KILL SLADE – A JOHN SLADE WESTERN BOOK EXCERPT

 

 

PART ONE
DEATH FROM THE SHADOWS

 

– 1 –

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.

They 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 de-termination. 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 – by 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 be-fore 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, con-fused and taken by surprise. His gunbelt 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; 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 gun-shots 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 filtering 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.

Alone with John, Lynn stared at John who looked to be just sleeping quite peacefully. Then shaking her head, she started undressing him. She removed his blood soaked undershirt and trousers, and proceeded to clean the wounds as best as she could.

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. She’d been very cautious about possible infection, 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 bro-ken a rib and tore some muscle 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 by a lonely oak tree on a low rise facing the ranch.

 

– 2 –

Six months later.

In the cool night of summer, with the beginning of the first rain storm of the season, John Slade was recovering from his brush with death – as he’d stared into Satan’s cold dead eyes.

Then a week after he’d been able to fully regain conscious-ness and had opened his eyes for the very first time, he spoke his wife’s name several times, as he laid in the clean white bed sheets of his bedroom. It was then that Josh Evans walked in and hearing John, and had told him Emily had passed away from her wounds.

It was then that he felt something inside of him die, some-thing he’d never felt before. He closed his eyes then opened them staring into nothingness, and he began to heave with each desperate sob. Josh Evans watched as he was powerless to do or say anything in comforting him.

What John Slade felt, was the knowledge that he would never hold or kiss his wife again! Now only the feelings of pain, heartache and revenge filled his aching heart.

Throughout his convalescence, the door to his bedroom would open very softly as Lynn or Josh would check in on him.
As the weeks went by, hope began to appear as he regained his strength. And now, as his mind became clearer, and know-ing he wasn’t about to die, only one thing was perfectly clear – find out who murdered his wife, seek vengeance, on whoever was responsible, wherever it led him. But Slade still had no apparent reason other than to get back at him, for his wife to have been killed.

He remembered the fatal gunshot that entered her forehead, and the bullets that entered his body as he succumbed to their deadly assault, when everything had gone black till, till . . .

Since, he’d been able to stand on his own, Slade had taken his guns out in the back of his ranch, and practice getting his speed and accuracy back, with the feelings of having his two Colts strapped on. As the days went by, he’d gotten back to some semblance of normalcy.

It was a week after fully recovering from his wounds that he’d considered himself able to ride, when he learned from Lynn, that it was a local Mexican farmer who led two men to his cabin on that cold deadly night. This Lynn had learned from Shaun Miles the town marshal, from one of his many visits.

So, early one morning, with Slade able to slowly get around on his own, he joined Lynn and Josh for breakfast, when they heard a rider slowly approaching the cabin. With the front door open and daylight filtering through, Josh got to his feet, pulled his Remington revolver and holding it at his side, walked to the door, squinting against the glare of the morning sunlight, out to see who was coming to visit so early in the morning.

He was thoughtful as he leaned back in his chair, and wondered who the rider might be. John Slade was a tall, muscular man in his mid-forties, who’s squinting grey eyes glistened with warmth and intelligence, as he stared at the door, waiting to see if the rider was friend or foe. Then slowly, he pulled his Colt .45 laying it on the kitchen table, as Lynn Evans rose to prepare a place on the breakfast table for their visitor.

After the rider dismounted and tethered his horse on the hitching post in front of the cabin, Josh Evans, with a faint smile, finally recognized the rider.

“Come on in, Marshal Miles,” Josh said. “We’ve been expecting you sooner than this.” Then Evans slowly lowered his revolver back into its holster.

Josh met the marshal at the door, and after shaking hands, Evans followed him into the cabin.

“I would’ve been here earlier, but town business kept me away till now,” Marshal Shaun Miles said.

The marshal was a tall rawboned man in his mid–fifties, with wire-rimmed glasses, and a thick white mustache falling just under his lower lip. He wore an old black faded wool – felt hat, and a black canvas duster, open in the front. He re-moved his hat showing his long flowing grey hair. He ambled slowly like a man who has ridden for miles, while his spurs softly jingled behind him into the house. He nodded once to Slade and Lynn Evans, catching a puff of trail dust as he took a seat at the breakfast table.

Slowly looking at Slade once again, Marshal Miles said, “I see you’re finally able to get up and around again.”

