hatfieldclanThe Yaquis didn’t make much effort to hide their trail. Probably they figured there was no chance I was getting loose and coming after them. They’re going to regret that little bit of carelessness.
I find myself wondering something. Why go to the all trouble of staking someone to an anthill, and then not stay around to watch? It’s not something I’d like to see, but if I was so inclined that way, and I’d gone to that much trouble, wouldn’t I want to be there to see what came of it?
Not that I’m complaining or anything, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.
I follow the trail all day. I take my time and I’m careful, glassing the land in front of me before crossing open areas, staying off ridgelines and hugging cover wherever possible. I skirt any good ambush spots I come on, in case they’ve seen me and one of them doubled back to lay in wait.
It’s almost sunset before I see them the first time. They’re down in a low area and it looks like they’re stopping for the night. From the extra trees and greenery around the area, there must be a spring there. I hear a gunshot and some birds fly up, then a couple more shots.
I ease up on them, nice and slow. There’s a light breeze blowing from the east and I’m careful to stay downwind of them, so as not to alert their horses.
It must be a good spring. The land around it is thick with cottonwoods and willows, even a couple sycamores. There’s a good deal of grass and lots of arrow weed. The cover will make it easier to sneak up on them, but also harder since there’s more twigs and dead leaves to give me away.
Once they’re asleep, I’ll sneak in and get my hat and my guns back. On the way out I’ll steal their horses. That will teach them to be messing around with Ace Lone Wolf.
I sit there as the sun drops and realize that this is actually the best I’ve felt since the temple. The truth is I’ve been moping, feeling sorry for myself. Between almost dying back there, and being here, risking my life, all that self-pity is gone. I feel alive again. Death has a way of doing that for me.
It gets dark and I hop down off Coyote. I reach into my saddlebags and pull out my moccasins, swap them out for my boots. Boots are great for riding. Not so good for sneaking around. I pat Coyote on the neck and he trots off to graze. I don’t have to worry about him giving me away. He doesn’t get along with other horses any better than he gets along with people.
I start making my way through the trees. Their fire’s too small to see, but I can smell it. I go real slow, take one step, wait a few minutes, then the next. The whole secret to stalking is patience. Being in a hurry just gets you killed.
It takes better than an hour before I get close enough to see them. There’s four of them sitting around a tiny fire, just a few twigs burning really. The horses are picketed a few feet away, grazing. The Yaquis are wearing a mix of traditional clothing—tanned leathers, moccasins, feathers—and white man garb.
One of them is wearing my hat.
Looking at it, I have to admit it’s not much of a hat. It’s black, but a faded, worn out black, and the crown has been smashed down so many times it’s basically shapeless. The brim sags in some places and is torn in others. Really, it looks like something you’d take off a dead man.
I have a moment of doubt. Maybe this is a really bad idea. I could probably root around in the trash in Tombstone and find a nicer hat. Maybe I should get while the getting’s good.
But those thoughts go away pretty fast. This is about more than the hat. This is about a man and his pride. I badly need a win, especially after what happened with Victoria and Block—I mean, Blake—back at the temple.
The man wearing my hat has some little bones tied in his long hair and a wicked lump on the side of his nose that makes me think it was badly broken in the past and never set right. He’s shorter than me, older too, with lots of lines carved into his face by the years. There’s a battered old rifle leaning against a rock next to him. Tucked into his belt is one of my pistols. The other one is sitting in his lap. From the way the other three defer to him, I’m guessing he’s the leader.
It’s time to wait now. I ease myself into a bit more comfortable position, which doesn’t help all that much, on account of all the ant bites I have.
But when I shift, one of the horses throws its head up and starts looking around.
I freeze, thinking the animal must have heard me. The four braves all sit up, and hands go to guns. I start to ease the hammer back on the Winchester.
Then I hear the hoofbeats and I settle back down. There’s someone coming through the trees from the north. It sounds like two horses.
The Yaqui braves melt back into the trees, rifles in hand. One of them comes straight for me and for a moment I think he’s going to actually step on me.
Instead he stops just to my right, up against a tree trunk. I could easily reach out and grab hold of his ankle if I wanted to. Just thinking about it gives me a terrible urge to do it. I smile in the darkness, thinking how he’d react. He’d probably crap himself.
And then shoot me. Which wouldn’t be so funny.
Lucky for me, his attention is focused across the campsite, not down by his feet. The hoofbeats get closer. There’s a grunt and a low curse and my ears perk up. That sounded like English.
Then he breaks into the clearing and I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
It’s Ike Clanton.
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