Slocum 427: Slocum And The Pack Of Lies by Jake LoganSlocum 427: Slocum And The Pack Of Lies by Jake Logan

Slocum 427: Slocum And The Pack Of Lies

byJake Logan

Mass Market Paperback | August 26, 2014

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about

When it comes to revenge, Slocum is the real deal.

After a shoot-out in Harrison’s Crossing takes their guide out of commission, Slocum finds himself the unlikely escort to a pair of helpless Easterners. Lily-livered writer Rory Randolph and his beautiful secretary, Melissa, are penning the misadventures of not-yet-notorious outlaw Will Stringfellow—and the slandered crook wants to see his biographers scalped.
 
Now it’s up to Slocum to save his companions from a fate worse than fiction and prevent an all-out war of the words…
Jake Logan is the author of the long-running Slocum western series, featuring the adventures of gunslinger John Slocum.
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Title:Slocum 427: Slocum And The Pack Of LiesFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:192 pages, 7 × 4.25 × 0.5 inPublished:August 26, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0515154903

ISBN - 13:9780515154900

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The air filled with billows of white gun smoke, and dust kicked up as Slocum thrust about, fighting to get to his feet. Stringfellow backed away, still firing. His six-gun came up empty at the same instant Slocum’s did.1Sweat broke out on John Slocum’s forehead, and it wasn’t only because of the heat boiling from the potbellied stove a couple feet behind him. The saloon door was closed tight against the growing chill of a late Idaho autumn. Tobacco smoke billowed in thick clouds, choking some of the wranglers circling the table and watching the poker game.Slocum dropped his cards facedown on the table. There wasn’t any need to look at them again. Two pairs. Kings over eights with a solitary ace to keep them company. Not great, but he had to play the hand. Every cent he had earned over a season of working as a drover lay on the table. The tinhorn gambler across from him might have a better hand, but Slocum doubted it unless he tried cheating. With every move he made obvious to the entire crowd, the gambler had a hard time palming a card. The deal was done. Only playing—bluffing—was left.Slocum couldn’t fold, and the gambler knew it. If he did, he had no chance at winning back his wages. But the gambler had a few dollars left to raise. If Slocum couldn’t call, the pot was lost.“Well, now, partner,” the gambler drawled, “I think you don’t have squat in that hand of yours. Now me, well, I got a straight flush. No way am I gonna fold with that.”Slocum remained alert, watching the man’s long-fingered, almost effeminate hands as they restlessly moved the cards in his hand in an endless shuffle. A card hidden up a lace-trimmed cuff might be swapped for one of the pasteboards. Or a card slid back and dropped into the man’s lap so he could bend and pick up another, better card. Slocum’s eagle-eyed stare prevented any of that from happening. If he let the gambler cheat him now, it would be a long, hungry winter.He didn’t even want to consider that the gambler actually had a better hand. Whatever the tinhorn had, it wasn’t a straight flush, but it might be three of a kind. Or even a straight. Too many hands beat Slocum. But not this time. He read men well and the gambler wasn’t sure what he had.“I got three dollars left. I raise you the whole lot of these here greenbacks.” The gambler shoved forward the last of his money.Slocum kept his eyes on the gambler’s hands as he reached into his vest pocket and drew out his watch.“This is worth more than three dollars. I call.”“Wait, let me look.” The gambler reached across the table, his body momentarily hiding his hand. Slocum moved like a striking snake and shoved the gambler back into his chair so hard he skidded a foot away from the table.“One of you,” Slocum said, addressing the crowd, “pass the watch over to him so he can see it’s worth at least twenty dollars.”One of the eager onlookers did as requested. Slocum kept from smiling. The panicky look that flashed across the gambler’s face told the story. He was bluffing and had intended to improve his cards by sleight of hand.“Mighty fine-lookin’ watch, mister,” the cowboy said, and he let it spin a couple times before holding it out for the gambler.“It’ll do.”Slocum waited for the watch to go back to the pot. That watch was his brother’s legacy. Robert had been killed at the Angles during Pickett’s Charge. A downed soldier’s belongings were shared. Slocum was lucky the watch had made its way back, going from one veteran’s hand to another, to Slocum’s Stand in Calhoun, Georgia, where he could claim it. He had killed more than one man who thought to steal it, but now Slocum worried at the hint of desperation in his own behavior. If the gambler won, it would because Slocum had chosen to make the watch part of the bet.