Slade calmly and quietly, grasped the handle of his Colt .45 and holstered it before anyone saw what he’d done. But the action wasn’t lost on the marshal.

Slade absently rubbed the right side of his forehead where one of the murdering bushwhacker’s slugs had grazed, and nodded. “Getting better by the day,” he shrugged. “Reckon I’ll be ready to ride soon enough.”

With the coffee ready, Lynn Evans placed a mug on the table in front of Miles.

“Coffee, Marshal?” Lynn asked.

Marshal Miles turned to face her slowly nodding. “Don’t mind if I do. Wash some of this trail dust from my craw.”

“How’s ‘bout some breakfast?” She asked.

“No thanks, Lynn,” he explained. “Need to be getting back soon.”

As Josh came back to the table, Marshal Miles downed his warm coffee at a single gulp, and waited for a refill, which Lynn provided.

They waited for the marshal to say his piece. Instead, Marshal Miles asked if he could roll a cigarette, and after getting the okay, he pulled out the makings for his smoke. The marshal finally licked the paper, and finished the makings. Josh Evans fired it up with a kitchen match, which Miles blew out. Then they all waited again for the Marshal to finally speak.

Miles leaned forward. “So, here’s what I’ve been able to find out,” the marshal said, letting out smoke. “It wasn’t hard finding out who the Mexican farmer was. It was one of my deputies who’d seen the Mexican talking to two cowboys who’d been asking about Slade’s whereabouts. That night, the deputy saw all three men leave town riding due west.”

Slade was just nodding from what the marshal had said. “Have you spoken with the Mexican farmer?”

Marshal Miles flinched, taking another draw on his smoke. “Hell man, I know how to do my job,” he said with a slight disappointment in his voice.

John Slade grinned, shrugged and said, “Reckon you do.”

The marshal stared at him and taking in Slade’s words ex-haled smoke and grinned back, shaking his head. “From my deputy and the farmer’s description, I was able to get the identity of the two men.”

Miles leaned back. “They were Willis Hatcher and his brother Jerry. I’ve dealt with them on a couple of occasions. Those two bounty hunters in the past have brought in several wanted men to our jail.”

Slade rose and slowly walked back and forth for a second or two, clenching his fists. “Bounty hunters you say.”

Marshal Miles rose from his chair, dusted off his trousers, finished off his second cup of coffee, and glancing at Slade said, “Worst of the lot. They bring ’em back draped over the saddle, dead, never one alive. I got the judge to sign arrest warrants and I set up wanted posters that got circulated throughout Texas, with a reward of five-hundred dollars apiece – the reward money put up by town folk, your friends and neighbors.”

John Slade ambled over toward the marshal extending out his hand.

“Marshal,” Slade said grasping the marshal’s hand in a firm grip, once he was near to him, “much obliged for what you’re done.”

Miles nodded, “Slade. . . Lynn . . . Josh . . . glad I could help. I got to get back to town. Oh, something I almost forgot, seems them two bounty hunters got themselves a small gang of desperados. There’re suspected of several robberies, along with destruction and murder, but none that can be proven.”

“Know how many in the gang?” Slade asked, quietly considering the consequences of having to deal with more than the two brothers.

Marshal Miles shook his head. “No idea. Only that some of them are wanted killers.”

“Thanks, Marshal,” Slade said.

“You be careful,” Miles said. “Don’t do nothing stupid.”

“Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind marshal.” But Slade took his words seriously, owing to the look on the marshal’s face.

Then, Josh Evans walked with the Marshal to his horse. When they arrived at Miles’ gelding, the marshal faced Evans.

Miles said, “Don’t let John ride out alone. He may kill those two in cold blood or anyone else who stands in his way. I wouldn’t want that to happen.”

Evans shrugged. “Appreciated Shaun, but I don’t think there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Once Miles was mounted, he looked down at Evans, a pause. Then Miles gave a single, brusque shake of his head. “Well,” Miles said, “he can’t be left to his own.”

Evans frowned and nodded. He had already considered the possibility of riding with John, even before the marshal brought it up. But he didn’t say that to him.

“Do what you must,” the lawman said.

Squinting from direct glare of the sunshine, Marshal Miles pulled back on the reins, and when he was just about to leave, Miles swiveled in the saddle, raised his arm and waved his good-bye.

