Deputy U.S. Marshal L.S. Quinn awoke to the sound of someone pounding on his door. “Quinn, are you awake?” Deputy U.S. Marshal Tony Stanza asked from the hallway.
“Barely,” Quinn said. For a minute, he lay still, trying to hold onto the dream he had been having about his childhood among the Comanche, living free on the open plains. Then he rose and opened the door. “What is it?”
“Ben Case called a meeting,” Tony said of one of the senior marshals who often acted on the U.S. Marshal’s behalf. “He wants us there now.”
“It couldn’t wait until a reasonable time of day?” Quinn asked.
“What’s it about?”
“Be better if you heard it from Ben.”
Quinn frowned as he followed Tony outside. It wasn’t like his friend to be so reticent, or to be in such a hurry when he wasn’t chasing a fugitive. Quinn grimaced at the fatigue that flowed through his limbs. I haven’t even been home a day yet,he thought. That chase for Jimmy McGowan was a long one. One more murderer in jail, thankfully, but… I need to go back to sleep.
A few minutes later, Ben looked up as Quinn and Tony entered a meeting room at the United States courthouse in Fort Smith, Arkansas. “Ah, Quinn,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Quinn sat down. Despite the hour, the rest of the marshals were already there.
Ben began talking. “As many of you know, Jack Mattherson left town abruptly three days ago. His departure caused a bit of a stir.”
Quinn hadn’t been home long enough to hear that. All I know about the Matthersons is that they’re the wealthiest family around here,he thought. Or they were, before the War Between the States.
“Now we know why Jack fled,” Ben said. “Governor Clayton’s private train was attacked several days ago, two days outside Fort Smith.”
“Corrupt bastard,” someone behind Quinn mumbled.
Ben eyed the men in front of him. “Apparently Jack agreed with that. He attacked Clayton’s train. Clayton is dead, and Jack delivered the fatal bullet.”
Stunned silence filled the room. Quinn’s eyes widened. Jack had killed the governor of Arkansas? That was quite a step, even given his low opinion of Clayton.
Ben continued speaking. “Clayton was traveling with William Quincy, who had just returned from Washington.”
At the mention of Arkansas’ United States Senator, Quinn swallowed and his face grew warm. The other marshals eyed Quinn, and Ben’s next remarks seemed directed at Quinn as well. “Quincy was so badly injured he might not live.”
Quinn leapt to his feet, his heart racing. “Why?” he demanded, his hands curling into fists. “Clayton I could understand, but Quincy? He’s one of our few respected officials.”
“I know,” Ben replied, gesturing for Quinn to sit. Quinn slowly obeyed. “Clayton was probably the target, not Quincy.”
“Why would Jack kill Clayton?” Tony asked, putting a sympathetic hand on Quinn’s shoulder.
“We’re still investigating,” Ben admitted. “But it’s common knowledge that the Matthersons blamed Clayton, and his corruption, for the family’s declining wealth.”
“Do you know anything else?” Quinn stuttered.
Ben nodded. “Jack stopped at his family’s estate for provisions and a change of horses. He was armed and went into the Indian Nation- that alone would put him in our jurisdiction.”
“What horse was he riding?” Quinn asked.
“A black mare,” Ben answered.
“What happened to Clayton’s body, and to Quincy?” asked Jake Granter, another deputy marshal with whom Quinn was close.
“Clayton’s body was taken to Little Rock. A second train took Quincy to the hospital here in Fort Smith,” Ben answered. “It arrived yesterday.”
“Shit,” Quinn spat. “There’s no way Jack’s getting away with this.”
“Quinn, I’m sorry,” Ben said, grabbing Quinn’s arm as Quinn rushed past him. “I know Quincy is your father, but I can’t have you doing anything rash. If you’re going to go after Jack, take some of these boys with you.”
Quinn shook his head. “This one’s personal. I’m going alone.”
“Not happening,” Ben replied. “Take Tony and Jake with you.”
“They’re welcome to go separately if they want,” Quinn said. “I’m doing this my way.”
“At least take Thomas O’Brien with you,” Ben pressed. “I want him to learn the ropes.”
Who? Quinn thought. “The new guy?” he said. “Come on, Ben, I barely know him. There’s no way I’m getting saddled with the Marshals’ most inexperienced man on a mission like this one.” He stormed out the door.
Tony rushed after him. “Quinn, wait!” he said.
Despite his words, they were outside before Quinn finally stopped. “What?” he said.
“Be careful around Thomas,” Tony warned.
“He’s not exactly gun shy. He’s from Texas, and he hates Indians.”
“Great,” Quinn said, rolling his eyes. Then he became serious. “Think he’d actually kill me, though?”
“Not sure,” Tony replied. “He may just be a talker.”