“Let’s see your cards.” Slocum turned over his hand, his eyes never leaving the gambler’s face. The flicker of fear that passed across it was quickly replaced with one of avarice.Slocum moved again like a striking snake, half coming out of his chair to slam his hand down hard on the gambler’s wrist. With his hand pinned to the table, the man couldn’t move. Slocum felt his muscles twitching in strain.“One of you boys, take his cards and show them to everybody.”“I’ll do it,” piped up the man who had examined the watch. He pulled the cards from the gambler’s grip. “Lookee there. Two pair.”Slocum looked down and saw the gambler’s cards. Jacks and tens.The gambler had lost.Slocum released the captive wrist and saw a third jack flutter from the sleeve to the sawdust-covered floor. He said nothing about it as he raked in the pot. The first thing he did was tuck away his watch and then start sorting out the greenbacks and coins on the table.With the suddenness of a lightning flash, the table went flying as a man crashed against it. Slocum grabbed a handful of bills. The rest of the pot scattered across the saloon floor, sending the crowd who had passively watched into action rooting through the sawdust like pigs at a trough.The gambler laughed. A sneer crossed his lips. He silently told Slocum he had lost—they both had. The saloon’s customers were the only winners in this game.Slocum stared down at the man struggling to keep his balance against the table. Then he looked through a gap in the crowd and saw a man all squared off and ready to throw down. He had a scar across his eyebrow that left a pink canyon amid a dark black brow and weathered forehead. A long, hooked nose curled above a bushy mustache, and lips pulled back like a feral wolf spotting dinner.“Ain’t nobody says that to me and lives,” the man growled. His voice had a rasp to it like a rusted file dragging across iron. His right hand twitched above the butt of a Colt .44.Slocum had seen men like this before. They took offense because it gave them a reason to kill. They would be just as happy wildly flinging lead in all directions to take a half-dozen lives, but they were cunning enough to realize that got them invited to a necktie party by the survivors. Singling out one man and killing him gave enough wiggle room so only family and devoted partners argued over the death.“You just cost me a hundred dollars,” Slocum said. He tucked away what money he had rescued from the table. The scrambling across the saloon floor continued unabated, telling him some of the pot—his pot—had yet to be harvested.“You butt out. This is ’tween me and that lily-livered, mangy liar. Nobody calls me what he did.”“Honest, I wasn’t talkin’ to you. It was my—”The gunman moved with a quick, smooth motion to draw his six-shooter. Slocum noted how comfortable the man was, how he reached across and fanned off a couple rounds. Given other circumstances, both rounds would have buried themselves in the victim’s gut. A man on hands and knees hunting for Slocum’s winnings bumped into the shooter’s leg and caused the second round to go astray.Slocum let out a yelp of pain as the slug tore through his hat brim and creased his skull. His head snapped back, and he fell hard to the floor. The room spun about him until he blinked his eyes and cleared his vision. With a head screaming from the painful wound, he pushed his way to his feet and wobbled just a little. This saved his life. The gunman fanned off another round in his direction. The slug dug another chunk from Slocum’s hat brim and exploded against the mirror behind the bar. This got the barkeep’s attention.“You’re payin’ fer that, mister!”Slocum braced himself against the bar. His hand went to the Colt Navy in his cross-draw holster and brought it around. His thumb caught the hammer and drew it back. His finger tightened on the trigger. A .36-caliber round blasted past one customer and hit the gunman in the left thigh. The man yelped and grabbed for the wound, but experience took over. He began firing as fast as he could in Slocum’s direction. The drunk rooting about on the floor for the dropped money chose that instant to rear up. This saved Slocum. The gunman’s bullet caught him in the back of the head.Blood and brains sprayed against Slocum’s duster.By now the crowd screamed and rushed about, dropped money forgotten. The cowboys tried to get behind overturned tables or flee through the front door. One fell through a window amid crashing glass. This brought the barkeep around, screaming. When he unlimbered a sawed-off shotgun, anyone with good sense dived for the floor. Slocum hit an instant before buckshot ripped through the spot where he had stood at the bar. He grunted as men tumbled atop him. He shoved them off and brought his six-gun up to get another shot at the gunman who had started the fracas.All Slocum saw was the man’s back as he retreated through the window that had just been busted out. Grunting, Slocum shoved his way back to his feet, only to find himself staring down the double barrels of the bartender’s scattergun.