 

– 3 –

Several weeks later

Every day since they found John and Emily, Josh Evans knew the day would come; the day John would set out in his quest seeking his revenge and exacting his brand of justice on the Hatcher brothers. God knew they deserved to die. But the marshal’s words kept coming back to him. And as yet he hadn’t broached the idea to John. He was thinking more of Lynn than himself – leaving her to fend to herself while he was gone – and for that simple reason, he hadn’t made a decision.

With the sun slowly setting in the west, Evans decided that he would need to ask Lynn’s opinion. He also decided it would be better to talk to Lynn in the late evening hours during bed time, when he knew it was the best time to talk to her. Also, the next morning, John would be getting ready to leave. He’d waited for the last possible moment.

He knew Lynn would make better sense of what he should do, and he trusted her judgment. His marriage of four years was also a partnership of sorts, always asking and wanting to hear what she had to say on any given subject, and mostly coming to a joint consensus. And he knew she would voice her objections, if any, or reluctant view for him to ride with Slade. So, Josh Evans waited till they were in bed.

No sooner had Evans removed his boots and outer clothing and while sitting up in bed, that he set his teeth to rally himself.
For an instant he fixed his gaze on Lynn. “I’ve been thinking,” he said as he kept his voice low.

Lynn slowly pulled him toward her. “Oh, what about?”

As he lay next to her, he momentarily closed his eyes, “About riding out with John in the morning. You know, try to keep him from doing something he’ll regret or maybe get thrown in jail for.”

Lynn leaned way back on her pillows, with her hands be-hind her head, smiling. “Ah, about that, guess I should tell you then that I was thinking the same thing.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, you should go with him. You’re good with a gun, and in a fight. Also, you’re a damn good tracker. Yes, you should tell him.” She wanted payback, and retribution for the death of her sister. And two men were better than one, when it came to those two brothers.

Josh thought this over. It made a hell of a lot of sense. But he was worried about his wife. “How about you Lynn, you can’t stay here by yourself.”

“I thought about that too,” she replied. “I’ll go into town and get a room at the hotel till you get back.”

Josh shook his head. “I. . . I just don’t know.”

“Please don’t worry, I’ll be fine. You have to go,” Lynn said in a firm, almost pleading voice, not without a tinge of pride for her husband. She was willing to do whatever it took to see that justice, in whatever form, came to her sister’s killers.

But, both of them were worried about John. Having lost a loved one in so tragic a way can leave a momentous effect on one’s mind. And they were both bracing for his reaction of complete and utter violence that he could and will inflict on those two desperadoes.

They both lapsed into silence.

Then with a noticeable sigh, Josh rested his head on her shoulder, and wrapped his arms around her and quietly said. “All right then, I’ll talk to John in the morning.”

 

*    *    *

 

It was mid-morning, as the sun blazed as if it was high noon, John Slade made himself busy with his horses, tightening the cinches and making sure his gear on the pack horse was secured. He’d spent time making sure all was ready before he’d set out. Then satisfied that his horses were ready for the trail, he glanced toward his wife’s garden, sighed and slowly walked over to it. Bending over slightly, he plucked some of Emily’s favorite flowers and headed over to her grave to say his good-bye.

Since her murder, Slade had become tormented by his own perceived notion that his past had finally caught up to him. Deep down he knew Emily ultimately paid the price for his violent past.

Small wisps of thin clouds of dust hung everywhere up and down the dusty road till he arrived at the site of her grave under the oak tree. Slade removed his hat knelt, and placed the flowers by her head stone, which read: Emily Annabelle Slade, beloved wife of John Slade, born 1855 – killed 1881.

Silently, he said a little prayer, drying his tear-filled eyes as he finished. He stood up, gazed down on the grave, and said to his wife, “Rest now, honey. See, I brought you a few of your favorite flowers to keep you company.”

Then he lifted his gaze momentarily toward the cabin and saw Josh Evans standing on the front porch. Dropping his gaze once again to her grave he said, “Josh and Lynn will look after you. Don’t think I’ll be coming back again to take care of you.

Good-bye, honey. I’ll search for you in the heavens once my time is up, then we can be together once again.”

