was not. For the first time Ty felt some misgivings. This weren't no easy saloon woman, but a lady, and who had taught her to kiss this way?
But it was over and she withdrew, suddenly reluctant, even as he leaned forward for more. "Good-night, cowboy." She was gone like a whisper on the wind.
Ty scratched his head. Maybe night-hawking wasn't so bad after all. He should follow her back to the ranch house, as good manners decreed, but he couldn't leave the horses, even for that. Duty stood high on his list, and though he hated Boss Waters, he did know his job. He'd meant to take leave of the Waters' place as soon as roundup was finished. Now he found his resolve weakened by a pair of crystal blue eyes. He'd been here six months, plenty of time to stay in one place. But damn! How could he go with that on his mind? A woman was worse than a rattlesnake. One, venom either killed you, or just made you sick for awhile. The other stayed with you till you did something about it.
He remounted, rolling himself a smoke, something he seldom did unless he planned on doing some thinking. Bull required no overseeing but was content to stand pat. Ty was about to move out after a wandering horse, working its way far right, when a sharp crack broke the night. The bullet grazed his shoulder, knocking him sideways. Bull never flinched, but the remuda of horses took off, the herd stampeding as they smelled blood.
Ty recovered his seat and would have liked a second to sort the situation, but Bull was already on the run after the horses. Like Ty, he knew his job. It was no hardship to follow the herd on a moonlit night, but Ty could have done without the trickle of blood running down his arm. The herd slowed after a few miles and Ty was able to get Bull at their head, turning them back. The smell of blood, his blood, was enough to move them back toward the ranch at a trot.
Ty, rifle in hand, scanned the grassy plain. There was no one in sight. If it were rustlers, they'd have shown their hand by now, unless they'd gotten scared and took off. The horses were restless. They'd not graze much, especially with the scent of blood so close. Ty edged the old bell-mare that led the herd; the sound of the bell attached to the rope around her neck easy to follow. She would lead the others back to the ranch corral where he'd secure the herd for the remainder of the night.
Afterward, he led Bull to the barn, lit a lantern and pulled his saddle. The burning in his shoulder increased. He wasn't feeling too good, but it would wait. He gave Bull a helping of oats then took a look at his own shoulder. Like most grazes, it bled like a stuck pig, but wasn't serious enough to need a Doc. Using his bandana, Ty made a tourniquet, grimacing slightly as he pulled it tight with his teeth. Whoever had shot at him had poor aim in the moon's bright light. Either that or the shootist was a fair shot from a good piece, like maybe the shelter of the ranch house. But he had no enemies here that he knew of. Sure, they had their quarrels, but nothing to kill over.
Ty leaned against the stall that housed Bull. An unusual place for a cow weary horse, alongside Boss Waters' fine thoroughbred stock. But Bull had a nasty reputation for picking on other horses and had been ostracized from the communal corral. Ty paid extra for the stall and Bull was let alone. Ty let his legs go and sank to his butt in the straw that littered the front of the stall. He was bone-tired. It didn't matter where he slept, just so he slept. Using the slat boards for a pillow, he did just that.
The ranch crew ate breakfast in the bunkhouse where they slept, less affectionately called the 'Dog House.' Afterwards, they went to the barn to saddle up. It was a routine unshakable until the roundup was over. Ty's absence at the table was noticed, but no one wanted to pass mess up to check on him. Boss Waters didn't take into account a hungry stomach, no matter the cause. The Indian girl served the food, wordless as always. Boss Waters ate in the main house with his daughter served by a foreign cook. The Indian served the hands then disappeared as silently as she arrived. Clean-up was her chore and she'd be back. It was she who found Ty asleep in the barn. Wordlessly she crept away, only to return with Boss Waters in tow. A booted foot gave Ty a kick in the ball of his own boot.
He stirred sluggishly, the blood loss and pain made him slow to respond. "What the...?" This time the boot went for his ribs. Ty rolled and his shoulder screamed as caked blood seeped with fresh, but he managed to roll to his feet, pistol drawn.
The shotgun cradled in Boss Waters' arms halted him as his brain took in the situation. Not an ambush, just the Boss. But the look on the Boss's face made him unsure. The shotgun was cocked, held in position. Ty saw the Indian slave, her obsidian eyes narrowed in hate. Something was wrong and Ty was on the receiving end.
"You no account grub-line rider!" Boss Waters spit in the straw at Ty's feet. "Thought you'd shirk your duties, bring the horses in early and sleep the rest of your shift away. Wrong Ty Calder, dead wrong!"
Ty started to defend his strange sleep habit. His free hand went up to his shoulder, but it did a man no credit to explain when the accuser wouldn't listen. The men were gathering behind the Boss muttering in disgruntled whispers. But Ty wasn't close to any of them and couldn't count on support from that direction.
"Pack your bag and take that devil's spawn you call a horse and get off my ranch, you lazy son of a bitch, and don't come back ... Ever!" The shotgun was leveled at his stomach. "If I even hear your name working on a shirttail outfit around this territory I'll...."
Ty had had enough. "You, and what army? Even ailing, I can take you and your boys, pretty as Sunday tea."
"Why you swelled headed.... "The shotgun raised just an inch. "I oughta blow a hole in you so the boys can hear the hot air pass through!"
"Go ahead. If you got the guts. Back-shooting is more your style." Ty sneered. "I'm glad to be going. You're a sorry excuse for a man, Mister..." He drew the mister out. Everyone called Waters, 'Boss.' It was a title of respect. But Ty would have none of it. As if to compliment the situation, Bull's head appeared over the stall, teeth bared at Waters. The shotgun swung to the horse. Ty drew back the hammer of his .45 Colt. "I wouldn't. I'm partial to that horse."
The shotgun swung back. "Git!"
No one moved as Ty saddled Bull and rode out. He stopped once, pivoted Bull on his hind end, then with an exaggerated wave sweeping his wide-brimmed white hat, he called. "Give Crystal my good-bye's."
The florid flush on Waters' face, boiled like brimstone. "You ever come near my daughter again, I'll kill you the next time!"
Ty kept a smile plastered on his face as he rode off. That explained his shoulder. He hadn't been shot by an irate father since he'd gotten his britches full of buckshot at twelve, when he'd taken Becky Bentworth behind the barn. Well, sparking weren't enough to kill, or be killed over. It were lucky he'd got paid off yesterday or he'd have a serious reason to hold a grudge. His one regret was Crystal. How could such a sweet thing like that have such a bastard for a father? He chuckled. Maybe she weren't his. It was hard to picture a woman bedding that alligator. Even an ill-reputed woman ought to object. Crystal's mother had died years before. Ty smirked wryly. Probably kilt herself, rather than live with that snake.
He rode southeast. There were plenty of other spreads and Boss Waters' threats did not deter him. Mean, little man. Big talker. Innocuous combination.