Authors: Jake Logan
Showdown in Durango
“You there,” Slocum called.
Nestor turned and saw the silhouette of a tall man framed in the light from the open door behind him. He wheeled and his hand darted downward for his pistol.
“Back off!” Nestor yelled as his hand pulled his pistol from its holster.
Slocum crouched and his hand was like lightning as it streaked for hisÂ .45 Colt. Before Nestor's gun could clear leather, Slocum's pistol was hip-high in his hand and his thumb pressed down on the hammer to cock it.
There was a loud click in the empty storage building and Nestor knew he had a split second to live.
“Damn you,” he growled.
Slocum's finger squeezed the trigger and his pistol roared.
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SLOCUM AND THE DARLING DAMSELS OF DURANGO
A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright Â© 2013 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-63500-1
Jove mass-market edition / January 2014
Cover illustration by Sergio Giovine.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
John Slocum jerked hard on the reins as an explosion erupted from a black hole in the side of the mountain. Stones and dust blew from the mine shaft. He and his horse, Ferro, were showered with splinters of wood and sand. The other horses on his string all backed down on their haunches as the concussion shattered their senses.
A body sailed from the cave. Lifeless and bloody, the corpse shot sixty feet down the mountainside. It tumbled over and over like an oversized rag doll. It bounced off rocks, leaving spatters of blood like some nightmarish stain everywhere it landed and bounced.
Finally, the body came to rest at the bottom of a narrow canyon. Above the smoky mine, Slocum saw a figure stand up and stare down at the broken body below.
Man or woman?
Slocum couldn't tell. The figure wore a slouch hat, a man's plaid shirt, bib overalls, and work boots. Unarmed. A black detonator box with the plunger down stood at the feet of the figure.
Ferro fought the bit and cranked his head as he fishtailed off the narrow trail and shot out his forelegs to stop himself before plunging down in the canyon.
The figure on the rimrock heard the noise and stared at the man in black clothing on a black horse with a string of four other horses on a rope he held in his left hand.
Slocum caught a glimpse of the face. Small, oval-shaped. Long strands of straw blond hair streamed from under the shapeless slouch hat.
Then, the figure turned and ran into the timber.
Small feet, small frame, thin and shapely arms, hips that were rounded, curved like a woman's. A grown woman's.
It didn't make sense.
Slocum saw the wires dangling down from the detonator, dangling over the mine entrance with their bitter ends swaying back and forth, in and out, of the smoking hole in the mountain.
Deliberate, Slocum thought. He knew.
Whoever had pushed down on that plunger knew that there were wires connected to sticks of dynamite.
Murder. Cold-blooded murder.
He heard voices. Female voices. Brief and unintelligible. Breathless. A few seconds later, he heard a thrashing of leaves and hoofbeats that faded into silence.
Slocum stepped out of the saddle, tied the lead rope to a small pine tree off the side of the Old Spanish Trail, then ground-tied Ferro to a small bush on the canyon side. He walked a zigzag course down the slope, the heels of his black stovepipe boots bracing him. He wore spurs without rowels, and these served as a safety measure when a heel slipped on soft dirt.
A lone hawk dragged its shadow over the ground as Slocum hunkered down to see if there was any chance the man blown from the mine was still alive.
He touched two fingers to the man's neck, just under the ear, and felt for a pulse.
There was none.
The man wore a checkered cotton shirt, a bandanna around his neck, brownish wool trousers, and work boots. The back of his shirt was blackened with soot and there was a hole in the back of his head with a long sliver of bloody wood jutting from it. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties. His hands were calloused and grimy, dirt under the fingernails. He hadn't shaved in at least three days, there were tobacco stains on his lips, and his teeth were caked with chewing tobacco.
Slocum wondered if he had been the only one working the mine. When he looked up, he saw the tail end of an ore car on rails.
Most of the smoke had blown away, but the entrance to the mine still danced with dust motes that were caught in the sun's rays like ghostly fireflies.
It was a steep climb up to the mine over slippery talus tailings, but Slocum managed by pulling on the branches of small bushes and a boulder or two that were buried in earth.
He stood up in front of the mine and listened.
The mine was as silent as a tomb.
“Hello,” he called. “Anybody in there?”
His voice sounded hollow as it bounced off the walls and wooden shoring. The frame just inside the adit was splintered and pocked from the blast. It was a large mine, but he would have to duck some if he entered.
He called out again.
No one answered.
And he heard no signs of life from inside.
He slid and staggered down the slope from the ledge in front of the mine. He had to dig in his heels and grab at bushes to keep from pitching forward onto his face.
As he stepped past the dead man, he thought that someone in town might come out and retrieve the body. He did not fancy carrying it up the slope to where Ferro was tethered.
Durango was not far by his reckoning.
It wasn't really a town yet, but that was what people were calling it. Durango. He had learned that there was a city in Spain by that name, and it came from a Basque word “Urango,” which meant something like “a messy place.” And it was messy, with its clapboard dwellings and buildings, messy with prospectors and gold miners, merchants, cardsharps, whores, gamblers, hardware drummers, and the like. It was dusty and thriving, with the Rio de Las Animas running right through it, its waters laden with dust and silt, murky as a shadow until it flowed past the settlement.
He had horses to deliver to a freight hauler he had met in Pueblo, Lou Darvin, who had worn out two teams in the little boomtown in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. The Animas Freight Company was a booming business for Darvin, who hauled in goods from Trinity and as far away as Denver. He paid top dollar for good horses, and Slocum had four of them he had brought down from Cheyenne and Denver. He had leased a corral in the Denver stockyards and had a remuda waiting there in case anyone else in town wanted to buy from him.
