Chris Scott Wilson Writer
The buzzard hung in the sky like an omen.
An omen of death.
With one eye half open Quantro watched the buzzard draw lazy circles above him, wingtips wide like splayed fingers stroking the rising air currents of the endless blue sky. He wondered how the hungry bird knew he lay in this hole in the ground, but then he understood buzzards had an instinct for that kind of thing. The second of his enemies up there was the sun, mercilessly charring the earth all around him into a vast wilderness of bleached sand strewn with a handful of scattered rocks. He had half crawled under a lip of rock that would provide a little shade at noon, but until then he would have to endure the glare. He began to wonder whether he would make it through until then, but his luck had held out this far so why should it desert him now?
He swallowed, a painful movement, for there was no saliva in his mouth to ease his parched throat. He feebly shook the canteen that
lay by his side but it was empty. The strip of buckskin shirt that
plugged the hole in the soft metal had not done its work very well. The water had still evaporated, but it was better the bullet hole was in the canteen rather than him. One bullet in him was more than enough.
He turned his attention to the Colt in an attempt to take his mind from the pain. The chambers were all full. He had made sure of that. He thumbed the cylinder. It wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. Sand had sneaked in. It would do. The only thing left was to get himself out of this hellhole.
Until the boy showed up he wasn’t going anyplace.
The sky had already been darkening when Quantro had made camp two nights before, just under the ledge of a shale outcrop that stood naked from the barren wasteland of the arid desert. The little fire he had built from the sparse brush had been enough to heat the coffee but not enough to keep away the chill of the night, and he had huddled into his blanket attempting to keep warm as he slept that half aware sleep of a man on the trail, ready to wake at the slightest sound alien to the desert night. Not that he could have slept deeply even if he had wanted to, the bitter cold saw to that. Several times he had woken, only to hear the sound of the buckskin stallion cropping disconsolately at the patches of bleached grass.
Sun-up revealed the horse’s breath cloudy in the first light while wisps of mist clung to the desert sands. Quantro squatted on his heels as he rekindled the tiny fire, his teeth clamped tight to stop them chattering uncontrollably. He used the last of the water from the first canteen for the coffee, and tipped a little of the second into his hat for the horse. He hoped to find sweet water before the end of the day, but where he had no idea. He did not even have a firm idea of where he was headed, just a vague notion to ride and keep on riding. Now that he had completed the task that had taken up all his thinking for the last two years he had no idea what to turn his hand to next. He’d heard it said that when you’ve got no place to go why not try Mexico? Well why not? He supposed he would have to find a job somewhere before long because the money he had left would not last forever, but that was as far as his thinking had gone.
He kept the climbing sun on his left shoulder throughout the morning, allowing the buckskin to set his own pace as he threaded his way in and out of the arroyos and rock spurs as he pleased. He passed the hours studying the terrain, his ice-blue eyes restlessly moving back and forth under the brim of his sweat-stained Stetson, the only sound the clicking of the horse’s hooves on the rocky ground. The sun had chased away the chills of the night and now his buckskin shirt was stuck fast between his shoulder blades, a dark patch of sweat spreading slowly across his shoulders.
By noon he reckoned he had covered another fifteen miles which would place him about eighty miles from Sasabe to the east and about fifty miles from the Mexican border in the south. He had heard talk of Sasabe, maybe he would try there first and buy some supplies. Coffee and bacon and some grain for the stallion to supplement its meager diet. Two or three times during the morning the horse had stumbled and he had became increasingly aware its ribs were beginning to make long shadows under the once lustrous coat. With luck, the tough buckskin would take him all the way to wherever he was going. He had developed an attachment for the loyal horse, and he knew he would hate to have to trade it in or turn it loose.
He whispered a few words of encouragement, and at the sound of his voice the stallion’s ears picked up, but he stumbled on some loose shale and Quantro decided to rest for a while. He selected a spot under an escarpment which would provide some shade, then reined in and dismounted. He loosened the saddle cinch a couple of notches, then unhooked the canteen from the saddle horn and drew the Winchester from its scabbard before he turned the horse loose to find what forage it could.
He carried the canteen and the rifle over to the lee of the rock, occasionally flexing his stiff right leg as he walked. After a cursory glance around the base of the outcrop to see if any snakes had made it their home, he sat down with his back against the rock wall and gave his attention to his back trail.
