DEATH FROM THE SHADOWS
December, 1881, Blanco, Texas
They rode in from the east in the cold dead of night, and topped a ridge overlooking what appeared to be a horse ranch with a bunkhouse, barn and a larger family house. They reined in their horses to a stop. They were professional bounty hunters; without a word they knew the drill.
The Hatcher brothers stared silently into the darkness, down into the valley below, as the cold wind blew and howled onto their upturned faces, as if in grave anticipation of what was to come.
They saw a small gaslight lamp that hung by the entrance to the large house just barely lighting the area. They didn’t see any lights coming from inside the house, nor the bunkhouse.
They only used hand gestures that directed each other to go here and there. Again no words were necessary. They were assured that the ex-Texas Ranger was living at the cabin with his wife by the Mexican farmer who led them there. And also – according to the farmer – there were no hired hands on the property. Thereby accomplishing unfettered, what they were there to do.
That Mexican farmer, whose weathered face was a craggy as the landscape had been in Emilio’s cantina that night, as he overhead two Americano’s talking about an ex-Texas Ranger who he knew was a bounty hunter, that lived just outside of town. He was sure that was the one to whom they were referring.
So, building up enough courage he gulped down the last of his whiskey, and after using his shirt-sleeve to wipe it across his mouth, he approached them – ever hopeful he’ll make some money with his information.
Assuring the Americano’s he knew who they were asking about, he was immediately hired to lead them to the cabin – after the promise of a five dollar gold piece for his trouble.
One of the brothers, Willis Hatcher, the older of the two, a tall bulky man with grey steely eyes, turned slightly toward his younger brother with a hint of a smile. The brother Jerry Hatcher, a smaller version of his brother with deep blue eyes just smiled back. They knew that tonight was going to be easy pickings. They were unafraid, immune to fear, a product of the war and the type of life they have set out for themselves.
These were men who had hunted and been hunted by professionals and rank amateurs alike, and they were still alive. Both had been shot once or twice and survived. And they bore the scars of that, as did their souls. Everywhere they went, death and destruction were left behind as a grim remainder.
These were determined men. But that wasn’t always so. After the war, three of them, the Hatcher brothers and a cousin, named Calvin West, came out of the Confederate Army barely alive – their minds destroyed by all that death and war had to offer. Unable to find any type of decent employment, they turned to the only profession worth their salt – bounty hunting.
But life was hard in the beginning.
They were a band of twelve desperados, who made a bloody rep’ for themselves through cunning and savage determination. They persevered to the point that no one got in their way. If anyone interfered with them, they were killed for their efforts. But now it was just the two brothers, and the other members of the gang. It was Calvin West who had been shot and killed in a card game, over a month ago – the same man they had been tracking, and now planning on killing tonight.
Their intended victim was a man named John Slade, who was an experienced ex-Texas Ranger and a legend in Southern Texas. The word was that Slade rode with Leander McNelly’s Rangers down in the Nueces Strip and crossing into Mexico getting involved in a heated gunfight where he was seriously shot. Then later he turned to bounty hunting to make a living. They needed to be extra careful, making sure nothing went wrong.
The night was dark, with only the moon occasionally obscured by scudding clouds. They worked better at night, and they liked it that way. Before them the valley was wide and spacious and level to some extent. Dismounting, they led the horses to a clump of trees and tied them up. Then in the distance, wolves howled loud and clear. Above the howl the Mexican farmer, Tuco Sanchez, took it upon himself to say, “Senor, my five pesos por favor,” to the older of the two Americano’s.
The two bounty hunters stared stony eyed at the farmer almost forgetting he was still there. Their eyes revealed a surly confidence. Willis Hatcher flipped back his coat, reached into his vest and pulled out a thin gold coin and without looking at it, flipped it toward the Mexican who failed to catch it in mid-air. He clawed the ground and after a few seconds found it, and slipped it into his trouser pocket. He had no horse and had rode double with one of the Americano’s, as he now ran back the way they’d come, quickly making the sign of the cross across his chest, while thanking La Virgen de Guadalupe, they hadn’t killed him!
Once the Mexican was gone, the two brothers drew their Colt single action peacemakers, checked the loads and without a word, started walking down the ridge toward the cabin.
They say you can’t live in the past that the future always looks brighter since worry and rumination are the foes of the present. He’d listened to those whose ideas at most made no sense till something caused a dramatic change in their own lives. He knew the feeling, and his life would never be the same.
He still clings to her vision and feels her presence just before he wakes. And when he does, his memories of her come with a flood gate of tears, and at the same time, of hated and revenge.
They had come at night like most wild animals do, looking for him. And they found him alright – alongside his wife Emily.
He was always an extremely light sleeper, which saved his life once or twice. So, the moment he knew something was wrong, was when he was woken by the sounds of his bedroom door slowly opening – the rusty door hinges gave them away. He saw them then, silhouetted against the light of the full moon that shone through the bedroom’s only window; two of them with their guns drawn.
But he was too slow to react.
“Emily!” he cried out, momentarily halting, dazed, confused and taken by surprise. His gun belt was hanging from the bedpost on the other side of the bed – left their just before their love making – too far for him to reach, draw and defend Emily and himself.
Suddenly a shot rang out. “No!” Slade cried out.
