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Anyone who likes westerns must read this Author. You can feel the pain of a bullet, smell the spent cartridge, feel the horse under you, sweat in the relentless desert sun, and feel the coolness of a cold beer in the saloon. The Copper City has clever twists in the tale that keep you guessing until the end. A must read.

                    Mike Eastwood

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©2010 C.J.S.Wilson

Chris Scott Wilson                   Writer                                             

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THE COPPER CITY

ONE

He heard them coming long before he saw them.

   Quantro avoided looking directly into the embers of the fire, in order to retain his night vision. It was necessary in the rich darkness of the Sierra Madre Mountains of Sonora, Old Mexico. He had draped a blanket, poncho-style, around his shoulders to ward away the chills of the night, but now he shrugged it off and came to his feet. The Winchester rested snugly in his hands, capable, reassuring as he stepped out of the firelight and into the darkness.

   The horses were close now. A hoof chipped against rock.       Quantro eased into the shadows with a caution born of experience. A thick pine speared up into the night. It provided cover. While one hand rested on the coarse bark, the other leveled the rifle toward the gateway of the clearing. They would come in that way. It was the only route open to riders.

   He waited.

   His face, once young, was now aged beyond his years. He had been both the hunter and the hunted. It showed. Only the long blond hair that crept from under his Stetson to curl lazily on to his shoulders hinted at the last traces of youth. Instead of laughter lines, hard score-marks bordered the edges of his mouth, making him appear even gaunter. The eyes were ice-blue, steady.

   The big buckskin stallion snickered softly, ears up. It shifted weight from one hoof to another, as though poised to flee, but its nostrils were flared, an indication of its wild temper.

Quantro smiled, squinting into the night.

One moment the clearing was empty, and the next they were there.

   “Anyone here?” the first rider said, craning as he scanned the stand of trees that ringed the campfire. His rifle rested negligently over his saddle horn. He was an older man, leathery-faced, his beard flecked with grey. Quantro saw the man’s fingers were inside the rifle’s trigger-guard. He was taking no chances. When nobody answered, the old man sniffed. “I said is anybody there?”

   Quantro chuckled in the darkness. “Coffee’s on the fire, Pete.”

   The older man’s face cracked into a smile and he relaxed visibly. He turned to the Indian girl sitting her pony behind him. “Sure is friendly, ain’t he?”

   White-Wing’s eyes swung from Pete Wiltshire to the man who emerged from the trees. This was the man she had left her people to be with. She was a Chiricahua Apache, one of a small band that had escaped confinement on the reservation at San Carlos to hide out in the Mother Mountains, the blue Sierra Madre, on the head-waters of the Bavispe River in Mexico. There they had found peace from the rurales who hunted them from one side, and the Americans who hunted them from the other. And now she had left them for this blanco, this gringo she had nursed back to health. After he had been shot, she had snatched him back from the very talons of death, watching him grow stronger each day. She had taught him Apache and bastardized Spanish, and with whom she had come to find the meaning of love.

   It was why she was here.

   “Climb down, Pete, and sit a spell.” Quantro stalked back to the fire, then stooped to shake the coffee-pot. Somehow, he couldn’t face looking at the girl. He had deserted her, deciding it was best to leave her with her own people, where she belonged, rather than taking her out of Mexico with him. His own future lay back across the border and, attracted to her though he was, he knew she could only be a burden to him. But, as she had that time by the pool, it seemed she had again contradicted his decision almost as quickly as he made it. If they hadn’t been interrupted, he would surely have succumbed to her charms. He was aware of his own powerful feelings for her, but something in him bridled that she should take matters a man should decide into her own hands. As he crouched by the fire, pouring coffee, he glanced sideways at her. Angry as he was, he was still glad she was here. Since he had ridden away from the Apache camp, he had felt lonely. That in itself was crazy. It had only been a few hours, and in the two years before Pete had found him dying on the Devil’s Plateau, not far from EI Camino del Diablo, The Devil’s Road, in Arizona Territory, Quantro had been almost constantly alone, riding his solitary mission of vengeance.

