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Nothing stirs up emotions in Texas like men stealing other men's horses. Texas Ranger Andy Pickard is assigned what seems to be a routine duty. West Texas horse trader Donley Bannister has killed a thug named Cletus Slocum who stole one of his horses. Ranger Pickard is to find and arrest Bannister, and bring him to trial. But the case turns out to be anything but routine: When Pickard finds him holed up with some cohorts, Bannister saves the Ranger's life.
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Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Texas Standoff and Hard Trail to Follow. He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, and earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas. His first novel, Hot Iron, was published in 1956. Among his awards have been seven Spurs from Western Writers of America and four Western Heritage awards from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. His novel The Good Old Boys was made into a television film starring Tommy Lee Jones. In addition to his novels, Kelton worked as an agricultural journalist for 42 years, and served in the infantry in World War II. He died in 2009.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Cletus Slocum stole Donley Bannister’s best horse and crippled it. Now Slocum lay facedown in the dirt, as dead as he would ever be.
Bannister was known locally as a horse trader, .nding them in faraway places and bringing them to the West Texas hill country for sale. He could recognize a good horse as far as he could see it, and spot a blemish from .fty yards. He loved horses as other men might love a woman. The blue roan, he thought, was one of the best he had ever owned.
The four Slocum brothers— three now that Cletus was gone— also had a reputation for knowing good horses, stealing them when and where they could. They had gone unpunished because law of.cers had not been able to bring a strong case to court. It was dif.cult to persuade a witness to testify against one of them, knowing that to do so was to invite an unfriendly visit by the other three.
Bannister did not wait for the law to act. He pursued Cletus across the rockiest ground along the South Llano River. He caught up with him when the roan stumbled and went down, breaking a foreleg. While witness Willy Pegg trembled and begged for his own life, Bannister put an end to Cletus’s dubious career. He felt no remorse over the man, but his heart was heavy with pain when he shot the crippled roan.
Riding back to Junction, he stopped at a modest frame house he shared with his wife Geneva. While he hastily gathered a few necessities for travel, he told her, “I just killed Cletus Slocum. It was a fair .ght. You stay put here till I come back. Don’t try to follow me.”
Thoughtfully, he left her some money. Not so thoughtfully, he neglected to kiss her good- bye before he rode away. Afterward, though she often thought about that oversight, he never did.
Andy Pickard stood in the open boxcar door, feeling through his boots the rumble of steel wheels against the rails. Wisps of coal smoke burned his eyes as he watched West Texas hills roll by at more than thirty miles an hour. He wished he were heading home. Instead, the train was carry ing him farther and farther from his new wife.
He sometimes wondered why he had decided to rejoin the Texas Rangers. There were less stressful ways to make a living. He had had more than enough of farming, walking all day behind a plow and a mule, taking verbal abuse from a cranky brother- in- law. He wanted to raise livestock, for that was something he could do on horse back, but a decent start in ranching required money. He did not yet have enough. Rangering seemed his best option for now. He regretted that it often took him too far and kept him too long away from Bethel.
He turned to a stall where his black horse stood tied, feet braced against the pull of the train’s forward motion. He said, “At least you’re gettin’ to ride most of the way. Bannister’s horse had to take it all on foot.”
The Ranger of.ce in Fort Worth had received a wire saying that Donley Bannister was seen in the West Texas railroad town of Colorado City. Andy happened to be in Fort Worth to deliver a prisoner. He had been dispatched to apprehend Bannister and bring him back to stand trial for shooting Cletus Slocum.
At least the disagreement had been about something worthwhile, Andy thought. Too many men had been killed quarreling over such trivial matters as whiskey, cards, or dance hall girls. A horse was a different matter. A good horse might well justify a righ teous killing.
Extension of rails across the state had given Ranger ef.ciency a strong boost in these early 1880s. No matter how fast he traveled, a fugitive could not outrun the telegraph, and now he had to contend with the railroad as well. Rangers could put their horses on a train and cover distances in hours that would otherwise keep them in the saddle for days. They could move ahead of a .eeing suspect and cut him off or at least rush to wherever he had last been seen and shorten his lead. That was Andy’s mission on this trip.
To the best of his knowledge, he had never seen Bannister. He had a physical description of the man, however, in the handwritten fugitive book he carried in his pocket: tall, husky, with pale gray eyes and a small scar on his left cheekbone where a mule had once kicked him. Probably a bit crazy too. A kick in the head could do that to a man, and nothing could kick harder than a mule.
