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Ranger Andy Pickard and his partner, Logan Daggett, are sent to central Texas to investigate a series of killings and cattle thefts. The two biggest cattlemen in the area blame each other for the violence, but it seems to Andy that neither man may be guilty. The case is complicated by the rise of a gang of "regulators" - masked vigilantes - and the arrival of a notorious hired gunman whose employer is unknown.
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Elmer Kelton (1926-2009) was the award-winning author of more than forty novels, including The Time It Never Rained, Other Men's Horses, 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.:
Andy Pickard had often considered leaving the Texas Rangers. His young wife, Bethel, had been urging him to take up the more stable life of a stockman, or even a storekeeper—anything that would keep him close to home. Now he almost wished he had given in to her, for his sergeant had assigned him to hunt down a lowly sneak thief. Not only that, but he was sending a stranger with Andy in the search.
It seemed a waste of two Rangers’ time to trail after the likes of Jasper Biggs when murderers and horse thieves roamed the land. But Sergeant Ryker had wearied of hearing complaints about the man’s petty larceny. He said, “We need to slam the cell door on this chicken-stealin’ tramp. I’m sendin’ Logan Daggett with you. Do you know him?”
“Never met him,” Andy said without enthusiasm, “but I’ve heard of him. I reckon everybody has.”
Daggett had a long record with the Rangers, not all of it positive. Stories indicated that he had a short fuse and was given to sudden violence. He considered consequences later, if at all.
By contrast, Andy liked to think things through before jumping into deep water, weighing the costs against the gain. After giving most of his youth to Ranger service, he felt he was due a little extra consideration. He said, “It’d suit me better to ride with somebody I know, like Len Tanner.”
His comment appeared to annoy the sergeant. He was used to a quick “Yes, sir,” when he gave an order. “I’ve sent Tanner off on another job. Daggett just got into camp last night, so he’s available.”
Andy said, “They say he’s too quick to go on the fight.”
Ryker’s narrowed eyes hinted at sarcasm. “And you’ve sometimes been a little slow about it. I figure you should be a good team, makin’ up for each other’s weaknesses.”
In Andy’s view, Jasper Biggs was a two-bit night-prowling scavenger. He said, “This looks like a job for some deputy sheriff to do in his spare time. It shouldn’t take two of us. I could handle it by myself, easy.”
“If you could locate him. But he’s at home down in those Llano River oak and cedar thickets. Logan is a good tracker, and I’ve seen that you’re not.”
Andy admitted, “There’s things I do better.”
“Most of Logan’s service has been up on the plains. Lately he got into an unpleasant incident at Tascosa. Took a bullet in his leg. They transferred him down here so he wouldn’t take another in the back.”
An unpleasant incident. That did not bode well, Andy thought. He wondered what Daggett had done, but he would not ask. “Which of us will be in charge?”
Andy thought of Bethel. This might be the time to quit, as she had long wanted. She would fret about him the whole time he was gone. Anyway, this seemed too piddling a mission for someone with his record of service. Maybe it was a sign that they were gradually edging him out. The state’s money counters were always trying to cut expenses.
Ryker recognized Andy’s reluctance. He said, “This’ll give your bride a chance to rest. She probably gets more sleep when she has her bed to herself.”
Andy’s face warmed. What went on between him and Bethel was personal. They had bought a modest parcel of land on the Guadalupe River near Kerrville, and she had been pressing him to build a house on it so they could be together all the time. But he wanted to give her something better than a one-room shack. He wanted a livestock operation large enough to provide her a comfortable living. He was managing to bank some of his Ranger wages and an occasional reward, but the process of accumulation was slower than he liked.
He doubted there would be much, if any, reward for Biggs. The man’s crimes were more nuisance than hardship for his victims, though Ryker said he had recently been discovered burglarizing a farm house at night. He had struck the owner with a chunk of stove wood before escaping into the dark.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of him resorting’ to violence,” the sergeant said. “It may mean he’s gone a little crazy. Hermits like him are usually halfway down that hill anyhow. We’ve got to bring him in before he hurts somebody real bad.”
That put a different complexion on the situation. Andy had assumed Biggs was simply lazy, though he probably worked harder at his minor thievery than if he had a conventional job, and gained less for his efforts. Even other men of the outlaw stripe looked down on him for his limited ambition.