Pulling his silver pocket watch from his vest, he opened its cover and read the time on the piece as 11:45 a.m. Although some of the silver had tarnished some, he was still able to read the etching as the initials L.K.S that belonged to his father, Larry Kincaid Slade, on its cover. Snapping it shut, he remembered when his father had given him the piece when he turned seventeen, as a tear slowly rolled down his cheek. Then, staring at his wife’s grave once again, he said, “Good-bye, my love.”

As soon as Slade had settled down for his last cup of coffee before setting out, Josh Evans sat down across from him at the breakfast table – and setting down his cup of coffee, he stared long and quietly at John.

John Slade stared slowly and calmly at Josh figuring he had something on his mind that needed saying.

“You got something you want to say?” John asked, raising his coffee cup for a sip. Keeping his gaze on John, Evans said, “I’ll be riding out with you, help out on the tracking and such and. . .”

“Whoa, hang on, mister,” John said cutting him off. “You can’t come; you have a wife to take care of.”

“Well, I’ve already spoken to Lynn. And we made plans for her to stay in town for the time being.”

“You did?” John said without taking his eyes off of Evans.

“Yeah, and I want to be there when you take care of Emily’s killers. So, what about it? You’ll need another gun that’s for sure.”
John response came fast. “No!” John said contemplatively, staring at Evans.

Studying Slade’s expression for a moment, Evans said, “But why?”

“Your job is to stay here with your wife. And I won’t hear any more on this.”

“You can’t do this alone John,” Evans said. “You could get yourself killed before you finish.”

John glared at him. “You see, it’s all a matter of perspective. I think of myself as already being dead and then nothing else matters except getting my pound of flesh!”

Josh Evans rose shaking his head. “You’re a damn fool, John Slade!”

“Reckon so.”

They watched in silence as they stood on the front porch of John Slade’s cabin, as the morning sun slowly made its way into the heavens, as John rode down the dusty road and over the horizon.

Josh Evans closed his eyes as he sighed, remembering his conversation with John, when he had said no to his proposition of accompanying him on the trail. But still he felt he should’ve gone in spite of himself.

He opened his eyes and noticed Lynn staring up at him and once their eyes met she said, “You should’ve rode out with him.”

Josh considered it all of ten seconds.

“I tried,” he said. “What more would you have me done?”

Lynn Evans shrugged and pulled her eyes away from his; her face devoid of any smile.

If he read anything from her sad eyes, it was her object disappointment in him. Josh nearly asked about his responsibilities to her, but let it slide.

“We, eh . . . need to lock up and head on home,” was all he managed to say.

 

– 4 –

Two days later, and 40 miles east of Kyle, Texas

John Slade woke with a start – the whinnying of his horse woke him right up. And as his hand automatically grasped one of his Colt .45’s firmly in his hand, he quickly took stock of his surroundings, as a sliver of moonlight peek through the darkened night with only the dying embers of his camp fire to light up his otherwise dark nightmares.

Cautiously, still grasping his peacemaker, Slade started looking left and right of him into the night. With no dangers close by, he returned the .45 to its holster and stared at the pale mare.

What spooked her was still a mystery to him. It could have been a snake or a fox, he thought feeling the cold chill in the air making him squint trying to focus.

“I reckon whatever it was, is long gone there, horse,” he said smiling, as he was looking over at his horse. He had tethered his mare and pack horse to a small tree very near to the spring, leaving just a little lead to allow them to drink and graze.

Just before night fall, Slade chose the nearby spring which afforded excellent cover and built a fire that was now almost out. He had unrolled his bedroll near his horses for protection against any dangers. And being that close to his horses, he had the added protection from that quarter as well. Now just before daylight, he had the fire burning once again, and started coffee.

Then an unfamiliar sound of possible danger caused both horse’s head to rise, listening. Then the noise came to Slade as he heard the cry of a coyote far out in the distance. His mare began a whinny noisy warning of sorts.

“Settle down, horse,” Slade said. “That coyote is too far to cause us any harm.” But, a sixth sense told him someone or something was on his trail. He’ll worry about that later.

Sitting in his saddle by the fire, and taking a sip of the warm coffee, his mind wandered back to that day, six months ago, when his life almost came to an end, and the last time he had seen his wife alive, but more importantly, to the day he had met Emily.
He could still remember seeing her for the first time as if it was yesterday. . .

