Rangeland Ruckus
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Chet Mitchell left the mines of California to pursue a wife and raise cattle. He had his eye on a seemingly inaccessible valley near the town of Tanning. The problem was that Dave Tanning owned the town and most of the surrounding land. Indeed, the whole Tanning family didn't take kindly to strangers ranching land they felt they owned. At first Everyone laughed at the thought of someone thinking they could access the valley surrounded by mountains and enormous rock walls. Many had tried. Many had died. Could Mitchell find a way to get cattle in to the valley? Jaws dropped and guns fired when Mitchel unveiled his surprise. Dave Tanning had always got his own way but now he had to face Mitchell, a man who knew how to treat a lady and how to handle trouble.



Publié par
Date de parution 02 mars 2016
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781772990416
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


By RandallSawka
Digital ISBNs:
EPUB 9781772990416
Print ISBN9781772990447

Copyright 2016 byRandall Sawka
Cover art by MichelleLee
All rights reserved.Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no partof this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced intoa retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise)without the prior written permission of both the copyright ownerand the publisher of this book
I dedicate this book tomy Daughter Michelle, with love
Chapter One
Dusk tinted thesky red as Chet Mitchell stopped at the crest of the hill above thetown of Tanning. The tall, lean man pulled off his flat-topped hatand wiped his brow with a red bandana. The tail of the tall roanhorse swept back and forth in the evening heat. The trailing mulelooked up wearily; its mottled coat covered in dust from the day’sride over the springtime rangeland.
Mitchell lookedup and smiled as the remainder of the sun’s light flooded over thedistant mountains. The triangle of rough mountains, known locallyas the Three Points, had drawn him to the area and now concealedhis future. Legend had it that over twenty men had died trying tofind a good trail in to the lush triangular valley between themountains. Towering rock cliffs stood like castle walls between thepoints. None could find a way to get cattle to the swaying grassand take advantage of the clear spring water in the meanderingrivers and creeks that wound through the valley.
Legend alsostated that a few people, mostly Indians, had found their way tothe spot. They had accessed the valley through a narrow crack inone of the forty-foot thick walls. The passage, just wide enoughfor a man to squeeze through, led them on a tight path filled withjagged rocks and rough ground.
Chet Mitchellhad spent years in the gold mining camps of California. He’d workedlong hard days on his claim to earn enough money to finance acattle ranch. One day a man who’d heard about Chet’s calm efficientway with dynamite hired him to do some blasting. Soon Mitchellspent less time on his claim and more time hiring out his servicesfor the dangerous and lucrative job of handling explosives. Hisbankroll had grown rapidly and now he focused on his dream ofsettling down and raising cattle.
In the smallmining area where he had been born, a young Chet Mitchell saw hisparents gunned down in cold blood; the killers after their pouch ofgold. Chet had escaped death because his father pushed him behindsome bushes as the thieves approached. His uncle had buried Chet’sparents and raised the young man in the gold mining area.
When Chetturned thirteen his uncle had reached into a high cupboard andpulled out a holster and two heavy old Colt revolvers. The weaponswere well maintained and oiled, the handles worn. His uncle hadbeen an excellent shot and hung up the guns years ago. The boystrapped on the guns, which hung low on his thin frame. His uncletossed him two boxes of bullets and took him out into a ravinewhere he taught him how to shoot. The boy was a natural and soonthe revolvers became a fixture around his waist.
The rumors ofthe mysterious and inaccessible valley spread to the mining area.Never afraid of a challenge, this one literally mountain high, Chetdreamed of ranching the valley and making it his home.
A quick tap onthe side of the roan and the horse moved down the hill. The mule,its head bobbing, followed reluctantly. The town’s main streetcontained several saloons and hotels. A general store andbarbershop stood across the street from the livery stable. Menstanding outside the saloons and walking along the boardwalkslooked the stranger over carefully. They eyed his twin tied-downColts and powerful horse. Mitchell rode up to the trough in frontof the livery stable and let the horse and mule drink deeply. A boyran out of the stable, his neck craned to make eye contact with thetall stranger.
Mitchell tossedthe boy a coin. “Give them a good rubdown and some oats.”
“Yes Sir, I’lldo it right away,” said the boy, as he looked disbelievingly at thecoin, equal to a days’ pay.
