Showdown on the Hogback [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Louis L'Amour
eBook Category: Historical Fiction/Romance
eBook Description: A rarely reprinted pulp magazine novel from bestselling western novelist Louis L'Amour. Showdown on the Hogback was first published in Giant Western magazine August 1950 under the pseudonym Jim Mayo. Years later, as was Louis L'Amour's habit, it was rewritten as Showdown at Yellow Butte. Was any gunfighter ever in a worse predicament? Tom Kedrick found himself caught between two sides - and he was both those sides! Hired by a big land syndicate to drive out what he is told are dangerous squatters and outlaw gangs from a useless swamp, Kedrick soon finds he has been lied to and betrayed. What he finds is fertile is ranch land already claimed by the farmers and ranchers who have been living there peacefully, but are prepared to fight to the death to keep their homes. When Kedrick confronts the syndicate, he finds himself marked for death both by the syndicate's killers and the suspicious farmers. The cover for this ebook edition is reworked from the original magazine cover by George Rozen for Showdown on the Hogback (Rosen also provided covers for The Shadow and Doc Savage magazines during his long career) and was scanned from the publisher's copy of that issue of Giant Western. Also includes a filmography of stars, directors and screenplay writers for all the theatrical films made from the author's westerns.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2012
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Everything was quiet in Mustang. Three whole days had passed without a killing. The townsfolk, knowing their community, were not fooled, but rather had long since resigned themselves to the inevitable and would, in fact, be relieved when the situation was back to normal with a killing every day, or more on hot days. When there had been no killing for several days, pressure mounted because no one knew who would be next. Moreover, with Clay Allison, who had killed thirty men, playing poker over at the Morrison House, and Black Jack Ketchum who richly deserved the hanging he was soon to get, sleeping off a drunk at the St. James, trouble could be expected.
The walk before the St. James was cool at this hour, and Captain Tom Kedrick, a stranger in town, sat in a well-polished chair and studied the street with interested eyes. He was a tall young man with rusty brown hair and green eyes, quiet-mannered and quick to smile. Women never failed to look twice, and, when their eyes met his, their hearts pounded, a fact of which Tom Kedrick was totally unaware, He knew women seemed to like him, but it never failed to leave him mildly astonished when they liked him very much, which they often did.
The street he watched was crowded with buckboards, freight wagons, a newly arrived stage and one about to depart. All the hitch rails were lined with saddled horses wearing a variety of brands. Kedrick was suddenly aware that a young man stood beside him, and he glanced up. The fellow was scarcely more than a boy and he had soft brown eyes and hair that needed cutting. "Cap'n Kedrick?" he inquired. "John Gunter sent me. I'm Dornie Shaw."
"Oh, yes!" Kedrick got to his feet, smiling, and thrust out his hand. "Nice to know you, Shaw. Are you working for Gunter?"
Shaw's soft brown eyes were faintly ironic. "With him," he corrected. "I work for no man."
Kedrick did not see at all, but he was prepared to wait and find out. There was something oddly disturbing about this young man, something that had Kedrick on edge and queerly alert. "Where's Gunter now?"
"Down the street. He asked me to check an' see if you were here, an', if you were, to ask you to stick around close to the hotel. He'll be along soon."
"All right. Sit down, why don't you?"
Shaw glanced briefly at the chairs. "I'll stand. I never sit in no chair with arms on them. Apt to get in the way."
"In the way?" Kedrick glanced up, and then his eyes fell to the two guns Shaw wore, their butts hanging wide. "Oh, yes! I see." He nodded at the guns. "The town marshal doesn't object?"
Dornie Shaw looked at him, smiling slowly. "Not to me, he don't. Wouldn't do him no good if he did." He added after a minute: "Anyway, not in Mustang. Too many hardcases. I never seen a marshal could make it stick in this town."
Kedrick smiled. "Hickok? Earp? Masterson?"
"Maybe"-Dornie Shaw was openly skeptical-"but I doubt it. Allison's here. So's Ketchum. Billy the Kid's been around, and some of that crowd. A marshal in this town would have to be mighty fast, an' prove it ever' day."
"Maybe you're right." He studied Shaw surreptitiously.
What was it about him that was so disturbing? Not the two guns, for he had seen many men who wore guns, had been reared among them, in fact. No, it was something else, some quality he could not define, but it was a sort of lurking menace, an odd feeling with such a calm-eyed young man.
"We've got some good men," Shaw volunteered, after a minute. "Picked up a couple today. Laredo Shad's goin' to be one of the best, I'm thinkin'. He's a tough hand, an' gun-wise as all get out. Three more come in - today. Fessenden, Poinsett, an' Goff."