John Slade served in the Confederate Army since the moment he turned 18, just a year before his parents perished in a freak house fire. Being the only son, and with no ties to hold him down it was in 1862, that he volunteered for the War of Northern Aggression. Then in 1865 at the end of the war, he roamed from ranch to ranch doing cattle drives and cow punching. But it wasn’t till 1867 that he joined the Texas Rangers. There, he was guaranteed a horse, a saddle and three meals a day. It was there he gained a reputation for his quick as lightning draw with his two Colt Peacemakers and never missed at what he aimed at. . .

A slow smile crossed John Slade’s lips, as he paused, picturing his wife’s warm beautiful eyes, and her warm hands as she held his hand. And he remembered too the first smile she ever given him –

Having made a name for himself for his lightning draw and quick thinking, and his uncanny ability of bringing back alive those he’d gone after, it was in late, September 1875 that he was chosen to join Leander McNeely’s “Special Force” or a quasi-military brand of the Texas Rangers to rid south Texas of Mexican bandits and gunmen at the ‘Nueces Strip, between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande.’ He was one of the youngest Rangers to serve in McNeely’s force. Then in No-vember,1875 with McNeely’s Rangers, they rode into the stronghold of General Juan Salinas at the Rincon De Cucharas “The Teaspoon Corner” outpost where, in a heated gunfight McNeely was wounded in both hands, while Slade, two steps away, sustained gunshots to his left arm, right shoulder and left leg.

While convalescing in a Brownsville, Texas hospital, Slade met his future wife Emily, a very attractive 20-year old with hazel eyes, and soft brunette hair, with a richly tanned face, possessing an almost hourglass figure. She was a volunteer nurse who without any specialized medical training spent all of her time tending the sick and wounded. She was the first to tend to his wounds the moment he was brought in, and after his operation, she always came back to him, spending more time than necessary – always changing his bandages and feed-ing him. After several weeks, they had gotten to know each other quite well. Then, one thing led to another and they had fallen in love. One night as they lay in a hotel bed, he pro-posed to her and they married the next day.

Slade momentarily closed his eyes, turning his thoughts toward Lynn and Josh. As yet again he owed his life to another woman – Lynn, Emily’s twin sister. She had come to the cabin with her husband Josh Evans, saving his life. She had stopped some of the bleeding and had continuously changed his bloody bandages and forced fed him liquids.

Now once again he felt so alone, unsure what his life would become without her, as his mind kept drifting back to that horrible night, and of the day his parents died. . .

After the fire that consumed his parents, so long ago, Slade stayed just long enough to bury them and sell the ranch, which his parents worked for year’s eking out a living raising and selling cattle and horses. He remembered having gone hunting with his father’s old Springfield trapdoor rifle his father gave him for his seventeenth birthday. And after being so far away from the house, Slade returned to the devastation the fire had caused, unable to even attempt to save them.

The noise of his horses seemed to rouse Slade from his reminiscence. He raised his head, his eyes glittering, staring. He blinked. His vision cleared somewhat and his eyes dark, as they took in his surroundings again. He needed to get back on the trail soon.

Slade figured that in all probability he wouldn’t make it back alive, he was prepared for it. But he was willing to take that chance, and nothing could stop him from what he knew was the right thing to do. He had a plan – a plan that if it went in his favor, he felt it had a good chance of success. But it had to done right. He felt a greater confidence than before he set out on the trail.

Confident that it should keep him out of jail for what had to be done – if he lived through it – it was the reason his first stop was in Austin.

Now with the trail before him and behind, Slade rose to his full height of six feet, wearing his old grey flat crowned Stetson, his red bandanna, a pair of old faded buckskins and a rawhide vest under his old black trail duster.

He buckled on his gunbelt, tied down his right-hand holster which carried one of his two Colt .45’s and his second holster on his left front in cross draw fashion – all old Texas Rangers favored. Then striking camp, and securing his packhorse and after saddling up his horse, he turned and very nimbly, swung up into his saddle, then slowly he turned glancing slowly be-hind him. He still had the nagging feeling that someone or something was on his trail.

So, not seeing anything or anyone behind him in the distance, and not hurrying his horses, Slade slowly set out at a slow gait.

 

END

Excerpted from “Kill Slade – A John Slade Western.” A Novel” by Victor Alvarez. Copyright © 2018 by Victor Alvarez. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.