Chet dismountedand walked along the covered boardwalk. He glanced at the signabove each business as he passed; all named after the town’screator and richest citizen; Dave Tanning. He owned most of thetown and the majority of the land surrounding it.
Mitchell hadonly stopped in Tanning once before to pick up supplies beforeheading off to explore the Three Points and the hidden valleybehind them. The reception at the hotel and general store had beencool on that visit. They treated strangers with caution, askingprobing question about the reason for the visit. The man at thegeneral store had surveyed the items purchased by Mitchell and hadasked his plans. Chet had indicated he was passing through, knowingthe information he gave would be in the hands of Dave Tanningwithin an hour. After loading the supplies on the pack muleMitchell had mounted his roan and slowly moved along the ruttedstreet.
Others had alsoshowed interest in Mitchell’s movements. Men had leaned against thewall of the hotel with their hats pulled down, throwing shadowsover their eyes. Chet had caught each of them glancing at himthrough the sides of their eyes as he passed. Once out of sightChet had hidden his horse and mule behind some trees and slippedback into town. He slid up the dark passage between the barbershopand the saloon, where he watched the men from the street and thestorekeeper gather in a circle before walking into Dave Tanning’soffice. His suspicion that Tanning was a man of great power wasconfirmed in spades.
Mitchell thenexited town the same way he had entered, in the opposite directionof the Three Points. The wind was welcome as it had quicklyobscured his tracks and he knew he had time to implement his planbefore the locals or Tanning heard about it.
The people inthe area, especially Tanning with all his thirsty cattle, keptclose watch on the Three Points as this was the source of much ofthe water that flowed in the rivers and creeks feeding their richgrazing land.
On this secondvisit Chet first stopped in at the barbershop, as he needed toclean up after so many months in the wilderness. The hot bathremoved layers of dust. Smoke from Chet’s fine cigar wafted throughthe shop as he soaked in the large tub. The barber cut his hair andgave him a close shave while putting Mitchell through the usualline of questioning.
“Don’t recallseeing you in Tanning before,” said the barber as he trimmed theback of Chet’s hair.
“Can’t imagineyou did, seeing that this is my first time in your chair.”
“Passingthrough, I suppose.”
“Might, or Imight stick around for a bit. Just don’t know.”
“Uh huh. Well,there you are stranger. All done.”
Mitchellstudied himself in the large mirror behind the chair. His ruggedlyhandsome face with its square jaw was darkly tanned from months ofworking in the hot sun, climbing and re-climbing the Three Pointslooking for a passage into the valley. Mitchell straightened thecollar on his fresh shirt and put on his hat. He checked himself inthe mirror one last time, barely recognizing himself as the samegrimy man who had ridden in to town two hours earlier. He set fourbits on the counter and grabbed the door handle.
Chet walked outof the barbershop and slowly made his way up the street until hereached the general store where he had stopped on his previousvisit to the town. He didn’t bother looking back, but knew that thebarber was probably already on his way to Tanning’s office to passon what little he’d learned from the stranger. Mitchell pushed openthe door and walked across the wooden floor to the counter.
The shopkeeperlooked up nervously from his newspaper. “Well, you’re back, justlike you said.”
“Yup. I toldyou I was expecting a delivery and here I am.”
“Sure, sure. Igot it right here.” The shopkeeper straightened his spectacles andpulled a piece of paper out from under the counter.
“Says here thepackage came from California and to keep it in a cool place.” Theman pointed to the back room of the store. “I got it back there.I’ll get it for you.”
Chet stoodquietly while the shopkeeper scurried into the back. He returnedshortly, struggling with the heavy box. Chet touched it and foundthe wood cool.
“Told you,coldest place in the store; in town for that matter,” said thestorekeeper as he looked back at the paperwork. “That totals threedollars including the storage charges.”
“That’s fine.”Mitchell dropped three one-dollar coins on the counter and handedthe shopkeeper a list. “I need these things as well.”
The shopkeeperput the order together while Chet closely inspected the box. Theheavy-duty lock remained in place, but he noticed scratch marks asthough someone had tried to open it. He knew the lock wastamperproof so he looked over the rest of the box. A small smilecrossed his face when he noticed the futile pry marks on one cornerof the reinforced metal lid. Chet pulled out a key and opened thelock. He lifted the lid slightly and saw the thin, folded brownpaper glued between the box bottom and the lid. It was still inplace. He had packed the box in California before he left and madearrangements to have it shipped out to Tanning a few months later.He was confident that only he knew the contents of the box.