Quinn headed home. He grabbed his saddle and bedding. Next came his gun, lance, and bow and arrows. These Comanche weapons have served me well,Quinn thought as he felt their rough edges. Then he went to the stable and saddled his horse, a gray gelding named Gunpowder.
Outside the stable, Thomas was talking to Tony and Jake, and Quinn listened to their conversation as he worked on Gunpowder. I’m not happy about having anybody coming with me, except for Tony or Jake,he thought, but maybe Thomas’ Sharps carbine will come in handy.
“Why is Quinn in such a rush?” Thomas asked.
“Senator Quincy is his father,” Tony said. “Come on, Thomas, everyone knows that.”
“Hopefully your stupidity is from your inexperience,” Jake added.
“I thought Quinn was a red,” Thomas said.
“Half,” Tony answered. Then he and Jake rode off.
Quinn waited until he could no longer hear their horses’ hoof prints. Then he went outside, pretending he had not heard the conversation.
“What’s our plan?” Thomas asked him.
“You’re following me. You do what I tell you to do.”
“Oh, come on, Quinn. I’m not stupid. Let me help you out.”
“You’re the new guy,” Quinn replied. “You don’t know what you’re doing, and I’m not risking letting Jack get away.”
Their first stop was the jail, where they spoke to Sheriff Joe McDermont. “Have you seen Jack Mattherson?” Thomas asked immediately, before Quinn could say anything.
“What did I tell you?” Quinn said. “Shut up.”
McDermont looked amused. “Perhaps you ought to listen to him,” he advised Thomas. “Quinn has some of the highest numbers in the marshals for bringing in prisoners.” He looked back at Quinn. “Jack’s pretty far into the Indian Nation already, Quinn. Good luck tracking him down.”
“How’d he manage to attack Clayton’s private train?” Quinn asked.
“He was mounted on the tracks. Of course the train stopped.”
“Was he alone?”
“He was with four other men. It was just a distraction- that’s how he got to Quincy and Clayton. The group dispersed in different directions afterwards.”
“The conductor let them on mighty easily,” Thomas interjected.
“They said they were my deputies,” McDermont said. “The conductor believed them.”
“Any idea who they really were?” Quinn asked.
“Just Jack. The conductor’s description of the other guys don’t bring nobody to mind.”
“Where were you while this was happening?”
“In town, breaking up a bar fight. Jack knew that and used it against me.”
“I don’t blame you,” Quinn reassured him.
“I blame myself.” McDermont spat. “One of these days, Quinn, you should become a lawyer. You sure know how to ask questions.”
Quinn shrugged. “Just doing my job.”
Thomas left the jail slightly ahead of Quinn. Both McDermont and Quinn watched him go. “Think he’s dangerous?” Quinn asked, nodding at Thomas.
McDermont shrugged. “From what I’ve seen, he looks like more talk than action.”
“That’s what Tony said.”
“Let’s hope he’s right.”
Quinn and Thomas left the jail and snuck up to the Mattherson residence. They avoided the front entrance and went around to the stables. Quinn could see hoof prints all around, but most led to the Matthersons’ house or the nearby pastures. Only one set led in the direction of town- and the river. It also led away at a decent trot- most likely when Jack left, Quinn surmised. He studied the tracks intently.
Thomas remained mounted as Quinn worked on foot. After a couple of minutes, Thomas got impatient. “Are you done?” he asked. “If we stay here any longer, the Matthersons will catch us.”
“If you’re scared of the Matthersons, you’re free to leave,” Quinn replied. He remained crouching for a few more minutes, examining the ground, before he stood up again and remounted Gunpowder.
“Finally,” Thomas mumbled as he and Quinn made their way to the town’s general store.
Quinn ignored him as he tied Gunpowder to a post outside the store and went inside. He was selecting his purchases when he heard Tony start questioning someone in the next aisle.
“Good afternoon Robert,” Tony said, and Quinn realized he was questioning Robert Mattherson, Jack’s father. He listened immediately.
“What do you want?” Robert asked warily.
“I want to know where your son is.”
“Who, Jack? I don’t know. Why?”
“I think you know why.”
“Jack did nothing wrong.”
“Did you help him flee into the Indian Nation?”
“I haven’t seen him in a week.”
There was a long moment of silence, and Quinn pictured Tony and Robert glaring at each other.
“Are the Marshals after Jack?” Robert asked.
“We’d like to know where he is,” Tony replied.
“I don’t know,” Robert said.
Quinn doubted that, but the interrogation ended, so he left, making sure Robert did not see him. Thomas was already outside, strapping his purchases to his horse. Their last stop was the hospital. Quinn slipped past doctors, patients and visitors. Several soldiers stood outside Quincy’s room. A doctor that Quinn had heard was a specialist from New York or Boston exited the room just as Quinn arrived. “Sir, you can’t go in there,” he said. “This patient has just gotten out of surgery and cannot be disturbed.”