There were no telltale plumes of dust moving so he reconciled himself he was alone. Satisfied, he lay the Winchester across his knees and began chewing on the strip of jerked beef. When that was finished he rolled a cigarette.
An hour later he whistled for the buckskin and the horse immediately gave up its search for nourishment and returned to its
master. Quantro slid the rifle back into its saddle boot, then uncapped the canteen and poured a little of the water into his hat. When the stallion had finished drinking he put the damp Stetson back on his head and tilted the canteen to take a gulp or two himself that would have to last him the afternoon.
In the act of raising the canteen to his lips something made him turn. Nothing specific, just a notion.
That was when he saw him.
A boy of about eighteen was standing on a rise off to his right, and at the very second he saw him he heard the flat bark of a Winchester.
The canteen was torn from Quantro’s fingers, but still hung from his wrist by the rawhide thong. He was already moving, the Colt fluidly drawn from the holster and coming up to bear on the boy. The first shot roared out from his pistol almost across the rump of the stallion. The buckskin spooked into a rear, then galloped away.
The rifle was still on the saddle.
He ran, thumbing off shots to cover himself, but the boy was
stationary. He merely levered another shell into the Winchester’s
breech and squeezed the trigger again.
The .44 shell tore into Quantro, throwing him sideways on to the dusty shale. The explosion of pain in his shoulder almost made him howl, but instead he began to curse fluently and with great imagination through fiercely clenched teeth. Down, he crawled, leaving a sticky trail of blood-smeared shale behind him. He had to place some cover between himself and his attacker. Absurdly, it occurred to him he would now have a bum shoulder to match his bum leg.
The Winchester bullets regularly ploughed up the rocks around him, fragments stinging his cheeks and driving into his eyes until he was almost dust blind. Grimly he kept on moving. By the time he reached the shallow hole under the ledge he had almost exhausted his vocabulary of expletives, but the words had served their purpose. They had got him to the hole still in one piece. That was if you didn’t count a busted shoulder. Gratefully, he sank behind the rim that would protect him from the boy with the rifle.
Once he was out of sight the hail of bullets ceased.
So much for that.
He reloaded the Colt then lay it on the ground so he could examine his shoulder. The ragged wound was pouring blood onto his shirt so fast he couldn’t determine how bad it was, and besides, any movement at all sent lances of pain stabbing through his nervous system. The left side of his face was now plagued by a nervous tic.
Then he noticed the water from the punctured canteen was seeping into the shale at his feet, the thirsty earth soaking up every drop. He revised his swearing to include Mr Winchester and the power of his invention as he tore a strip from the front tail of his buckskin shirt to plug the hole as best he could.
The boy hadn’t fired for five minutes now.
The silence had become acutely unnerving rather than as a relief, and he could feel the hackles rise on the back of his neck. The boy was probably circling to try and get a clear shot.
Quantro inched his way to the rim of the hole and peered cautiously over. There was no sign anybody was in the Goddam desert but him. He scanned the rise on either side of the place the boy had first fired from but all that met his gaze was rock shale and a few clumps of coarse grass too small to hide a man.
As he watched the land shimmering under the heat haze it occurred to him he had no idea of the boy’s identity. Who the hell was he? People shooting at him he could take, as long as they had a good reason, but as far as he knew, the boy hadn’t looked familiar at all, so… There was one way to find out. He cleared his throat and shouted.
“What are you shooting at me for, boy?”
The answer was quick and to the point.
“My name’s Willy Kilhern! That mean anything?”
“Shit,” Quantro muttered. It meant something all right. So that was it. Willy Kilhern, then he must be Jack Kilhern’s son. What the hell? The irony of the situation amused him and be laughed, the noise a hoarse rattle in his throat. Willy Kilhern. Damn it. Full Circle. Jack Kilhern had killed Quantro’s own father and he had hunted him down to take revenge. Eye for an eye. He had caught up with him three weeks ago and shot him down like the sniveling dog of a saddle-tramp he was.
And what was more, he had enjoyed it.
And now Kilhern’s son was trying to kill him.
THE DEVIL’S PLATEAU
THE QUANTRO STORY
“ . . . no nonsense about may the best man win. Interesting to Western lovers.” —The Birmingham Sunday Mercury
...the clever descriptive writing never fails to take you in to the time and places where these characters lived. The Quantro Story is an exciting 'ride' with the main character, who is relentless in his quest. Another "can't put down" book. Well recommended.