Chet relockedthe box and crossed the floor of the store to where the storekeeperwas weighing a pound of coffee. “Can you hold the box and the restof these supplies in the cool area in the back? I’ll pick them upin the morning.”
“They’ll beready, stranger,” said the storekeeper. “Those are fine old guns.What’s that on the handles?”
“Eagles huh.Interesting.”
“To some,” saidChet as he walked out the door of the store.
As Mitchellreached halfway down the street he heard keys rattling behind him,followed by the scurry of boots. He glanced in the reflection ofthe Hotel’s window and saw the storekeeper rushing across thestreet in the direction of Tanning’s office.
Mitchellgrinned and pushed open the door to the hotel. He crossed the smalllobby, his shadow covering the young man shuffling papers.
“A room for thenight,” said Mitchell.
The innkeeperreached behind him and removed a key from a hook and threw it onthe counter in front of Chet. “Fifty cents: in advance.”
Chet scooped upthe key and replaced it with fifty cents. The young man turned theregister around and set a pen on top of it. Mitchell looked at theinnkeeper and walked away.
“But, but….”The plea of the man faded as Mitchell walked away, knowing that theonly strangers who signed registers were people who wanted theirnames known, usually salesmen. Chet had nothing to sell and had anempty stomach to fill.
The smell offresh cooking drew Mitchell to the adjoining dining room. The roomhad a dozen tables but only one was occupied. At it sat a man and awoman who were having an animated conversation. Thepowerfully-built, serious looking man wore a gun tied down. Thepretty blond woman seemed determined to have her way and the mandidn’t like it. Chet set his hat on the chair of a table across theroom from the arguing couple. The table gave him a view of thestreet and the saloon across the street while keeping his back to awall.
The waitressset a mug on Chet’s table and filled it to the rim. Steam curledinto the air over the dark brew.
“Something toeat?” asked the waitress.
The waitresspushed open a white door and disappeared into the kitchen.
As Mitchelltook his first sip of coffee the woman at the table across the roomjumped to her feet and put her hands on her hips. Her hair shook asshe argued in a low voice with the man. She was attractive andslim. Her rich tan testified to the fact she enjoyed the outdoorsand the look on her face showed she was very upset with hercompanion. Her pretty face seemed built for a smile but wore afrown.
The stubbornlyargumentative man looked about twenty-five, the same age asMitchell. He wore expensive clothes and a new hat rested on thechair beside him. His boots also suggested money; well-polished butworn on the inside indicating plenty of time in the saddle. Whilenot as tall as Mitchell he had broad shoulders, slim waist, andpowerful arms.
As Chet sippedhis coffee he heard a chair scrape across the wooden floor.
“Stay, I said!”shouted the man in a louder voice as he jumped out of his chair. “Imean it.”
“Leave mealone,” replied the woman.
“Just youremember who’s in charge here.” The man grabbed for her arm but hisfingers only brushed it as she pulled away.
Chet put downhis cup and looked up at the couple as she continued to back awayfrom the man. “Best leave the woman be.” he said.
The man sneeredat Mitchell. “Mind your own business stranger. You don’t know whoyou’re dealing with.”
Chet lockedeyes with the man and took another sip of the coffee. “If you don’tbehave I’ll be dealing with you.”
“I wouldn’trecommend that,” said the man as he jumped forward and gripped theyoung lady’s arm. He looked her square in the eyes. “Now you and meare leaving, Lisa. Right now.”
Chet sprang outof his chair and across the room. He wrapped his large hand aroundthe man’s wrist and squeezed. The man winced as the vise-like gripincreased and his hand turned white. He released the woman’s arm.She backed away, rubbing her arm.
The man drewback with his left hand and swung at Chet’s cheek. Mitchell pulledback smoothly and the punch caught air. Chet continued to hold theman’s right arm and jabbed at his jaw. He caught him squarely inthe mouth, sending the man crashing backwards into a table beforetumbling onto the floor. The man hopped back to his feet andMitchell prepared himself for a counter attack. Instead, the manwiped blood from his bottom lip and backed out the door and ontothe street.