Obviously, from the manner in which he spoke, the names meant much to Shaw, but they meant exactly nothing to Kedrick. Fessenden seemed to strike some sort of a responsive note but he could not put a finger on it. His eyes strayed down the street, studying the crowd. "You think they'll really fight?" he asked, studying the crowd. "Are there enough of them?"
"That bunch?" Shaw's voice was dry. "They'll fight, all right. You got some tough boys in that outfit. Injun scrappers, an' such like. They won't scare worth a damn." He glanced curiously at Kedrick. "Gunter says you're a fighter."
Was that doubt in Shaw's voice? Kedrick smiled, then shrugged. "I get along. I was in the Army, if that means anything."
"Been West before?"
"Sure! I was born in California, just before the rush.
When the war broke out, I was sixteen, but I went in with a bunch from Nevada. Stayed in a couple of years after the war, fighting Apaches."
Shaw nodded, as if satisfied. "Gunter thinks well of you, but he's the only one of them, an' not the most important one."
A short, thick-set man with a square-cut beard looking enough like General Grant to be his twin was pushing through the crowd toward them. He even smoked a thick, black cigar. The man walking beside him was as tall as Kedrick, who stood an easy inch above six feet. He had a sharply cut face and his eyes were cold, but they were the eyes of a man born to command, a man who could be utterly ruthless. That would be Colonel Loren Keith. That meant there was one yet, who he must meet. The man Burwick. The three were partners, and of the three only Burwick was from the area.
Gunter smiled quickly, his lips parting over clenched white teeth that gripped his cigar. He thrust out his hand. "Good to see you, Kedrick! Colonel, this is our man! If there ever was a man born to ramrod this thing through, this is the one. I told you of that drive he made for Patterson. Took those cattle through without losing a head, rustlers an' Comanches be damned."
Keith nodded, his cold eyes taking in Kedrick at a glance. "Captain ... that was an Army title, Kedrick?"
"Army. The War Between the States."
"I see. There was a Thomas Kedrick who was a sergeant in the fighting against the Apaches."
"That was me. All of us went down some in rank after the troops were discharged."
"How much time in the war?" Keith's eyes still studied
"Four years, and two campaigning in the Southwest."
"Not bad. You should know what to expect in a fight."
His eyes went to Kedrick's, faintly supercilious. "I have twelve years, myself. Regular Army."
Kedrick found that Keith's attitude irritated him. He had meant to say nothing about it, but suddenly he was speaking. "My American Army experience, Colonel, was only part of mine. I was with Bazaine, at the defense of Metz, in the Franco-Prussian War. I escaped, and was with MacMahon at the Battle of Sedan."
Keith's' eyes sharpened and his lips thinned. Kedrick could feel the sharp dislike rising in the man. Keith was defiantly possessed of a strong superiority complex.
"Is that all?" he asked coolly.
"Why, no. Since you ask, it was not. I was with Wolseley, in the Second Ashanti War in Africa. And I was in the two-year campaign against the Tungans of northern T'ien Shan ... with the rank of general."
"You seem to get around a good bit," Keith said dryly, "a genuine mercenary."
Kedrick smiled, undisturbed. "If you like. That's what you want here, isn't it? Men who can fight? Isn't it customary for some men to hire others to do their fighting for them?"
Colonel Keith's face flamed, then went white, but before he could speak, a big, square-faced man thrust himself through the crowd and stopped to face them. "You, is it, Gunter? Well, I've heard tell the reason why you're here, an', if you expect to take from hard-workin' men the land they've slaved for, you better come a-shootin'!"
Before anyone could speak, Dornie slid between Keith and Gunter and fronted the man. "You lookin' for trouble? You want to start your shootin' now?"
His voice was low, almost a purr, but Kedrick was startled by the shocked expression on the man's face. He drew back, holding his hands wide. "I wasn't bracin' you, Dornie. Didn't "even know you was around."
"Then get out!" Shaw snarled, passion suddenly breaking through his calmness, and something else, something Kedrick spotted with a shock-the driving urge to kill!
"Get out!" Shaw repeated. "An' if you want to live, keep goin'!"
Stumblingly the man turned and ducked into the hastily assembled crowd, and Tom Kedrick, scanning their faces, found hard indifference there, or hatred. In no face did he see warmth or friendly feeling. He frowned thoughtfully, then turned away.