The doctor’s exit gave Quinn a glimpse of Quincy through the door, and the sight startled him. Quincy had a broken arm and a broken leg. Bruises covered his face, and his luminous green eyes were swollen shut. “My God,” Quinn said.
The doctor shut the door behind him. “You can’t go in there,” he repeated, glancing at the soldiers for support.
For a moment, Quinn debated whether to tell the doctor that he was Quincy’s son. Then he thought better of it. I’d rather get after Jack Mattherson, he thought. As he mounted Gunpowder outside the hospital, Quinn pondered his options. There were several ways to get across the river and into Indian territory- a ferry, and places where the river was shallow enough to cross on horseback. Quinn clucked Gunpowder forward and said to Thomas, “we’re taking the ferry.” His tone left little room for discussion, even as he watched Thomas chafe at being given orders.
At the dock, Thomas questioned the man running the ferry, describing Jack and ignoring Quinn’s glare.
“He came through a few days ago in a real hurry,” the ferryman said. “Took him across as fast I could- would have shot me otherwise.”
“What kind of gun did he have?” Quinn asked.
“An old Winchester.”
“Where did he go after he got off the ferry?”
“Did he have a lot of provisions?”
“Some.” The ferryman glared at Quinn. “You lookin’ to get across or not?”
He’s not going to say anything else,Quinn realized. That’s fine. It means he can’t tell what I’m thinking-if Jack didn’t have much food or water, and he was going west, he could only be going one place: Denbigh’s store.
The river’s swift current made the crossing shaky, but Quinn smiled as Gunpowder remained unperturbed. On dry land, Gunpowder needed no encouraging before climbing the river’s steep banks, even as Thomas’ horse struggled. I’ve only had Gunpowder for two years, but I’ve come to rely on his steadiness,Quinn thought. He and my weapons were the only things I took when I left the Comanche, and I don’t regret any of them.
When he and Thomas were moving forward again, Quinn made certain the ferry was on its way back across the river. Then he looked at the ground in front of him. Sure enough, the hoof prints of Jack’s mare were clear in the dirt. Quinn gave Gunpowder a kick, and they galloped west into Oklahoma.
They were not yet west enough to have reached the eternal flatness of the plains. Instead, they were surrounded by hills and groves of trees, some of which were evergreen and maintained their color despite the winter’s grayness. Quinn preferred the vast emptiness of western Oklahoma and Texas, but this would do for now. There were more people on this road too: sometimes families, sometimes Indians, the latter of whom greeted him more readily than the whites they passed. I still look more Indian than white,Quinn realized, despite my clothing.He would have added, “and despite my badge,” except that his badge purposely remained hidden beneath his coat.
Quinn kept sight of Jack’s tracks until nightfall. Then he stopped.
“Are we stopping already?” Thomas asked. “I’d prefer we keep going.”
“You’re welcome to,” Quinn replied. “I’d rather continue when I can see Jack’s tracks.”
“I’ve heard Indians can do that,” Thomas said. “I think it’s bullshit.” But he dismounted, so Quinn pretended he had not heard him.
They set up camp near an incline where an outcropping of rock hid them, and ate dinner. His meal finished, Quinn lay on his pallet, keeping one eye on Thomas and one eye on the night sky. The stars twinkled and an owl hooted. Quinn heard a coyote far off in the distance and smiled.
Quinn awoke the next day as dawn lit the eastern sky, and Thomas awoke as Quinn made breakfast. As they rode southwest to meet up with the Arkansas River again, Quinn sighed. I’d rather be hunting the buffalo than hunting Jack,he thought.
“Where are you from, Thomas?” Quinn asked awhile later, if only to finally say something after all this time.
“Texas,” Thomas replied.
I knew that much,Quinn thought, but then Thomas named a town that, if Quinn remembered correctly, had started as nothing more than a few houses in the Texas panhandle. That used to be prime Comanche hunting ground, and Comanche raids obliterated the settlements they rode through,Quinn thought. No wonder he hates me- as long as he remains a talker and doesn’t actually do anything against me.
Quinn breathed deeply and smelled the winter’s cold damp. The grass in front of him was a winter brown. The sky and mountains were varying shades of blue and gray. After a few more miles, snowflakes trickled down. The snow had changed to rain by the time the two marshals arrived at Denbigh’s store, a tiny outpost on the Arkansas River.
Inside, Denbigh was restocking his shelves when Quinn saw him. Farther back, his wife Mary was stirring a pot on the stove. Mary was a good cook, and Quinn was happy to take advantage of her soup.
“After another criminal?” Denbigh asked.
“Yes,” Quinn said.
“Jack Mattherson. He’s from Fort Smith.”