“This isn’tover, not by a long shot!” shouted the man as the door swung shut.He crossed the street and climbed up the steps on the other side ofthe street. He grabbed the batwing door as he stomped into thesaloon across the street. The doors nearly flew off their hinges ashe threw them backwards once inside the bar.
The young womanalso watched the man bolt into the saloon. She cradled her arm asshe stood in the corner of the dining room. Chet noticed bruises onher right arm. Her eyes fell to the floor as she crossed the diningroom towards Chet. She lifted her head and her eyes connected withMitchell’s.
She had apuzzled look on her face and said, “Thank you, stranger but youbest get out of town. That was Will Tanning you just hit.”
“Kin to DaveTanning?”
“His youngestson. I suspect the old man and the two older boys won’t take kindlyto what you did.”
Chet smiled andput on his hat. “I thank you for your concern ma’am. I reckon I canhandle them. I’ve never been one to back away from trouble.”
“I admire yourconfidence. Don't underestimate them. The Tanning family ownspretty much this whole town. They usually get their way and allfour can handle a gun.”
“Beg pardon,”said Chet. “The name’s Mitchell, Chet Mitchell.”
“I’m LisaCullen. My pa has a small ranch just this side of the ThreePoints.”
“Mighty pleasedto meet you. I’m new to these parts and hope to find a piece ofland and raise some cattle myself.”
“I wish youwell Mr. Mitchell, although most of the land in this area is ownedby the Tannings and they hold it tight. What little land that isfree either doesn’t have any water or you can’t get to it.”
“Ah, I reckonyou’re talking about the valley between the Three Points,” saidChet, grinning. “I heard that was just a legend. Oh, and pleasecall me Chet.”
“Thank youChet. Call me Lisa. And it isn’t a legend. Why I…” Lisa lookedacross the road and saw four men push their way through the doorsof the saloon across the street. “You’d best leave now. That’s Willand Dave Tanning. With them are the other sons, Luke and Alan. Ohmy; they’re heading this way.”
Chet slowlyturned his head to look at the four men. He instinctively checkedthe position of his twin Colts.
“Lisa, you bestslip out the back door while I get better acquainted with theTannings.”
Lisa rushed tothe kitchen door and stopped. She glanced back at the tall strangerbefore disappearing behind the door.
The four men inthe street walked side-by-side like soldiers on the march as theystepped over the ruts in the street. The older man walked withconfidence, a stern look on his face. Like his sons he was not atall man. They shared powerful builds with wide shoulders andnarrow waists. As they neared the door to the dining room the threesons hesitated slightly, but Dave Tanning maintained his pace andbarged through the door. Over a dozen men spilled out onto thestreet behind the Tannings and followed them at a distance.
“ Looks likewe’ll have an audience .” Thought Chet, sitting at his tableagainst the wall. “ So much the better .”
Mitchell slowlysipped coffee with his left hand as Alan and Luke joined theirfather and Will, blood still dripping from his lip, at the far endof the dining room. Chet’s right hand rested on the worn leatherholster, inches from his Colt.
Alan, Will andLuke stepped past their father but the older man put up his handsand his sons stopped on the spot.
The waitressstopped clearing the nearby table and moved to the safety of thekitchen.
Dave Tanningstood and sized up the stranger. He looked at his sons, then backat Mitchell.
“I’ll handlethis,” he whispered, just loud enough to carry to Chet’s ears.
Dave Tanningmoved two steps closer to Mitchell, who continued to drink hiscoffee. “I hear you roughed up my boy.”
Chet looked upand locked eyes with Tanning. “Seems he doesn’t know how to treat alady. I just took it upon myself to teach him some manners.”
“Nobody tellsmy boys anything except me. Nobody. Do you understand, mister?”
Mitchellpretended he didn’t hear the older man and continued staring himstraight in the eye.
Dave Tanningdropped his eyes and studied Mitchell’s lean physique and histied-down colts. “Stranger, you’d best leave my town.”
“Reckon I likeit here. I think I’ll stick around for a bit, maybe even raise afew head of cattle.”
“You’ll do nosuch thing,” said Dave Tanning as he backed into line with hissons. “Boys, I think it’s time we showed this stranger what happenswhen you mess with the Tannings.”