The man on the right was the first to shoot as Slade tried to cover his wife with his own body. But again, it was too late. She woke up almost in a sitting position as the bullet entered her forehead, dead before the impact of the slug threw her onto her back, with him on top of her.
A few seconds may have passed, or less, he had no way of knowing, when he heard one of the two killers shout out just before he fired his gun once again, “This is for our cousin, lawman!”
John Slade quickly glanced over at his pistols, if only I could reach my gun’s, the thought raced through his mind, and just as he tried reaching for them over his wife’s body, his tranquil bedroom was turned into a bedlam of horror as the intruders fired their guns several times more as John Slade’s body shook with the impact of the heavy caliber bullets. The loud deep booming of the gunshots reverberated off the walls in the small confine of the bedroom, as slug after slug found their marks.
Then, slowly Slade’s right eye opened momentarily, and through the dim light, he saw the killers backing away out of the cabin. Then as he slowly started losing consciousness and with pain shooting through his entire body, he struggled to rise. But the pain was too intense.
Bleeding profusely from his wounds and unable to attempt getting up on his elbows once again, he slumped back on top of Emily, crying with his wife’s name dying on his lips as blood oozed from his mouth and nose.
With a great effort of will, he tried to focus for just a second on his wife. Suddenly, the pain was gone, as his mind fell into that motionless black void.
* * * *
“Josh, did you hear that?” Lynn Evans asked her husband. But Josh was already up and pulling on his boots, as his horses neighing had woke him.
“Yeah, something must’ve spooked the horses for them to be so loud,” Josh said. “Maybe a fox, coyotes are a possibility too.”
“No, before that,” Lynn said. “Sounded far away, and it sounded like gunshots, and I have a nagging feeling something is not right with Emily.”
“What about Emily?” he asked sensing her worried tone.
“I’m not sure, just a feeling . . . an intense feeling something is terribly wrong.”
Evans frowned. “Well, let me get dressed.”
Once Josh had finished dressing, he reached for his Henry rifle from the side of the bed. He was considering the possibilities of the gunshots – the human factor, not wild animals. He had always trusted on Lynn’s ability to hear sounds before him, since he had lost hearing in his right ear in the war. So, the only other spread near them was four miles away – John and Emily’s cabin, his ranch being the nearest neighbors to Emily’s.
Not hearing any gunshots, he couldn’t tell from what direction they may have come.
So, after making sure his horses were not in any danger, he agreed with his wife that the gunshots may have come from John’s place. But as far as Emily being in trouble, well that he didn’t know. Thinking the worst, they hitched their buckboard wagon and rode out to Emily’s to investigate.
Once at the cabin, they cautiously reached the front door which was wide open and stopped. The house was very dim and hushed, lit only by dim moonlight coming through an open window. Then, Josh and Lynn stared slowly at each other. Lynn yelled out Emily’s name but got no answer.
Josh found a kitchen lamp and striking a match to the wick, he reached for his sidearm as he entered the cabin and slowly walked into the bedroom with Lynn directly behind him. Evans was shocked to see the two bodies on the bed, with blood soaking the bed sheets.
And as Lynn Evans came from behind her husband, her eyebrows rose, stifling a gasp and despite the pain she was feeling in her heart, her eyes were wide, her face ashen. “Oh, my God, no . . .” she gasped again. “Dearest lord!” she said in a tone almost too low to be heard. And as she dropped to her knees grasping and choking, she clasped her face in both her hands.
“Lynn, are you okay?”
Lynn began to cry, unable to grasp that her sister was dead. Gazing at her husband and wiping at her eyes, she said, “No, but I’ll cope with this later. Right now we have to take care of them.”
He heard grief and anger in her voice.
Josh Evans turned to his wife and said, “Wait outside the room, Lynn.”
As she left, and after his initial shock, Josh who thought both John and Emily were dead, slowly approached the bodies, and placed the lamp on top of a dresser. Then he tried to lift John up from Emily. In doing so, he heard a faint moaned of pain and John’s arm moving slowly trying to reach out to his wife.
“Lynn, John is still alive! Get back in here,” he cried out and waited for her to return to the bedroom.
“What happened to them?” she asked as she stood next to her husband.
“They’ve both been shot.”
“Who in God’s name could’ve done such a thing?” Lynn asked.
“I don’t know, but they need our help.”
Leaving his wife with John, Josh rode into town to fetch the town marshal and the doctor, but he wasn’t sure John would last long enough for the doctor to do any good.
Much later, when the doctor was brought in, he got John Slade’s bleeding under control. Doc Brown marveled at the quick thinking Lynn had shown on keeping the wounds clean and the stoppage of bleeding, maybe saving his life. Still unconscious from the loss of blood, Doc Emil Brown pulled out four .45 caliber bullets from John’s right side – sufficient to cause a mortal wound; two from under his right arm, one that had broken two ribs and a head shot that grazed his right temple.
How John Slade remained living, was a tribute to both the doctor’s fast action and experience, and Lynn’s quick thinking. Later as Slade recuperated, Josh Evans quietly buried Emily on a small hill by a lonely oak tree, facing the cabin.
Copyright: 2017 by Victor M. Alvarez – No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the authors’ rights.