“Better lower that,” Slocum said in a low voice. He had faced death so many times he knew when to be scared. The barkeep was frightened and angry but not to the point he would do anything foolish like cut down a man who wasn’t threatening him.“You—you started all this! You’re gonna pay for it!”Slocum used the barrel of his Colt to move the shotgun away from dead center on his chest. The curiously gentle move did more to calm the bartender than if Slocum had spoken.“You started it!”“The man who gunned him down’s responsible.” Slocum tilted his head in the direction of the man who had crashed into the poker table. He lay sprawled on his back, deader than a doornail. “Who is he? A regular customer?”“Petey Hammersmith,” the barkeep said, standing on tiptoe to peer over the bar. As he stretched, he laid the shotgun down. Slocum shoved it away out of reach. “Damnation, who’s gonna tell his old lady he upped and got himself shot? They ain’t been married a year. She might need a powerful lot of consolin’.”“The other fella started it,” said the man who had examined the pocket watch and had been first to dive for spilled money. He clutched a few silver dollars in his grimy fist. “I think that was the outlaw the marshal’s been huntin’ fer.”“Somebody had better get the marshal,” Slocum said. He stepped away from the bar, winced as he peeled his hat brim away from his forehead. Blood oozing from the crease had already begun to dry but not enough to keep it from threatening Slocum’s vision if it trickled down past his eyebrow. A nearby bar rag sopped up the sluggish flow of blood from his head wound. Another inch lower and he would have been buried alongside Petey Hammersmith.“That outlaw fellow, he started it. Petey didn’t do nuthin’. He jist came in for a drink, nuthin’ more.”Slocum let the barkeep and the witnesses get their story straight. From what he had seen, the dead man had been the victim. He hadn’t worn a side arm, though he carried a hunting knife in a sheath at his right hip. Slocum stepped over a couple men who had returned to scrounging for dropped money and stood in the doorway.That almost cost him his life.Three shots tore into the door frame and showered him with splinters. He bent low and dived, skidding along the rough-hewn boardwalk until he found shelter behind a stack of crates. Pushing against them warned him he might be out of sight but wasn’t out of danger. The crates were empty. To prove what trouble he was in, another slug ripped through the box at his right and dug its way into the saloon wall.Chancing a quick look around the edge gave Slocum a view of the outlaw across the street, resting his hand against a hitching rail to get better aim. Without aiming, Slocum fired a couple rounds in the man’s direction not only to disturb his aim but to convince him to hightail it.Two more shots came in Slocum’s direction before the outlaw lit out. Slocum rose and aimed, firing once more. He missed. The next trip of the hammer smashing down produced a dull click. He was out of ammo. Cursing, he took time to reload. When he again carried a full cylinder, he hunted for any sign that the town marshal had arrived. All he saw was a man coming from an abandoned store to look around curiously.The scene fixed in Slocum’s brain as if it had been etched on metal.“Get down!” His warning fell on deaf ears.The outlaw fired and the inquisitive bystander sank to his knees, holding his side. Slocum ran into the street, firing as he went. He tried to aim but running and firing at the same time sent his lead flying about wildly. Skidding to a halt beside the wounded man gave him the chance to aim better. His final two rounds sent the outlaw scurrying away.“You hit bad?”“Been shot before,” the man grated out, “but nuthin’ like this. I feel all wet inside, like my innards are sloshin’ about.” He looked down to where blood oozed between his fingers. “Is this as bad as it looks?”“I’ll get you to the doctor.” Slocum reloaded as he sought cover. The outlaw was bound and determined to create more of a ruckus. Why didn’t he leave town?“Ain’t a doc within twenty miles. Harrison’s Crossing’s damned near a ghost town now that the railroad’s bypassed us. Ain’t nuthin’ here to keep folks around, ’cept a ranch or two.”“Quit talking,” Slocum ordered. He got his arm around the man’s shoulders and half dragged him back toward the empty store.Now that the man had pointed it out, Slocum saw that most of the buildings were empty. He had been coming through from Dillon on his way to Idaho Falls and hadn’t seen anything more than the Shot o’ Whiskey Saloon. He had gone in for a drink and found himself in the card game more than an hour back. Sightseeing on the way inside had been limited.“Might not have a marshal either.” The man coughed and wiped blood from his lips. “Heard tell he was thinkin’ on leavin’ for Pocatello. Has family there.”“Is Idaho Falls the closest town likely to have a sawbones?”