Mitchell sprangto his feet. He drew and aimed his twin Colts at the four menbefore they could free their weapons. “Seems mighty unneighbourly,four against one.”
The buzz ofexcitement in the growing crowd outside carried through the opendoors.
The Tanningsslowly raised their hands, a look of shock on the face of the boys,seething anger and embarrassment on their dad’s.
“Now, unlikeyou skunks I’m a fair man. Suppose I slip my guns back in theholsters and make things interesting by trying this again.”
The din fromoutside grew louder from the now three-deep crowd that hadscattered to the sides to avoid stray bullets.
The Tanningslooked at each other, then back at Mitchell.
“I can make onepromise though,” added Mitchell “My first shot; and I will get offthe first shot, will go straight into the heart of your Pa. Basedon what I’ve seen so far I expect to get off the second as well.”Mitchell smiled. “Why don’t we let that one be a surprise?”
Dave Tanning’sconcerned eyes dug into Mitchell’s. “Alan, Luke, Will; keep yourheads about you. We don’t want to do anything rash.”
The elderTanning backed towards the door, his sons following close behind.The group of people outside backed onto the street as the four menmoved along the wooden boardwalk. Dave Tanning’s glare through thewindow never left Mitchell until he turned and walked down onto thestreet. The lamps cast four long shadows as the father and sonswalked into the Tanning saloon and disappeared into the crowd.
Chet sat downat his table. He heard the kitchen door open. The waitress peekedout and saw that it was safe to come out. In her right hand was asteaming plate of food, including the thickest steak Mitchell hadever seen. The waitress grinned as she watched the Tanning menskulk away.
“I’d say thatcalls for a refill of coffee.” She said as she filled the cup withthe hot brew.
Chet cut apiece of the steak and popped it in his mouth. “Mighty finesteak.”
“Best cut Icould find. Some of us don’t like the way the Tannings pusheveryone around.”
The first biteof food reminded Chet of his hunger and he methodically devouredthe rest of the meal. After one more cup of coffee he paid for themeal and left a healthy tip.
The young manbehind the desk in the lobby was chatting with another man. Theyabruptly stopped their animated conversation when Mitchell enteredand started up the creaking wooden stairs leading to the secondfloor. As he rounded the corner he heard the muffled voices startup again.
Chet pulled outhis left-side Colt and turned the key in the lock with his righthand. He slowly opened the door and confirmed he was alone in thesmall, sparsely furnished room. He closed the gap in the curtainsand prepared himself for the first sleep in a real bed in weeks. AColt rested on the bedside table pointing towards the door. Hestretched out on the bed and fell asleep within a minute of hishead hitting the feather pillow.
In the Tanningsaloon Dave Tanning sat in his usual chair at the poker table. Hestudied the faces of his four opponents. Each, including him, hadtaken one card. Tanning missed his flush but bet heavily anyways,knowing that his wealth dwarfed the combined holdings of all fourmen. The first man folded quickly. The second man did as well. Thethird man, a regular at the table, stared at Tanning and then backat his cards. When Tanning saw him scratch his chin he knew he wasbeat.
“I raiseanother twenty.” The man threw two bills into the center of thetable.
“Ah, take it,”said Tanning as he tossed his cards on the table and scooped up theremainder of his money.
The other mantried but failed to hide his pleasure. He knew Tanning’s mind wasnot on his game and that he had reaped the reward.
The threeTanning boys stood at the bar. They were the only ones drinking theexpensive whiskey. The talk in the saloon was in lowered voices,undoubtedly about the new man in town with hands the speed oflightening. It wasn’t the first fast gun to pass through Tanningbut it was the first to humble the Tanning family.
“I’ve neverseen guns like that before,” said Will Tanning. “Them old Colts hadgold birds on the handles.”
“Birds on thehandles, you say?” asked Nugget Rimmer, an old man with a long greybeard sitting alone at a nearby table. “What kind of birds? Rimmerspat tobacco into the spittoon at the end of the bar.
The threebrothers looked at Rimmer; surprised because the old man seldomtalked, let alone started a conversation.
“They wereeagles, Nugget.” replied Alan. “Why do you ask?
The only thingmore rare than Nugget Rimmer talking was Nugget Rimmer laughing;but the old man roared with laughter until he choked.