Gunter caught his arm, eager to take advantage of the break the interruption had made to bring peace between the two. "You see what we're up against?" he began. "Now that was Peters. He's harmless, but there's others would have drawn, and drawn fast. They won't be all like that. Let's go meet Burwick."
Kedrick fell in beside Gunter who carefully interposed himself between the two men. Once, Tom glanced back. What had become of Dornie Shaw he did not know, but he did know his second in command, which job was Shaw's, was a killer. He knew the type from of old.
Yet he was disturbed more than he cared to admit by the man who had braced them. Peters had the look of an honest man, even if not an intelligent one. Of course, there might be honest men among them, if they were men of Peters' stripe. He was always a follower, and he might follow where the wrong men led. Certainly, if this land was going to Gunter, Keith, and Burwick through a government bill, there could be nothing wrong with it. If the government sold the land to them, squatters had no rights there. Still, if there were many like Peters, the job was not going to be all he had expected.
Gunter stopped before a square stone house set back from the street. "This here's headquarters," he said. "We hole up here when in town. Come on in."
A wide verandah skirted the house, and, as they stepped upon it, they saw a girl in a gray skirt and white blouse sitting a few feet away with an open book in her lap. Gunter. halted. "Colonel, you've met Miss Duane."
"Cap'n Kedrick, my niece, Consuelo Duane."
Their eyes met-and held. For a breathless moment, no voice was lifted. Tom Kedrick felt as though his muscles had gone dead, for he could not move. Her own eyes were wide, startled.
Kedrick recovered himself with a start. He bowed. "Miss Duane!"
"Captain Kedrick"-somehow she was on her feet and moving toward him-"I hope you'll like it here!"
His eyes had not left hers, and now color was coming into her cheeks. "I shall," he said gently. "Nothing can prevent me now."
"Don't be too sure of that, Captain." Keith's voice was sharp and cold. "We are late for our visit. Let's be going. Your pardon, Connie. Burwick is waiting."
Kedrick glanced back as he went through the door, and the girl was still standing there, poised, motionless.
Keith's irritation was obvious, but Gunter seemed to have noticed nothing. Dornie Shaw, who had materialized from somewhere, glanced briefly at Kedrick, but said nothing at all. Coolly he began to roll a smoke.
Burwick crouched behind a table. He was an incredibly fat man, and incredibly dirty. A stubble of graying beard covered his jowls and his several chins, yet the eyes that measured Kedrick from beneath the almost hairless brows were sharp, malignant, and set close alongside a nose too small for his face. His shirt was open, and the edge of the collar was greasy. Rims of black marked each .fingernail.
He glanced at the others, then back at Kedrick. "Sit down!" he said. "You're late! Business won't wait!" His bulbous head swung from Kedrick to Gunter. "John, this the man who'll ramrod those skunks off that land? This. him?"
"Yes, that's Kedrick," Gunter said hastily. Oddly enough, he seemed almost frightened of Burwick. Keith had said nothing since they entered the room, Quietly he seemed to have withdrawn, stepped momentarily from the picture. It was, Kedrick was to discover, a faculty he had when Burwick was near. "He'll do the job, all right."
Burwick turned his eyes on Kedrick after a moment and nodded: "Know a good deal about you, son." His voice was almost genial. "You'll do, if you don't get too soft with them. We've no time to waste, you understand. They've had notice to move. Give 'em one more notice, then get 'em off or bury 'em! That's your business, not mine. I'll ask the questions," he added sharply, "an' I'll see nobody else does. What happens here is our business."
He dismissed Kedrick from his mind and turned his attention to Gunter. "You've ordered like I told you? Grub for fifty men for fifty days? Once this situation is cleaned up, I want to get started at once. The sooner we have work started, the sooner we'll be all set. I want no backfiring on this job."
Burwick turned sharply to Tom Kedrick. "Ten days! I give you ten days! If you need more than five, I'll be disappointed. If you've not the heart for it, turn Dornie loose. Dornie'll show 'em." He cackled suddenly. "That's right! Dornie'll show 'em!" He sobered down, glanced at the papers on his desk, then without looking up: "Kedrick, you can go. Dornie, you run along, too."
Kedrick hesitated, then arose. "How many of these men are there?" he asked suddenly. "Have any of them families?"
Gunter turned on him nervously: "I'll tell you all you need to know, Tom. See you later."
Kedrick shrugged and, picking up his hat, walked out.
Dornie Shaw had already vanished. Yet when he reached the verandah, Connie Duane still sat there, only now she was not reading, merely staring over the top of her book at the dusty, sun-swept street.
He paused, hat in hand. "Have you been in Mustang long?"