Denbigh nodded. “Heard of him.”
“Has he been through here?” Thomas asked.
“He stopped here ‘bout three, four days ago,” Denbigh said.
“What did he buy?” Thomas asked.
“Food and water.”
“He say where he was going?” Quinn asked.
“No, but he went west when he left.”
“Could he have been heading for the railroad?” Quinn wondered, thinking of the tracks that ran west of there.
“Dunno,” Denbigh said.
“Was he alone?” Quinn asked. Denbigh nodded. “Was he meeting anyone?”
“Did you ask?”
“People gonna stop comin’ here if I ask.”
The fact that Jack stopped Clayton’s train with a group of men still bothers me,Quinn thought. Jack could be looking to meet up with those men again, and a train station is a good place for that.
“You lookin’ to get across the river?” Denbigh asked once Quinn and Thomas had finished eating.
Quinn nodded. Outside, several of Denbigh’s hired hands- mostly older boys- were wrestling in front of the store. Denbigh whistled. “Will, take these men across the River,” he said.
Will made a dash for the small boat they used to take people across. Quinn and Thomas followed. Within minutes, the two marshals were across the river. Quinn paid the fare and they were on their way again, heading west after Jack Mattherson. The snow and rain that had passed through were enough to make the dirt muddy, obscuring Jack’s tracks. When the dirt became dry again, Quinn picked up the trail as it veered southwest towards McAlester, Oklahoma, a town on the MK&T Railroad.
Throughout the day, Quinn rode hard, fast enough to make some real progress towards McAlester while still being careful not to tire Gunpowder out. I don’t expect to catch Jack today, he thought. He does have a few days’ lead on us, after all.But Quinn knew that he could ride faster, and he wanted to press his advantage. It would be easier if Thomas weren’t having such trouble keeping up,he thought, torn between going after Jack as fast as possible and not wanting to leave another marshal behind.
When Thomas finally caught up, he eyed Gunpowder. “That’s a good horse,” he said.
“The Comanche are known for their horsemanship,” Quinn replied.
“I know,” Thomas said bitterly. “My parents were killed in a Comanche raid. The Indians stole my sisters into captivity. They came by the light of the full moon and disappeared before it had set.”
“I’m sorry,” Quinn said genuinely. “How did you escape?”
“I hid like a coward,” Thomas said. “The Indians never saw me.”
Quinn didn’t know what to say. At least he has reason to hate me, other than the mere fact that I’m was half Comanche,he thought.
They rode in silence for awhile longer before Thomas asked, “how came Senator Quincy to be your father?”
Quinn could tell he was trying to be friendly, but his tone remained bitter. “Senator Quincy was an officer in Captain Marcy’s westward expeditions,” he replied, naming the army captain famous for his forays into Indian territory. “They met my mother’s band of Comanche during one of those journeys.”
“But Quincy didn’t bring your mother back with him?”
Quinn shook his head. “She was already married to a brave in the tribe.”
“Oh,” Thomas said. He fell silent, and Quinn was glad.
He doesn’t need to know how much of a problem Mother’s pregnancy caused her, Quinn thought. The rest of the tribe spent my whole life telling me I was the product of Mother’s rape by a white man. I was an adult before she told me otherwise.
A train whistled in the distance, and Quinn was glad. Better to focus on the present than the past,he thought, even as he pictured Smiles A Lot, the one woman in the tribe he had been interested in marrying. Most of the Comanche have been forced onto the reservation now anyway,Quinn thought. I have more freedom as a Marshal than I’d have as a member of the tribe.As Quinn listened to the train’s whistle, he realized that the train could not be in McAlester yet. Beneath him, he could feel Gunpowder tiring, and did not dare push him.
Quinn and Thomas did not reach McAlester until after nightfall. When they got to the town’s main street, the train was being held in the station. Quinn dismounted, and Gunpowder rolled in the sand. “Crazy horse,” Quinn mumbled.
In the station, he and Thomas were surprised to see Tony and Jake questioning Robert Mattherson. The train was empty, save for two more marshals, Henry Brady and John Tennyson, inspecting it. Quinn and Thomas tied their horses to a post and went over to Tony and Jake.
“It’s about time, Quinn,” Tony said.
“What’s going on?” Quinn asked.
“Jack met Robert aboard for money and supplies,” Tony said.
Quinn looked at Robert. “So much for not knowing where Jack was,” he said.
Robert stuck his chin out. “I ain’t lettin’ no half-breed get my Jack,” he said.
Quinn swung at him. Robert howled in pain as Quinn’s fist struck his jaw.
“Easy, Quinn,” Tony said, placing a hand on Quinn’s shoulder. His voice was calm, but the pressure in his hand said he would physically restrain Quinn from doing anything further.
