Walker had learned a couple three things in the past six months.
One. When a sheriff in Texas said "Ride on out of town", a sensible man rode.
Two. Them that cheated at cards carried side arms and were a faster draw than he was.
Three. Mountains looked closer than they really were, whether or not the Comancheria were riding you hard.
Four. Winter started a lot sooner and harder than he'd been led to believe once a man reached those mountains.
Five. Every tree in these damnable woods looked the same.
He'd been wandering for days, looking for a way through the mountains, looking for the pass that the map he'd bought in El Paso swore was right where he stood.
"You thinking about jumping my claim, boy, there's something you ought to know. I'm a damn good shot, I have the drop on you, and I'm a damn sight bigger'n you to boot." The deep, bear-like voice came from behind him, along with the sound of a rifle cocking.
Walker took a deep breath, hand sliding for his gunbelt, puffing himself up as big as he could as he turned. "I'm just passing through."
Six. Mountains looked to be a favorite place for lunatics and mad men.
"You pass anywhere in the next few days you'll freeze solid, friend. It's fixing to snow, and hard." The barrel of that same said rifle practically pressed his nose. "And the only reason you should pull that pistol is to hand it over."
"I ain't looking for trouble." He lost his pistol, he'd starve. Walker stepped back, shaking his head. "No trouble at all."
"Good. Then you can keep it, but I swear, boy, the first time you look like you're going for it, I'll make you eat it."
The rifle lowered enough that he could see something besides the bore, and he got a good look at the man holding it. Tall, wide, dressed in dungarees and a rough shirt, along with a heavy coat and boots, the man had a wild red beard and a mass of curly, brownish-red hair. Set deep in the brush were a pair of twinkling green eyes.
He nodded, kept moving backward. He should have kept his old nag instead of going for supplies. He should have listened to his Pa when the man called him a durned fool for leaving the fields.
"You're gonna land on your butt, son." Sure enough, his down-at-the-heel boot clunked against a rock, nearly sending him sprawling. "What are you doing here?"
"Like I said. I was headed west. Hoping to get work. Maybe work some land." Maybe work the rails with the Chinamen. Something. Anything.
"Uh-huh. Well, and like I said, you'll never make it to the next town before hard frost." God damn it if the first flake of snow didn't fall on his nose right then, breaking through the trees.
He bit back his sigh, his worry. "I knew I shoulda kept that nag..."