He swallowed amouthful of beer to ease the pain. “It appears you don’t know whoyou was up against.”
Will Tanningleaned forward. “And you do, old man?”
“Seems so.”Beer ran down his matted beard as he drained his glass and put iton the table in front of the Tannings. “But I could think betterwith another cold beer in front of me.”
The Tanningsons moved towards the old man who sat smugly in his chair with atoothless grin on his face. Dave Tanning gripped the shoulders ofhis two sons with calloused hands.
“Easy boys.Let’s hear what the old-timer has to say.” Tanning got a beer fromthe bartender and set it in front of Rimmer. He then took a seat atthe table. The boys stood behind the elder Tanning, all waitingimpatiently for the old man to speak.
Rimmer sippedhis beer. “Obliged. I hope those two boys of yours don’t intend onbeating on an old man.”
Dave Tanningsmiled. “I promise I’ll keep them away. Now you just tell us whatyou know about that man calling himself Mitchell.”
“Right. When Ifirst heard about those Colts I had a feeling that I recognizedthem. But when I heard the man’s name that cinched it. I first sawthose old Colts with the gold eagles on another man named Mitchell.However, he was much older than this youngster you’re talkingabout. I tell you, that older feller knew how to use them too; hishands were a blur.”
Dave Tanningsat up a little straighter in his chair.
The old mantook another sip of beer and wiped foam from his beard with a dirtysleeve. “Saw him gun down three men in a showdown. Took one in theshoulder and could never use them guns of his again.”
“Is thisMitchell his son?” asked Dave Tanning.
“Nope. ThatMitchell never married but he raised his nephew out in goldcountry. Treated him like a son though. Every night I heard the kidpracticing with them old Colts. When his uncle died the youngstertook over his stake and continued working with the Colts. Those whosaw him said he was faster than his uncle.”
“Did he haveany luck with the gold stake?” Tanning bought another beer andplaced it in front of the old miner.
“Ha! Nothingbut. Why he spent more time working than anybody I knew. Hepocketed a huge bankroll aiming to raise cattle. He didn’t want tospend the rest of his life digging for gold.”
“Ranching? Anyidea where?”
“Nope, but nowit appears he has his eye on some land in this area.”
The elderTanning got up from the table and bought the old miner anotherbeer. Nugget pulled the beer close and smiled up at the wealthyrancher. The Tanning boys followed their father out of the bar andgathered outside the door.
Dave Tanningpointed to the general store down the street. “Mitchell is pickingup that strange package in the morning. Alan, Luke, I want you twoto get on home and get some shuteye and follow him in the morning.I want to know where this land is that Mitchell is thinking ofranching.”
“Yes Pa.”replied Luke and Alan together as they mounted their horses androde towards the family ranch.
Will Tanningstepped in front of his father. “Pa, Mitchell made me look bad infront of my girl! I want to go along with Luke and Alan. Heck, it’smore my fight than theirs.”
Dave Tanningslowly lifted his head until his eyes locked with Will’s. “Boy, youlisten good; we need cool heads for this. Your brothers can handleit.”
Will stormedout of the saloon and climbed onto his horse. He yanked on thereins and his horse turned north. The young rancher rode at fullgallop towards the family ranch. Alan and Luke rested beforeattempting to discover where Mitchell planned to ranch.
Chapter Two
The nextmorning brought sunshine and the promise of a fine day. Mitchellrose with the sun and packed his small bag. Through a crack in thecurtains he surveyed Main Street. A wagon heading south from thelivery stable provided the only activity on the street. Chet lookedcloser at the shadowed areas. Movement caught his eye in thedarkness between Tanning’s office and another building. Here he sawthe outline of two horses. In Tanning’s office people shuffledabout. Mitchell expected the Tanning’s would keep an eye on him andthey did not disappoint. Chet paid his hotel bill and walked intothe dining room where he enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of ham andeggs. As he finished his third cup of coffee he saw the storekeeperopen up shop. Mitchell tossed a coin on the table and exited thehotel.
He looked up atthe sun and frowned. The curtains in Tanning’s office closed as hecrossed the street and entered the general store. The storekeeperlooked up from the newspaper opened on his counter.
“Reckon you’rehere for your package.” he said.
“That’s rightand I’ll take two of those large water sacks.”
“You headingout of town today? What direction?”