“What about the men Jack was meeting?” Quinn asked Robert.
“I ain’t sayin’ nothin’.”
“They were waiting for the train at the station, but they took off when they saw the Sheriff coming,” Jake said.
“Where to?” Thomas asked.
“The Winding Stair Mountain,” Jake said. “One of them was Blue Joe Johnson. He has hideouts in the mountains.”
“And the rest of them?” Quinn asked.
“Blue Joe’s been running with various bandits,” Tony said. “Could have been anyone. Sheriff only recognized Blue Joe.”
“What do you know about Blue Joe?” Quinn asked.
“He’s cunning. Would’ve robbed everyone on the train if he could’ve.”
“What about Jack?”
“Sheriff saw him ride off into the mountains before we got here. You goin’ after him tonight?”
Quinn and Thomas looked at each other. Then Quinn looked at Gunpowder, who looked back at him forlornly. Quinn’s heart melted at the sight of his tired horse. “It would be better if we went in the morning,” he decided. “Gunpowder needs some rest.”
At the stables, Quinn and Thomas tended to their horses. Soon, Quinn became aware of his aching limbs and seat. “I’ll bet Tony and Jake are in the saloon,” he told Thomas. A few minutes later, his intuition was rewarded as he and Thomas took seats opposite Tony and Jake at a table in the saloon. “Where’s Robert Mattherson?” Quinn asked.
“Brady and Tennyson are escorting him back to Fort Smith,” Jake replied.
“To the jail?” Quinn asked hopefully.
Jake rolled his eyes, and Tony shook his head.
“I don’t think so,” Tony said. “If we’re lucky, we can charge him with aiding a fugitive.”
“We can also charge him with being an ass,” Quinn said irritably.
“That’ll hold up,” Jake said, his tone serious, his eyes betraying his sarcasm.
“I’m not willing to let him simply walk away either,” Tony agreed. “That’s why Brady and Tennyson are escorting him.”
“Think we’ll get more information from him?” Quinn asked.
“No, of course not,” Thomas said. “We’rechasing his son.”
Quinn sat quietly, sipping his whiskey as he contemplated his next move. When dinner came, he ate just as quietly, his mind made up. He did not ask his companions where they were sleeping, because he did not want to volunteer that he would be sleeping in the hay at Gunpowder’s feet. Tony and Jake thought they would be joining him for the rest of the chase. They were wrong. Quinn planned on sleeping alone and leaving alone. If he managed to get rid of Thomas too, all the better.
After several rounds of drinks, Quinn left the saloon and went to the stables. Gunpowder was already asleep, and soon Quinn was too, warmer in the hay than he had been sleeping on the ground the last couple of nights. In the morning, the sky was just beginning to lighten when Quinn awoke. To his shock, Thomas was waiting for him outside. “What did you do, sleep in the street?” Quinn growled.
Thomas just shrugged, and they rode off. Their only stop was at the train station. Once again Quinn recognized the tracks of Jack’s mare. He followed them, memorizing the tracks of the five men the sheriff had seen waiting for Jack. Jack’s horse seemed a little more weighed down. Maybe he got the supplies Robert was carrying after all, Quinn thought. Perhaps I underestimated Jack, or even both Matthersons.
Another set of hoof prints belonged to a large horse that looked like it was carrying a huge man. The horse looked even more weighed down than Jack’s. The other horses looked nimble and well-traveled. Their mounts are used to being on the run, Quinn concluded. They may not be easy to capture. Luckily, I’m only after their least experienced man.
Quinn and Thomas had started the uphill climb that would end in the 2400-foot peaks of the Winding Stair Mountains. “Ever been through here?” Quinn asked.
Thomas shook his head.
“It’s not an easy journey. The springs are still flowing from the autumn rains, but the water’s not always drinkable.” I might as well teach him something, if that’s what Ben wants me to do.
“The caves in these mountains are legendary,” Thomas replied. “I heard about them even before I joined the marshals.”
“I know where a lot of those caves are, and I could still get across the mountains without finding anybody,” Quinn admitted.
They traveled the rest of the day surrounded by short-leaf oaks and pines. The chill in the air and the barrenness of the oaks gave everything a desolate feel. The pines, at least, had retained their needles and color enough to afford them cover if they needed it. The temperature dropped as they rode, and it was not long before it started snowing, mixed with rain and sleet.
Then Quinn saw movement in his peripheral vision. Nearby, an antelope moved around a crop of trees. Quinn grabbed his bow and slung low around Gunpowder’s side. He released two arrows in the space of a second. The antelope fell. Thomas looked impressed. Quinn only took the time necessary to cut as much meat as he could from the animal. “I’m looking forward to dinner already,” he said.
“Fresh meat is always nice,” Thomas replied, but the flat way he said it made Quinn wonder what he was really thinking.