“And a vet. And ’bout ever’thing else I’m gonna need. Like an undertaker. You see I get a proper burial, will you, mister?”“You’re not that badly shot up,” Slocum said. He pulled back the man’s shirt and tried to decide if he meant it. From the way the bullet had gone clean through, he probably did mean it. “Press down hard, front and back.”“Hurts like hell.”Slocum started to offer his opinion of what it would feel like dead when he heard movement at the rear of the building. He brought up his six-shooter, ready to shoot.“One moment, sir. Don’t fire!”Slocum frowned as the tall, well-built man stepped from the shadows. He wore fancy duds that cost more than Slocum had ever earned in a year as a cowboy. A flashy plum-colored velvet coat hung perfectly tailored over a gold brocade vest. Stiffly starched white ruffles billowed up at the throat like on some European prince. The man’s beige pants were a tad tight, and he wore shiny shoes instead of boots. All that kept Slocum from gunning him down was the way he held out his empty hands in front of him. That and his companion.Stepping from behind was about the loveliest woman Slocum had seen in a month of Sundays. She wore her raven-dark hair tucked under a bonnet. Her dress rivaled that of the man’s clothing in cost and style. Her pale face glowed with an intense inner light that almost lit up the dark interior. Ebony eyes fixed boldly on him, daring him—to do what? Where the man’s hands were empty, she clutched a notebook and a pencil.“You a reporter?” Slocum asked.“Ain’t a paper in Harrison’s Crossing. Ain’t been for danged near a year,” the wounded man got out. “If she’d been a reporter, the paper’d never have folded. Folks woulda bought a copy just to see her.”“I am Mr. Randolph’s amanuensis,” she said, using her pencil like a spear to stab at Slocum. Then she hastily scribbled something in the notebook.“What the hell’s that?”Slocum and the wounded man had spoken simultaneously. He had to laugh, in spite of the man’s condition.“What is that?” Slocum repeated.“Sir,” she said, fixing him with her direct gaze, “I am recording the life and times of the world’s greatest writer, Mr. Rory Randolph.”“Him? He’s Rory Randolph? Never heard of him.”“Am I to assume you have never heard of Will Stringfellow either?”“Can’t say that I have.” Slocum cast a quick look over his shoulder back into the street. “Is it Stringfellow who killed the man in the saloon and wounded him?” He pointed to the man sitting on the dirty floor, trying to keep from bleeding to death.“It certainly is, sir,” Randolph said. His voice boomed, bass and resonant, in the empty room. “He is the most notorious outlaw west of the Big River.”“And north of the Missouri,” the woman added.“Yes, and north of the Missouri. I have come to record his dastardly deeds.” Randolph paused and scowled. “It was made more difficult when I realized he knew of me.” The man cast a quick, guilty look at the woman. Slocum knew there was more here than they spoke of, but he cared more about the lead flying through the air—and taking the lives of innocent men all around him.“I don’t know about these things,” Slocum said, “but if he knew you, wouldn’t that make him more inclined to talk?”Four more slugs tore through the thin wall and drove Slocum forward. His arms circled the woman’s trim waist. He lifted and carried her to the floor, out of the line of fire. They came down in a pile, she struggling beneath him.“Stay down or you’ll get yourself ventilated,” he said.“Ventilated? See, Rory, the natives do speak that way.”“I surrender to your superior knowledge, my dear.” He bent at the waist to bow.Arching his back, Slocum reached up, grabbed a handful of ruffles, and yanked hard, bringing the man down to his knees and choking loudly as the fabric tightened around his neck.“You, too. If this Stringfellow is that mean an hombre, he won’t think twice about killing you, too.”Slocum noticed that the woman had stopped struggling and remained quietly under his weight. She looked up at him as if he were a side of beef being judged for quality and weight. He pushed away, sat, then scooted toward the doorway. He poked his six-shooter out and carefully scanned the street, moving from left to right for any sign of the murdering outlaw.“You tore my ruff.”Slocum looked back at the fancy man. Randolph tried to tuck his torn ruffles back into place.“You’re damned lucky you didn’t get your sack blown off,” he said. “Keep your head down.”“Are you going after him?” The woman came up behind Slocum, staying on hands and knees, oblivious to the damage done to her expensive dress.“I would,” Slocum said, “but I’ve got more important things to do.”“There is quite a reward on Stringfellow’s head,” she said. “Wouldn’t a hundred dollars entice you to track him down?”“I’d do it for nothing,” Slocum said. “He shot me and put a couple holes in my Stetson. I paid twelve dollars for this hat.” He took off the hat and thrust a finger through the hole in the brim, then moved to the one through the crown.