Andy was headquartered in a company tent camp on the San Saba River near Fort Cavetto. He spent his off time, limited though it was, with Bethel in a small frame house he rented at the edge of the village. She heard his horse and came out to stand on the front step, a wisp of a woman still in her mid-twenties. The wind tugged gently at her brown hair and ruffed the apron tied around her narrow waist. Looking at her after an absence took his breath away. Leaving her was always difficult.
She had developed an uncanny knack of reading his mind. With a slight tone of impatience she asked, “How long will you be gone this time?”
That was a question he could seldom answer with certainty. Some assignments were short. Others dragged on and on. He said, “No longer than I have to. I’d be obliged for something’ to eat before I report back to camp.” He paused, striving for his most persuasive voice. “No telling’ when I’ll get another meal that’s half as good as what you fix.”
Despite herself, she allowed a tiny smile to escape. She still reacted warmly to compliments. “Tie up your horse, and I’ll see what scraps I can find in the kitchen.” She tiptoed, inviting a kiss.
While bustling about the small iron stove, she asked, “Who are they sending you after this time? Is he somebody I should worry about?”
He said, “He’s a grubby, low-life thief who lives like a coyote down in the thickets. They claim he’s too much of a coward to be dangerous.”
“They say it’s the cowards you have to watch the most. They come at you when you’re not looking.”
He said, “I always watch out for myself.” He started to add that it was not in his plan for her to become a widow, but he left the thought unspoken. It might cause her to worry more, knowing that such a notion had even crossed his mind.
She baked biscuits, fried a thick slice of ham, and heated beans left over from yesterday. He could hardly take his eyes from her while she worked. Mentally he cursed Biggs for causing him to leave. But if not for Biggs, he would be going out to hunt for someone else. The desk-bound accountants in Austin could not abide seeing a Ranger idle.
Finished eating, he carried his plate and utensils to a tin pan on top of the cabinet. There, not entirely by accident, he bumped against Bethel as she put away the leftover biscuits. He folded his arms around her tiny waist. “I don’t want to go,” he said.
She smiled. “Then stay a while. Tell them your horse broke the bridle reins and ran away.”
“He’s too well trained. He never does that.”
“I could run him off.”
“He’d come right back.”
Mischief sparkled in her eyes. “Then just lie to them a little.”
He tightened his hold and kissed her. “I can do that.”
Andy rode back into Ranger camp in time for supper. He found Ryker waiting, standing beside a dark-skinned, muscular man whose full mustache was mostly dark but speckled with gray. Logan Daggett stood half a head taller than Andy, and broader across the shoulders.
Ryker asked, “Did you leave her happy?”
Andy said, “I tried to.”
Ryker introduced him to Daggett, then said, “Andy’s got him a young wife. It’s hard to juggle Ranger duty with a new marriage. You’re not married, are you?”
Daggett answered solemnly, “Was once.” It was clear that he did not intend to expand on that statement, and Ryker did not press the question.
Daggett asked Andy, “This man Biggs, do you know him?”
“Saw him one time, is all.”
Biggs had been picked up in a Ranger sweep through the oak and cedar thickets along the Llano River and its tributaries. Like a little fish tossed back into the water, he was accorded scant notice compared to men whose names were written in the Rangers’ fugitive books for serious breaches of the law. He was released with a strong suggestion that he henceforth seek honest employment, and in some distant state. He had not, of course.
Andy said, “The last I heard, he was living’ in the brush.” The thickets were a haven for men who sought solitude.
Daggett said, “I hate that brushy country. Always makes me feel closed in. I like the open plains, where a man don’t feel like he’s been’ smothered to death.”
As they saddled fresh horses, Andy noticed that Daggett had a pronounced limp. The Ranger swore under his breath as he put his weight on the right leg and lifted his left foot to the stirrup. The wound was still giving him pain.
Andy asked him, “Are you sure you’re up to the ride?”
Daggett reacted negatively to the question. He said, “Never show them any weakness, or they’ll come and get you.”
They set out southeastward on a wagon road that led toward the town of Junction on the Llano River. A Ranger pack mule followed as it had been trained to do. Daggett hardly spoke. Andy wondered what was going on behind those hooded eyes, but Daggett gave him no clue. Andy introduced him to the Kimble County sheriff. The lawman was mildly amused by their mission. He said, “Big...
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Book Description Thorndike Press, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111410432254