She looked up, studying him for a long minute before she spoke. "Why, no. Not long. Yet long enough to learn to love and hate." She turned her eyes to the hills, then back to him. "I love this country, Captain, can you understand that? I'm a city girl, born and bred in the city, and yet when I first saw those red rock walls, those lonely mesas, the desert, the Indian ponies ... why, Captain, I fell in love! This is my country! I could stay here forever!"
Surprised, he studied her again, more pleased than he could easily have admitted. "That's the way I feel about it. But you said to love and to hate. You love the country. Now what do you hate?"
"Some of the men who infest it, Captain. Some of the human wolves it breeds, and others, bred somewhere, who come to it to feed off the ones who came earlier and were more courageous but are less knowing, less tricky."
More and more surprised, he leaned on the rail. "I don't know if I follow you, Miss Duane. I haven't been here long, but I haven't met any of those you speak of."
She looked up at him, her eyes frank and cool. Slowly she closed her book and turned toward the door. "You haven't, Captain?" Her voice was suddenly cool. "Are you sure? At this moment, I am wondering if you are not one of them." She stepped through the door and was gone.
Tom Kedrick stood for a moment, staring after her.
When he turned away, it was with a puzzled frown on his face. Now what did she mean by that? What did she know about him that could incline her to such a view? Despite himself, he was both irritated and disturbed. Coupled with the anger of the man Peters, it offered a new element to his thinking. Yet, how could Consuelo Duane, John Gunter's niece, have the same opinions owned by Peters? No doubt they stemmed from different sources.
Troubled, he walked on down to the street of the town and stood there, looking around. He had not yet changed into Western clothes, and wore a flat-crowned, flat-brimmed black hat, which he would retain, and a tailored gray suit with black. Western-style boots. Pausing on the corner, he slowly rolled a cigarette and lighted it. He made a dashing, handsome figure as he stood there in his perfectly fitted suit, his lean, bronzed face strong, intelligent, and interesting. Both men and woinen glanced at him, and most of them twice. His military erectness, broad shoulders, and cool self-possession were enough to mark him in any crowd. His mind had escaped his immediate problem now and was lost in the never-ending excitement of a crowded Western street. Such places held, all jammed together without rhyme or reason, all types and manner of men.
For the West was of all things a melting pot. Adventurers came to seek gold, new lands, excitement. Gamblers, women of the oldest and most active profession, thugs, gunmen, cow rustlers, horse thieves, miners, cowhands, freighters, and just drifters, all crowded the street. That bearded man in the sun-faded red wool shirt might, if prompted, start to spout Shakespeare. The slender young man talking to the girl in the buckboard might have graduated from Oxford, and the white-faced gambler might be the scion of an old Southern family.
There was no knowing in this strangest, most exciting, and colorful of countries, during its most exciting time. All classes, types, and nationalities had come West, all looking for the pot of gold at the foot of any available rainbow, and most of them were more engrossed in the looking than the finding. All men wore guns, most of them in plain sight. Few of them would hesitate to use them if need be. The man who fought with his fists was a rarity, although present.
A big man lurched from the crowd. Tom glanced at him, and their eyes met. Obviously the man had been drinking and was hunting trouble, and, as their eyes met, he stopped. Sensing trouble, other passersby stopped, too.
"So?" The big man stood, wide-legged, his sleeves rolled above thick, hairy forearms. "'Nother one of them durn thieves. Land stealers!" He chuckled suddenly. "Well, your murderer ain't with you now to save your bacon, an' I aim to git my share of you right now. Reach!"
Kedrick's mouth was dry, but his eyes were calm, He held the cigarette in his right hand near his mouth. "Sorry, friend, I'm not packing a gun. If I were, I'd still not kill you, You're mistaken, man, about that land. My people have a rightful claim to it,"
"Have they, now?" The big man came a step nearer, his hand on the butt of his gun. "The right to take from a man the land he's sweated over? To tear down his home? To run his kids out on the desert?"
Despite the fact that the man was drunk, Tom Kedrick saw beyond it a sullen and honest fury- and fear. Not fear of him, for this man was not afraid, nor would he be afraid of even Dornie Shaw. He was afraid for his family. The realization of that fact struck Kedrick and disturbed him anew. More and more he was questioning the course he had chosen.
The crowd murmured and was ugly. Obviously their sympathies were with the big man and against Kedrick. A low murmur, then a rustling in the crowd, and suddenly, deathly silence. Kedrick saw the big man's face pale, and heard someone whisper hoarsely: "Look out, Burt. It's Dornie Shaw."