“Oh, you’re injured.” She reached out and touched his scalp. His yelp made her pull back abruptly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you further.”“Here,” Slocum said, reaching into his pocket for his handkerchief. “Wipe the blood off your fingers.”“I’ve never seen a man who’s been shot before.”“Here’s your chance to see one up close.”She started to dab at his scalp but he pushed her away.“Him. He’s the one who needs help.” He pointed at the man who had taken Stringfellow’s bullet through his gut.“Oh, yes, of course.”“Do you have a horse? Can you ride?” Slocum asked the wounded man.“Might be hard for me. Got a wagon out back all hitched up fer these people. I used to run the general store here and was only comin’ back to collect a debt from Gus over at the Shot o’ Whiskey. Never got that far ’fore . . .”Slocum didn’t see Stringfellow anywhere outside. The outlaw finally had burned through his streak of mean and realized running was better than remaining behind. The wounded shopkeeper looked pale but strong enough for a trip. The woman, for her part, gamely pressed Slocum’s handkerchief into the wound, oblivious to the blood. Rory Randolph looked a little green around the gills at the sight of blood but otherwise was unharmed.“I’ll load you into the wagon, get my horse, and we’ll head out right away for Idaho Falls. We can make it before nightfall.”“That’s pushin’ harder than I might be able to tolerate. But settin’ ’round jawin’ ’bout it’s not gettin’ me to a doctor.”Slocum slid his six-gun into its holster, lifted the shopkeeper, and went to the back door. He kicked it open, paused to be sure Stringfellow hadn’t circled and laid an ambush, then helped the man to the back of the wagon. With a shuddery sigh, the man stretched out on a pile of empty burlap sacks amid crates of supplies that weighed down the wagon something fierce.“I could go to sleep here and now,” he said. “But I still feel all liquid inside, so we’d better get on the road.”“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Slocum said after checking the supplies. The wagon carried enough food for a month’s trip into the mountains. Nowhere, though, did he find what he sought.Slocum edged around the building, then went to the saloon, where he had left his horse. The men inside argued over what had happened. Slocum leaned over the bar and grabbed a full bottle of whiskey.“Medicine,” he explained to the barkeep. Before the man could ask for payment, Slocum left.He stashed the bottle in his saddlebags and rode around to the back of the abandoned store. With a quick cinch, he fastened his pinto’s reins to the back of the wagon, then settled down in the driver’s box. He started to snap the reins to get the team pulling when he heard sounds behind. He turned, hand going for his six-shooter.“May I ride with you, sir? Thank you.” The woman climbed up and pressed close to him.“What about him?” Slocum jerked his thumb back toward Rory Randolph.“He is quite at home in the saddle. This gives him so much more experience to write about.”“You’re not coming along.”“If you don’t get the team pulling, we’ll be here all day long,” she said. Her warm hand rested on Slocum’s thigh and squeezed down suggestively.Against his better instincts, Slocum got the two lop-eared mules moving along the road to Idaho Falls, the woman beside him muttering to herself, the wounded man in the wagon bed groaning at every bump in the road, and the dandy riding along behind too far back to be heard. No circus had ever presented a stranger sight.2“It’s good of you to drive Mr. Merriman like this,” the dark-haired woman said. She eyed Slocum boldly, as if daring him to disagree.“How is it you know his name? I thought you just blundered into the back of the building when the shooting started.”“Oh, no, I hired him. Rather, Mr. Randolph hired him as a guide. Mr. Merriman used to own that store, but when the town went belly up, he relocated to Idaho Falls.”“Then we’re taking him home. Good.”“Does that matter to you? That he will be with his people?” She sounded genuinely surprised at the idea.“I’m not going to care for him. Are you?”“Why, no, of course not. He is merely an employee. His welfare is of some concern, especially considering how he was shot, but I—Mr. Randolph, that is—have no stake in nursing him back to health.”“He’s laid in quite a larder back there,” Slocum said, casting a quick glance over his shoulder at the man slumped between the crates. For a moment his and the woman’s faces were only inches apart. She didn’t move. He did.“We anticipated a grand hunt that would require a considerable amount of time in the field.”“What were you after?”“Mr. Randolph wanted to track down the very man who shot up the town. Will Stringfellow. It is quite a coincidence that we found him so quickly and didn’t require Mr. Merriman’s frontier guidance.”“He’s a storekeeper, not a scout.”“You can tell that by looking at him? Fascinating. What are the clues?”