   Like all trails of vengeance, it had run in circles. After killing the last of the four men responsible for his parents’ murder, he had himself been hunted down by the man’s son. To stay alive, he had killed the boy, but not before being badly wounded himself. Then Pete had found him, and White-Wing had attended his sickbed.

   “How’d you figure it was us?” Pete asked, squatting to wrap his hands around the hot tin mug.

Quantro grinned. “When I stopped at the head of the pass just before sundown, I saw the horses behind me. Who else would it be?”

   “What about Crawling-Snake?”

   “One day it’ll be him coming up behind me, but not today. I reckon he must be in a bad way after White-Wing used my rifle on him.”

   Pete sipped at his coffee then sniffed. “Heard his face didn’t look all too pretty either.”

   Quantro said nothing, remembering Crawling-Snake’s face when the fish-hook caught in the corner of his eye, then gouged a zigzag trail down his cheek. The blood had poured into the clear water of the creek where they’d fought. The Apache hadn’t been the most handsome of men before, and he certainly wouldn’t be now.

   “And now?” Pete asked, eyeing the younger man’s closed face.

   Quantro sighed and looked across the fire. “I’d figured on going back up to Colorado and finding me a job. I want a ranch, so I can carry on where my father left off.”

   “Buying ranches costs a whole heap of money.”

   “I know, but I’ll do it some way.”

   “Bounty hunting, like before?”

Quantro shook his head. “No, that’s over. I only took the bounties on those killers because it paid the way to get the others. I was just lucky they were already wanted.”

   “You need another way now.”

   Quantro looked over his shoulder to White-Wing. She had already picketed the two riding ponies alongside the buckskin and was now unloading the packhorse. Although still irritated at her taking the notion to follow him, he still took pleasure in watching the way she moved, her strong thighs straining against her doeskin dress as she heaved supplies down from the pony’s back. He remembered her standing naked before him at the creek, only seconds before Crawling-Snake had jumped him…

   “She’s your woman now,” Pete said.

   “She’s nobody’s woman,” Quantro said flatly, angry at himself for dredging up memories that could only weaken his resistance towards her obvious attractions. Taking a squaw into white man’s country could only spell trouble with a capital T.

   “You’re wrong, Quantro. She’d made up her mind you were the man for her, and then when you beat Crawling-Snake you only set her mind more solid on wanting you.”

   “Well, she’ll have to change it.”

   Pete chuckled. “Then you don’t know Apache girls. She’ll follow you to the ends of the earth, but in the end she’ll catch up with you.”

   “Wouldn’t place money on that.”

   “I would.”

   Quantro shrugged, somehow liking the idea she would go to those lengths for him, yet he was reluctant to take on the responsibility of her. Again, his eyes strayed to where she was working and, as he watched, she finished caring for the ponies and came by the fire. She crouched next to him, her dark eyes resting heavily on his conscience. What the hell.

   “Okay, Pete, so I’ll accept there’s the three of us from now on. Where do we go from here?”

   Pete swallowed a mouthful of coffee, then pursed his lips.  “Been thinkin’ some.”

   Quantro watched has face. “Yeah?”

   Pete’s eyes met his. “Ever been to Cananea?”

   “Cananea?”

   “A town. Me and Wild-Horse brought you by there when you were wounded. You were too far gone to pay much attention. It’s a mining town. Built on copper. There’ll be jobs there hauling ore, or a man with your talents with a gun could work as a guard.”

   “My pistolero days are over.”

   “Pays better than cowpunching. You want a ranch you have to go where the money is. ’Sides, just because you’re a guard doesn’t mean you have to go ’round shooting holes in everybody, you just have to look like you can use a gun.”

   “If you brought me past there, then Cananea’s on the way north?” Quantro asked, reckoning the route.

   “Sure is.”

   “Suppose it can’t do any harm to take a look-see.”

   “Can’t do us any harm at all,” Pete agreed.

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