Kedrick was suddenly aware that Shaw had moved up beside him. "Let me have him, Cap'n." Shaw's voice was low. "It's time this here was stopped."
Kedrick's voice was sharp, cold. "No! Move back, Shaw!
I'll fight my own battles!"
"But you ain't got a gun!" Shaw's voice was sharper in protest.
Burt showed no desire to retreat. That the appearance of Shaw was a shock was evident, but this man was not Peters. He was going to stand his ground. His eyes, wary now but puzzled, shifted from Shaw to Kedrick, and Tom took an easy step forward, putting him almost within arm's length of Burt.
"Shaw's not in this, Burt," he said quietly. "I've no quarrel with you, man, but no man calls me without getting his chance. If you want what I've got, don't let the fact that I'm not armed stop you. I wanted no quarrel, but you do, so have at it!"
Suspicion was in the big man's eyes. He had seen guns come from nowhere before, and especially from men dressed as this one did. He was not prepared to believe that Kedrick would face him unarmed. "You got a gun!" he snapped. "You got a hide-out, you damned coyote!"
He jerked his gun from the holster and in that instant Tom Kedrick moved. The edge of his left hand chopped down on the rising wrist of the gun hand, and he stepped in, whipping up his right in an uppercut that packed all the power in his lean, whipcord body. The punch was fast and perfectly timed, and the crack of it on the corner of Burt's jaw was like the crack of a teamster's whip. Burt hit the walk just one split second after his gun, and hit it right on his shoulder blades.
Coolly then Kedrick stooped and picked up the gun, an old 1851 Model Navy revolver. He stood over the man, his eyes searching the crowd. Wherever he looked, there were hard, blank faces. He glanced down at Burt, and the big man was slowly sitting up, shaking his big head. He darted to lift his right hand and gave a sudden gasp of pain. He stared at it, then looked up. "You broke my wrist!" he said. "It's busted! An' me with my plowin' to do!"
"Better get up," Kedrick said quietly. "You asked for it, you know." When the man was on his feet, Kedrick calmly handed him his six-shooter. Their eyes met over the gun and Kedrick smiled. "Take it. Drop it down in your holster an' forget it. I'm not worried. You're not the man to shoot another in the back."
Calmly he turned his back and walked slowly away down the street. Before the St. James he paused. His fingers trembled ever so slightly as he took out a paper and shook tobacco into it.
"That was slick." It was Dornie Shaw's soft voice. His brown eyes probed Kendrick's face curiously. "Never seen the like. Just slapped his wrist and busted it."
With Keith, John Gunter had come up, smiling broadly. "Saw it all, son. That'll do more good than a dozen killings. Just like Tom Smith used to do. Old Bear Creek Tom who handled some of the toughest rannies that ever came over the trail with nothin' but his fists."
"What would you have done if he had jerked that gun back and fired?" Keith asked.
Kedrick shrugged, wanting to forget it. "He hadn't time," he said quietly, "but there are answers to that, too."
"Some of the boys will be up to see you tonight, Tom," Gunter advised. "I've had Dornie notify Shad, Fessenden, and some of the others. Better figure on a ride out there tomorrow. Makin' a start, anyway. Just sort of ride around with some of the boys to let 'em know we ain't foolin'."
Kedrick nodded, and after a brief discussion went inside and to his room. Certainly, he reflected, the West had not changed. Things still happened fast out here.
He pulled off his coat, waistcoat, and vest, then his boots, Stripped to the waist, he sat down on' the bed and dug into his valise. For a couple of minutes he dug around and then drew out two well-oiled holsters and gun belts. In the holsters were two .44 Russian pistols, a Smith & Wessen gun, manufactured en order fer the Russian Army, and one of the most accurate sheeting pistols en the market up to that time. Carefully he checked the leads, then returned the guns to their holsters and put them aside. Digging around, he drew out a second pair of guns, holsters and belts. Each of these was a Walch twelve-shot Navy pistol, caliber .36, and almost identical in size and weight to the Frontier Celt .or the .44 Russian. Rarely seen in the West, and disliked by some, Kedrick had used the guns en many occasions and found them always satisfactory. There were times when the added firepower was a big help. As for stopping power, the .36 in the hands of a good marksman lacked but little offered by the heavier .44 caliber.
Yet, there was a time and a place for everything, and these guns had an added tactical value. Carefully he wrapped them once more and returned them to the bottom of his valise. Then he belted on the .44 Russians and, digging out his Winchester, carefully cleaned, oiled, and loaded it. Then he sat down on the bed and was about to remove his guns again and stretch out, when there was a light tap at the door.