“Don’t know forsure.” Chet gave the storekeeper money and left the store.
He carried thewater sacks to the livery stable. Here he filled the sacks and histwo canteens with fresh water. He draped blankets over the watersacks to keep them cool. The young boy helped him saddle theroan.
“Take this muleover to the general store and load on my supplies,” said Chet,handing the young man another coin.
“Yes sir, rightaway.”
Mitchell easedhimself into the saddle and rode slowly down the main street to thegeneral store where he tied the waiting loaded mule to his horse.As he exited the opposite end of town he looked over his shoulderand saw two of the Tanning boys running out of the office and intothe dark alley. A grin spread across Chet’s face. “Time to havesome fun.”
Mitchell headedacross the grassland in the opposite direction of the Three Pointsand the hidden valley. He kept his hat over his eyes and his paceslow. The Tanning sons kept at a good distance so Chet knew theyhad been ordered by their father to follow him; not confronthim.
After fourhours of steady riding Chet arrived at an isolated small grove oftrees. He removed the packs from the mule and the saddle from hishorse and set them in the shade. It was fairly warm, though notunbearably hot. Still, as the hours dragged by and with only smallcanteens of water, the Tanning brothers would feel the heat muchmore than would Mitchell. In the soil under the trees he dug twosmall holes and lined them with two pieces of leather he carried onthe mule. He filled the leather bowls with water from the sacks andthe two animals drank their fill.
He touched thetop of the box and it pleased him that it was not overly hot.Mitchell threw a blanket over it and soaked it in cool water. AsChet drank from one of his large canteens he glanced over at theTanning boys sitting under the midday sun at the crest of the smallhill half a mile away. Only their heads peeked over the hill,keeping watch on Mitchell.
Alan and Lukedrank from their half-empty canteens, sparing a little for thehorses although they knew it wasn’t enough for the big animals.
“Why didn’t youbring an extra canteen?” said Alan.
“Don’t see oneon your saddle either,” replied Luke.
The brotherssquinted through the sunlight at Mitchell sitting in the shade ofone of the trees.
“I wish we werea little closer,” said Luke. “I’d put a bullet in him if wewere.”
“We’d both liketo do that, but Pa made it clear we should find out what land he’safter so we can beat him to it. Then we can get rid ofMitchell.”
Mitchell dozedcomfortably in the shade knowing his horse would warn him ifanybody approached. Two hours later he got to his feet andstretched. The brothers were pleased to see Mitchell saddle hishorse and load the box and other purchases on the mule. Frustrationrose again as Chet checked and rechecked the load. Finally, smilingat the intentional delay, Mitchell put foot to stirrup and liftedhimself into the saddle.
Mitchellcontinued riding away from the Three Points, winding his waythrough the rolling land. He first expected the locals to think himcrazy for attempting to ranch the hidden valley. After all, manyhad tried to access the lush land but all had failed; some diedtrying. The trouble would come when they discovered his plan. A lotof trouble, mostly from the Tannings. After all, much of the waterflowing through the area ranches started at the Three Points andwater equaled survival in these parts. Mitchell knew his cattlewould use very little of the water, but had no doubt Tanning wouldsurely do everything he could to stop him and claim the land forhimself. What would the handful of smaller ranchers in the areathink? Would they side with Tanning?
As sunsetapproached Chet rode straight to the center of a large valley ofnearly open land. Again he found shelter under some trees while theTanning brothers sat in the open with little or no water. He knewhe was playing with fire as the boys might simply close in andshoot it out with him. Chet guessed right that Dave Tanning ran thefamily with an iron fist and told them only to follow him. Hebrewed some coffee and settled down for the night again with thehorse there to warn of anyone approaching.
“I expect theTanning boys have about had it,” said Chet to the roan as hesaddled up early the next morning. “Let’s turn to the east andreally confuse them.”
Chet turned tohis right, riding directly into the sun. A mile or so later hereversed directions but rode at a slight angle away from Alan andLuke.
Their canteensnow empty; the Tanning boys licked their cracked lips and shooktheir head at Mitchell.
“Is hesearching for something? Luke asked.
“I don’t know.I suspect he’s loco.”
“Maybe, but Ithink that he’s trying to drive us loco or send us to an earlygrave if we don’t get some water soon.”