He untied the horses on the lead rope and walked to Ferro. His tall gelding, sixteen hands high, pawed the ground and swished his tail. When Slocum untied him, he tossed his black mane and snorted through wet rubbery nostrils.
“Easy, boy,” Slocum said as he set his foot in the stirrup and hauled himself into the saddle by holding on to the saddle horn.
In moments he was back on the wide Spanish Trail, which coursed through a canyon with steep walls, rocky crags, and jutting boulders. The air was thin and fresh, with the scent of fir and spruce, the cheep of chipmunks as they scampered over and behind rocks or dove into small holes as he passed.
He began to see wagons and men on the bare backs of mules as he reached the edge of town. And he heard the din of commerce amid the dust and the burbling of the Animas River, which he crossed on a sturdy wooden bridge. He turned left and rode toward Main Street, which teemed with men and women going in and out of stores or walking along, carrying picks, shovels, axes, and the ever-present pans they used to sift gold from the sands of the river.
Darvin's freight company was well down Main, and Slocum headed there as passersby gawked at the tall man on the black horse, dressed in black himself from the crown of his Stetson to the soles of his stovepipe boots. Some waved, some admired the horses, and others dashed out of his path. He rode by the constable's small office and the jail next to it, the Mother Lode Saloon and Art's Card House next to it, Barry's Mercantile, Logan Investments, and the Rio Grande Dry Goods Store. Mexicans hawked blankets and clay bowls, turquoise jewelry and knives with ornate brass handles, trinkets for women and kids, their wares on tables outside
and restaurants. There was Molly's CafÃ© with its sign promising
and another small Mexican cantina, El RincÃ³n, at the end of one block. He passed Julie's Boardinghouse. On the second-floor balcony sat three pretty young women in skimpy skirts and revealing blouses. They all waved at Slocum, and he waved back at their becoming smiles.
Slocum reined Ferro to a halt in front of the freight company. There was a hitch rail more than twenty feet long, a loading dock in front of the entrance. He tied the small remuda to the post of the hitch rail after he wrapped Ferro's reins around the top rail.
The sign over the establishment proclaimed it to be the
ANIMAS FREIGHT COMPANY
. Underneath were the words
PROPRIETOR, LOUIS DARVIN
The horses Slocum had on the rope whinnied when he dismounted.
Lou Darvin emerged from the building and stood spread-legged on the loading platform.
“Good-lookin' string you got there, Slocum,” he said. Darvin was a five-foot-ten-inch block of a man with a vat of a chest, bright hazel eyes, and a face that looked as if it had been carved out of a solid chunk of hickory, with high cheekbones, a bulb of a nose, and a chin that sported a small goatee. He looked like a lumberjack, which was what he had once been before he came to Durango and opened up his hauling business.
“They'll do you, Lou,” Slocum said, “if you take good care of them.”
“Haw. It's the mountains that gets 'em, not hauling my wagons.”
“The mountains get everything in the end,” Slocum said as he climbed the stairs.
He and Darvin shook hands.
“Come on into the office and I'll pay you the balance on those horses,” Lou said.
“Want me to put them up in your barn out back?” Slocum asked.
“Naw. Jasper will take care of them.”
They entered the warehouse and Lou called out to Jasper Nichols, who was setting wooden boxes on shelves for shipment.
“Comin',” Jasper said as he shoved a box onto a shelf next to several others.
“Got some horses out front, Jasper,” Darvin told the young man, a slender lad with blond peach fuzz on his cheeks and chin, lean and supple, with hard muscles in his arms from lifting and handling freight. He wore denim trousers and a checkered shirt, a match to the one Slocum had seen on the dead man back up in the canyon.
“I'll take care of 'em, Lou,” Nichols said and flashed a gap-toothed smile as he passed the two men in front of Lou's office.
“He's a good boy,” Lou said as they entered his office. “Still a little wet behind the ears, but a quick learner.”
“Is there a sale on those checked shirts?” Slocum asked as Lou walked around his desk and Slocum sat in a round-backed wooden chair.
“Huh?” Lou asked as he sat down and pulled out a drawer, lifted a cash box onto his desk.
“I saw that same kind of shirt on a man who just got blown out of a mine outside of town.”
“Someone set off a charge of dynamite inside a mine and this feller blew out. Killed him.”
“Where was this mine exactly?” Lou asked. He took a key from his pocket and unlocked the cash box.
Slocum told him.
“Damn,” Lou said. “Jasper's brother had him a mine there. Older brother. His name was Wilbur Nichols. Dead you say?”
“Deliberately. I saw someone up on the rimrock blow the dynamite and run off into the timber.”
“The hell you say. Get a good look at the man?”
Slocum stretched his legs out and leaned back in the chair.
“It wasn't a man,” Slocum said. “It was a woman, I think. And there were at least two of them. They rode off through the timber.”
“A woman?” Lou said as he picked up a sheaf of stacked bills from the cash box.
“A woman, Lou. Maybe a scorned one.”
“A scorned one?”
“Hell hath no furyÂ .Â .Â .” Slocum said.
Lou blanched as color drained from his cheeks. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes.
“Like a woman scorned,” Lou murmured, finishing the sentence.
Outside, the horses whickered as Jasper led them around back to the barn and corral.
A shaft of sunlight streamed through the pane of the office window. Dust motes danced in the beam like tiny insects flashing gold in imitation of fireflies.