“Pasty face. He spends most of his time indoors. He’s not bowlegged so he’s not accustomed to riding a horse for weeks on end.” Slocum gee-hawed and got the mules pulling in concert. The one on the left balked while the animal on the right kept pulling. They would have turned in circles if he didn’t fight them constantly. “More than that, I don’t see a rifle or six-shooter anywhere. He’s not packing an iron and his right hip’s not all shiny from wearing a holster.”“Ah, yes, I understand. The rubbing of a holster against his hip would wear down the cloth. You are quite observant, sir. May I ask your name?”“John Slocum.”“I am Melissa Benton.”“The amanuensis to the gussied-up dude back there.”“I see that I must be careful what I say and do around you, Mr. Slocum. Your memory is quite extraordinary. Or may I call you John? You don’t miss a detail.”“Some I do,” he said. “I have no idea what that fancy word means.”“I record things for Rory. He is such a fine writer. In many ways he is like you.” She put her hand on his arm to quiet him. “I mean that he is quite expert at what he does, just as you are at your profession. I take you to be a scout. For the cavalry?”“Done that. Spent the summer wrangling cattle. So you’re a secretary?” Melissa bristled a mite at this, then forced herself to relax.“That is so. I make speaking engagements for him and see that he is there on time.”“Reckon you write what he says, too.” This produced an even more pronounced reaction. She scooted away a few inches and stared straight down the road before answering.“Why do you say that?”“I’ve listened to snake oil salesmen and barkers of all kinds. Randolph doesn’t have their gift of gab. He couldn’t convince me to take a drink of cool water if I’d been in the desert for a week.”“His speeches leave something to be desired, but he is a tremendously talented writer. His books sell thousands of copies.”“Why were you after Stringfellow? From everything I’ve seen, he’s a cold-blooded killer and not the sort to spill his guts to the likes of Randolph.”“Oh, men such as Stringfellow might begin as closemouthed and suspicious, but with proper incentives, they willingly tell of their adventures. They want to be known. They want the fame being in one of Rory’s books can bring them. Trust me on this. I know. I’ve seen it many times.”“Then Randolph steals their stories and makes a fortune off selling them?”Melissa laughed, but little humor came through what should have been a musical sound.“You have such a delightfully primitive way of expressing yourself, John. Outlaws such as Stringfellow would be unknown if it weren’t for writers like Rory popularizing their exploits.”“You said that Stringfellow’s got a reward on his head. The right people know all about him.”“Do you mean the law? We will certainly interview any marshal who captures such a notorious outlaw. That would be an exciting part of the saga, virtue triumphing over lawlessness.”“I’ve been in these parts for close to seven months and I never heard of Will Stringfellow before today. That’s not too notorious.”“He has fled from crimes committed farther east, where he is very well known. We rode up the Missouri in a riverboat, then took the train northward in our hunt for him. I can say without question Stringfellow’s exploits are the most popular of any Rory has written.”Slocum let that roll around in his head as he worked the mule team. The road turned increasingly rocky. Avoiding the larger stones made an easier ride in the back for the wounded man. Slocum kept an ear cocked for Merriman’s occasional moans that let him know life still pulsed through the veins. The steepness of the incline and the slowness of the mules began to eat away at Slocum. It wasn’t possible to get Merriman to Idaho Falls today. They were heading due south and the sun had already dipped behind distant mountains, threatening twilight in a matter of an hour. Even a second day on the road might not be long enough.“What are you thinking, John? You have a pensive look.”“He’s not getting any better, and the town’s a ways off. I might ride on into Idaho Falls and fetch the doctor to save your guide the rest of the trip. Being bounced around back there’s not doing him any good.”“What? You’d leave us alone out on the prairie?” The outrage from the writer startled Slocum.He looked to his left. He hadn’t noticed Rory Randolph riding so close that he overheard everything being said.“We’d be sitting ducks out here.” The expression on Randolph’s face would have been comical if there hadn’t been such a hint of pure panic mixed in with the outrage.“I’ve heard of some Cree Indians in the area. They were run off their land up in Canada and are waiting for the chance to sneak back north. I don’t see them as a problem.”“Indians? Redskins and outlaws? You can’t leave us like that, not with an injured man who might die at any moment.”Slocum started to tell the writer what he thought about his attitude, but Melissa put her hand on his arm and silenced him.