Mitchellzigzagged for a few more hours then headed straight into thesun.
The brothersshook their heads and followed Mitchell, baffled by the strangeroute.
“He’s headednowhere.” said Luke. “He’s just playing with us.”
“Luke,” saidAlan. “If I don’t get a drink of water soon I’m going to keelover.”
“I’ve about hadit too. Let’s head back to the ranch. Word will reach us soonenough about where he’s heading.”
Mitchellstopped at the top of a rise and watched the brothers ride off. Hewaited for twenty minutes, making sure they weren’t trying to trickhim and double back to get on his trail again. The brothers dippedbehind a hill far into the east before Mitchell continued on hisway. He skirted some sparse trees growing in rocky soil, soil thatshowed few prints. Here he stopped and poured more cool water onthe blanket covering the box. He quenched his thirst and continuedhis journey.
The area wasnew to him. He made a point of choosing different routes each timehe rode to or left the Three Points. This path brought him to roughterrain, very dry and hilly. Here he slowed the pace as the horseand mule struggled on the rocky surface.
Two hillsseparated by a narrow path; a dried up creek bed, stood in front ofMitchell. The steep sides of the narrow path shot up fifteen feet.On the right the rock face continued up to the top of the hill at aforty-five degree angle. The left face of the path sat in shadowbut Chet saw a small plateau fifteen feet above the creek bed. Ashe neared and fell into shadow from the other hill he saw that theplateau was actually the edge of a waterfall sitting dry until thenext rainy season.
Even in shade,the relentless heat made Chet wish the falls were running, ridingthrough the falling water would have been refreshing.
The roancarried Chet under the waterfall lip at a slow pace; the muletrailing. Chet stopped as small pebbles rained down on him. Helooked up just as a dark figure standing on the edge of the drywaterfall dropped a large rock directly over him. Chet moved hishead to the side but the boulder still slammed into the back of hishead. He tumbled off the roan and landed on the bed of stones. Thelast thing he saw before he blacked out was the man on the ledge,standing with his hands on his hips
Mitchell’s headthrobbed as he regained consciousness. The heat of the sun poundeddown on his bare head, compounding the pain from the gash where therock hit him. His lips were dried and cracked. He tried to lift hishand to block the sun but it would not move. In fact, both handswere tied to large boulders with rope. A pile of heavy rocks heldhis legs in place. His position, on a slight slope facing south,had total exposure to the sun. Chet saw the Three Points directlybelow the sun. He knew that was west and that meant he had beenunconscious for over twelve hours.
A snickercaught Chet’s attention. It came from a tree twenty feet to hisleft, the only shade in the area. Someone sat against the tree.Mitchell squinted as he tried to make out the face.
“Wondering whooutsmarted you?” The man stood up and walked out of the shadow. “Ibet you are.”
Chet didn’tknow for sure who it was, but recognized the short powerful buildof a Tanning. He didn’t have to wait long to get an answer; WillTanning walked up to him, rifle in one hand; canteen in theother.
Will took along pull on the canteen, letting water splash over his face andonto his clothes. “Damn, that’s fine. That water of yours is justwhat I needed. Now then, let’s hear some of those funny things yousaid in front of my girl.” Will drove his boot into Chet’s ribs.“Aren’t so talkative after a full day in the sun, are you? Ifrankly didn’t know if you were going to wake up at all. Actually,I didn’t much care.”
Chet’s dry lipsformed a smile. Will kicked Chet in the ribs again.
“Why don’t Itell you what I’ve been up to while you’ve been resting in theheat?” Tanning waved his arm around in a circle. “Why, after I tiedyou down I took my whip to your horse and mule. They high-tailed itout of here, with your fancy guns in a saddlebag. Now you’re goingto learn not to mess with a Tanning. I’m going to take your lastcanteen of water and head on home. I expect that by the time I gethome and sit myself down at the dinner table the buzzards will behelping themselves to your sorry hide.”
Will Tanningwalked over to the shade of the tree and climbed onto his horse. Herode up to Mitchell and smiled down. “You should have stayed in themines, Mitchell. You’re no match for a Tanning.” Will laughed androde away.
The hours movedslowly by. Mitchell’s throat felt like sand and he lost feeling inhis hands from the tight rope. He watched the sun glide graduallyacross the sky. When it passed midday he passed out.

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