The next day, both men were frowning. The mountains remained as empty and unyielding as ever. “I hope we haven’t lost him,” Thomas said.
“Don’t worry,” Quinn said as he eyed the tracks in front of them.
As the day waned, however, a sudden squall whipped up. In an instant, both men were drenched with rain, and the sudden wind nearly blew them over. Quinn found the nearest cave, and they ducked inside. Quinn unsaddled Gunpowder, and the horse shook himself, sending water flying. Quinn cursed. Thomas, protected behind his own horse, laughed. He’s enjoying my misfortune, Quinn thought.
The darkness of the cave blocked the earliest light from Quinn’s eyes the next morning. By the time he woke up, it was completely light. Even worse, Thomas was already awake, watching him. The look on his face made Quinn uncomfortable.
“How long have you been awake?” Quinn asked.
“Not long,” Thomas said.
Quinn doubted that. Already he wondered whether Thomas was more than the talk he was known for in Fort Smith. He hurried to pack his belongings, and they were on their way again. “Enjoying being a marshal?” Quinn asked as they rode.
“It takes awhile to start catching prisoners.”
“You do pretty well. Though I’m not surprised Comanche skills are transferable to this work.”
“Know a lot about the Comanche?” Quinn challenged.
“I learned plenty living in the Texas plains. All the settlers were afraid of them, and for good reason.”
“I’m sorry for what happened to your family,” Quinn replied. “Bet being so bitter isn’t worth it.”
“Ever lose a member of your family?” Thomas asked.
“My father was killed fighting the whites.”
“I thought Senator Quincy was your father.”
“I meant the Indian father who raised me.”
“The Comanche started the hostilities. It serves him right for getting killed.”
Immediately, Quinn raised his rifle. Thomas raised his. “Mine is more powerful than yours,” Thomas warned.
Knowing he was right, Quinn lowered his gun. Thomas lowered his. Only slowly did they start riding again. I’m never letting him out of my sight,Quinn thought.
The previous evening’s storm had washed away the tracks they had been following, leaving Quinn guessing. That alone would have put him in a foul mood. The confrontation with Thomas also unnerved him. Is he looking to kill me?he wondered.
The next two days proceeded in a similar fashion, leaving the marshals empty-handed, tense, and uncertain. When they finally looked at each other again, it was because they stood at a fork in the road. In front of them was the main path on which they had been traveling. It went west and would eventually lead out of the mountains. To their right was a smaller path running north, further into the mountains, harder to navigate but infinite in its possibilities.
“Where to?” Thomas asked.
“I vote north,” Quinn said. “Blue Joe likes mountain hideouts.”
“Sure,” Thomas replied.
Later, as the sun sunk behind the mountains, they stopped to make camp beneath a large overhang. Suddenly, Gunpowder whinnied. That was so unlike him that Quinn grabbed his gun.
Then he saw it: a massive black bear was coming towards them. The bear rose onto its hind legs, and Quinn fired a shot that ripped through the bear’s shoulder. The bear roared. Gunpowder took off down the path, and Quinn’s supplies disappeared off the cliff.
Quinn fired again, knowing that if Gunpowder went missing, he was completely fucked. There was no way I can survive out here on foot, without any food or water,he thought. He doubted Thomas’ horse could carry them both. Add to that an angry, injured bear, and Quinn found himself getting scared.
Then Thomas took a shot with his huge Sharps Carbine, and the bear collapsed. Quinn ran after Gunpowder. “Gunpowder,” he called. “Calm down, boy.”
It was awhile before Quinn visually located his horse. By then, Gunpowder had regained his composure. “Good boy,” Quinn whispered. He led Gunpowder back up to the sheltered ledge. It was one of the few covered spots he had seen, and besides, he was not about to let fresh bear meat go to waste. A few minutes later, Gunpowder was happy with his oats, and Quinn was happy to dismantle the bear.
“What supplies did you lose?” Thomas asked.
“Most of my food, some of my arrows, one of my water caches.” Quinn tried not to look worried. The bear meat would make up for his lost food, but there was no replacing the water or his weapons.
The next morning, the two marshals were traveling at dawn. It was still early in the day when the trail suddenly ended. Confused, Quinn reined Gunpowder in so fast that Thomas nearly ran into them. They stood there silently, contemplating the sheer drop in front of them. In the distance, the mountains’ peaks called to Quinn, but he had no way to get there. All around him were empty branches on barren trees. Snow lay in patches at the higher altitudes.
“How did we end up at a dead end?” Thomas asked. “Aren’t your tracking skills better than that?”
Quinn ignored Thomas’ tone as he thought of his prior travels through the Winding Stair Mountain. Only been through here twice,he realized, and I’ve never taken this path.“Goddammit,” he said.