The train chugged to a stop at a siding beside a tower upon which stood a large wooden water tank. Andy climbed down to stretch his aching legs and beheld the largest windmill he had ever seen. He judged its wheel to be twenty feet across, maybe twenty- .ve. Locomotive boilers required a lot of water to produce steam. The windmill, vital to the railroads, had also done much to open up large areas of West Texas for settlement by farmers and ranchers. They provided water where nature had neglected to do so.
He had recently placed a smaller mill over a hand- dug well on acreage he had bought in the hill country west of San Antonio. Someday, when he had saved enough, he planned to resign from the Rangers again, build a house beside the windmill and move there with Bethel. It was a good grass country for cattle, and several people had brought in sheep. Andy had no prejudice against woolies. They seemed to thrive so long as their own er could .ght off the wolves and coyotes and bobcats. These had a strong taste for lambs.
The thought of Bethel brought both warmth and pain. Stationed in a Ranger camp near a former army post town, Fort McKavett, he had rented a small house at the edge of the settlement. There she was able to grow a garden and raise chickens. He had spent nights with her when he was not away on duty. He realized this was not the customary way for a young couple to begin married life. Too often he had to kiss her good- bye and ride away without knowing when he might return. Looking back, which he always did, he would see her small .gure standing there, waving, watching him until he was beyond sight.
He had warned her at the beginning that as a Ranger’s wife she would spend many days and nights alone, waiting, wishing. But he wondered if she had fully understood how often she would have only a .ock of chickens and a brown dog for company. He even wondered if he should have put off marriage until he could provide her with a more stable home. But both had waited a long time already, almost beyond endurance.
He hoped he could capture the fugitive quickly and get back to her. A dispatch had indicated that Bannister could probably make a strong case for self- defense if he had stayed in Junction and faced trial. But he had chosen to run, so he was playing hell with Andy’s married life.
The train’s black- uniformed conductor walked down the line after seeing that the boiler was properly .lled. Pulling out his pocket watch and checking the time, he said, “We’ll be pullin’ out in a couple of minutes, Ranger. Ought to be in Colorado City in an hour.”
“Good,” Andy said. “The sooner there, the sooner I can get my business done and go home.”
The conductor gave him a quizzical smile. “I’ll bet you’ve got a young wife waitin’ for you. That’d account for your constipated look.”
Andy’s face warmed. “I didn’t know it showed.”
“I know the signs from personal experience. Seems like I’ve been married since I was six years old.”
Andy asked, “How do you handle it, bein’ away from home so much?”
“Home these days is what ever train I happen to be on.”
“You don’t miss bein’ with your wife?”
Thoughtfully the conductor said, “Son, the .re burns hot when you .rst get married, but then it cools down. There’s times you start feelin’ crowded. You look for a reason to get away for a while, and she’s just as anxious to be shed of you.”
“It won’t be that way for me and Bethel.”
“It will. Nature works it out like that to keep married couples from killin’ one another.” The conductor frowned. “You ain’t told me, but I suspect you’re after a man. Is he dangerous?”
“I just know that he’s charged with murder.”
“Then he’s dangerous. And you’re .xin’ to tackle him by yourself?”
“He’s just one man.”
“If I was you, and I had a young wife waitin’ for me, I’d .nd a safer way to make a livin’.”
Bethel had not said much directly, but Andy had sensed that she felt as the conductor did. One of these days, when he could afford to buy more land and the livestock to put on it...
The train slowly picked up speed. Andy watched the telephone poles going by. A line had been strung alongside the tracks all the way from Fort Worth. It didn’t seem logical to him that progress could advance much farther. Just about everything conceivable had already been invented.
Colorado City was mostly new, an offspring of the railroad as it had advanced westward. When the boxcar was centered in front of a loading chute, Andy led the black horse down the ramp to a water trough. A little Mexican packmule followed like a faithful dog. After both animals had drunk their .ll, Andy rode up the street toward the court house. It was customary for a Ranger to call upon local peace of.cers unless there was a reason not to, such as a suspicion that they were in league with the lawbreakers. That was not the case here.
Andy introduced himself to the sheriff, a middle- aged man with graying hair and an expanding waistline. The sheriff said, “I got a call that you’d be on the train. I thought they’d send an older, more experienced man.”
“I’m old enough. What’s the latest about Donley Bannister?”
“Nothin’ much more than what I wired your captain...
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Book Description Thorndike Press, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB1410422356
Book Description Thorndike Press, 2010. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1410422356