They spent much of the day retracing their steps. Thomas leant Quinn one of his water caches, but it was a smaller one that was not completely full. Quinn knew he could handle thirst, but he was having trouble swallowing his resentment towards his ungenerous colleague.
Soon, the sun sunk low in the sky and Quinn and Thomas prepared to make camp after another fruitless day of searching. Even after a full day, they had barely reached the main road, and they certainly had not seen Jack’s tracks again.
“We’ll be lucky if I haven’t lost him completely,” Thomas said.
“Shut up,” Quinn replied, even as he despaired too. More than anything, he wished he had some whiskey. Knowing his ability to waste days drinking it, he purposely had not bought any. That was probably the intelligent choice,he thought, but I’ll be damned if it wouldn’t do me some good right now.
The next day, they made their way out of the mountains. Quinn still had not seen Jack’s tracks yet, but he knew they were near another stop on the MK&T Railroad- Kiowa- where they could get supplies and information.
Soon, Quinn’s spirits lifted. The mountains were beautiful, but he preferred the plains. As they headed southwest towards Kiowa, Quinn suddenly pulled Gunpowder to a stop. Thomas stopped too, watching Quinn. Already, Quinn knew- Jack’s tracks were on the ground in front of him. Quinn moved forward and then out before he recognized the tracks of the other four men in Jack’s posse. They’ve finally met up, he thought.
He and Thomas followed the tracks into town. At the saloon, they sat in one corner and listened to the conversation around them. Talk of Clayton’s murder was all around. As the evening dwindled, they were able to overhear that Jack and his gang had been here, but not much more. So, Quinn, seeing the saloon owner pushing people towards the door, cornered him once the saloon was empty. “I hear Jack Mattherson’s been here,” he said.
“Him an’ a couple o’ tough lookin’ guys,” the owner replied. “I din’ ask any questions.”
“But you still noticed him,” Quinn pressed.
The owner nodded. “He said he’d been travelin’ for awhile, but his clothes was still nicer than mine. Heard he came from money- shoulda stayed home.”
“What’d the guys with him look like?” Thomas asked.
“One was a real big guy. Him I never seen before. But the other guy was Blue Joe- himI heard of.”
“There were only two men with him?” Quinn asked.
“In here there was. There was two other guys outside too. Blue Joe was talking about buyin’ supplies.”
“Where would they do that?” Quinn asked.
“General store down the road.”
The store was the marshals’ first stop the next morning, where they asked questions as they bought supplies. “Yeah, they were here,” the manager, Jim Stetson, said as his daughter Louisa stocked shelves nearby. “I didn’t see all those men, just one or two.”
“Which ones?” Quinn asked. He described Jack.
Jim nodded. “Him,” he said.
Quinn described Blue Joe Johnson.
“Him too,” Jim confirmed.
“Were they with anyone else?” Thomas asked.
“They met a couple of guys outside when they left,” Jim said.
“What’d they look like?” Quinn asked.
“The ones outside?” Jim clarified.
Quinn nodded, wondering why his dentist had an easier time pulling teeth than he had getting information from this man.
“One was real big,” Jim said. “I didn’t get a look at the other two.”
“What did they buy?”
“Food, ammunition. Lots of water. Said they were planning on disappearing into the Staked Plains.”
They would have been better off disappearing into the mountains,Quinn thought. “Thanks,” he said.
On their way out, Thomas noticed Louisa. “Did you see those men?” he asked.
Louisa nodded. “Each had a big rifle, and smaller guns at their hips.”
“Did they buy ammunition for all of those guns?”
“Yes. Father was happy to sell that much.”
“When was all of this?”
“The day before yesterday.”
It was mid-morning when Quinn and Thomas left Kiowa, heading west towards the Llano Estacado. Quinn shook his head. If Jack thought he was going to disappear into the Llano, he was wrong. White men had real trouble on the plains. The wide open space drove many of them crazy, but miles and miles of open space, without any landmarks, could do that. Even the first white men to explore the area had driven stakes into the ground to mark their way. The never-ending openness, broken only by the occasional escarpment, confused its visitors. Many saw mirages that never existed. Complex visions of towering mountains and entire villages faded into nothingness as you got closer. Sounds were like that too- sometimes they carried for miles or not at all. It all combined to produce an extreme range of emotions. Quinn had seen some men driven to ecstasy over it, others to a dark depression.
“So, on to Fort Sill?” Thomas asked as they rode.
“That’s becoming the reservation for the Comanches, isn’t it?”
“What a relief,” Thomas said.“Shut up,” Quinn replied.
Quinn had been to Fort Sill a few times since becoming a marshal, and he pictured it in his mind’s eye as he and Thomas moved forward. He saw the open fort, without any kind of enclosure, moat or cannon that would denote its entrance and exit. The Comanche had their own tepees, but were separate from the barracks that marked Fort Sill as a military outpost. Most of the whites there think of the Indians as their uncivilized enemy,Quinn thought. Even so, if a visit to Fort Sill meant another chance to see Smiles A Lot, Quinn would not complain, even if his chances with her remained as low as ever.
Later in the day, Quinn shivered. “A storm is coming,” he said. He looked at the sky. Black clouds were racing towards them. If only we could get to that outcropping of rocks up there,he thought. He and Thomas had no sooner ducked under the rocks than the winds roared, and snow poured from the sky.
Once the storm finished its fury, they rode off. Quinn was not to be deterred, not so close to their quarry. I’m also worried about Thomas,he admitted. He’s been very quiet- I’m worried that he’s planning something.
The days passed, and Quinn and Thomas got closer to Fort Sill. I’m impressed Jack made it this far,Quinn thought. But we’re less than a day behind him now.
“We’re low on water,” Thomas said suddenly.
“I know. We’re close to a water source, though.”
“How can you tell?”
“See those birds over there?” Quinn said, pointing. “Those are Dirt Dauber birds. They’re always close to water.” But Quinn knew that he would have found the water anyway- they were near where the Comanche had once made their summer camps.
Soon, the two marshals spotted a spring that gathered into a decently-sized pool. “Be careful with the water,” Quinn warned.
“No way,” Thomas replied. “I’m totally out.”
“These rivers are often undrinkable,” Quinn warned. He had not forgotten his first trip this way after becoming a marshal. Several of the deputies had gotten sick from the water, and their shit had turned white. Right now, though, the water seemed alright, so Quinn filled his containers. After they had eaten, Quinn rolled out his bedding and lay down, staring up at the sky.Nearby, Thomas sat on his bedding, also staring around them. “Look at all this wide open land,” he said. “If I owned this kind of land, I’d farm it, maybe have a ranch.”
Quinn frowned, wondering where he was going with this. “Does that kind of lifestyle interest you?” he asked.
“If I had a family, it would. You married?”
“Was there anyone among the Comanche you were interested in?”
“One, but she married someone else, someone much older,” Quinn said, in a tone ended the conversation. Her father forced that marriage on her against her protests because he didn’t want her marrying me,Quinn thought.
The next morning, he and Thomas rode out early. Quinn frowned as he studied the tracks around him. He saw the tracks of the five men they were following, but the tracks of five additional horses were intertwined with them. Could they have been joined by another group?Quinn wondered. If so, that meant they were chasing ten men, not five. For the first time, he wished Tony and Jake were with them.
Thomas, too, looked worried when Quinn told him what he had seen. “We’ll have to take them by surprise,” he said. “We can’t fight ten men alone.”
As night fell, they contemplated where to make camp when suddenly they both saw a flicker of light. Slowly, they inched forward, making as little noise as possible. They made it to the top of a slight bluff and hid behind a small escarpment. Beyond the rock was a group of ten men. Now Quinn saw why the flame had flickered- it was a campfire that had been partially hidden by the rocks that were now right in front of him and Thomas. As they examined the men in front of them, Quinn saw Jack Mattherson.“It’s them!” Thomas whispered fiercely.
Quinn nodded, and his heart began thumping. Thomas nudged him and pointed around. Quinn understood that he wanted to sneak around to the other side of the group. He nodded, and Thomas silently inched away. Quinn reached for his bow and arrows, and let four arrows fly. Four members of the group in front of him fell silently. In a second, their comrades realized what had happened. All six grabbed their guns and started firing in every direction.
Quinn dove off Gunpowder as bullets sped around him. Suddenly, Gunpowder whinnied, and Quinn jerked his head in his horse’s direction. Blood streamed from Gunpowder’s side. Quinn’s heart jumped at the sight of his injured horse, but he forced himself not to do anything rash. If he sprang from cover now, he would be killed in an instant. Then the men below him stopped firing and started reloading their guns. Quinn took advantage of the silence to fire three more shots. Three more men went down, but the shots gave Quinn’s position away.
Then Thomas’ Sharps Carbine spoke. One of its bullets cracked the rock Quinn was hiding behind. Its second bullet ripped through his arm. Quinn cried out in pain and surprise. So this was how Thomas intended to kill him- under cover of enemy fire! That man is a coward,Quinn thought, and I have to do something about it.
Despite Gunpowder’s injury, Quinn remounted. He had no choice- there was no way he could shoot Thomas from this distance. Quinn spurred Gunpowder into a gallop and grabbed his lance. Thomas did not have time to reload before Quinn hurled the lance into his upper body, nearly splitting him in half. Then he swung around to fire his rifle at the men he had been chasing. The ones that were still alive had seen him kill Thomas and stood there, open-mouthed and staring. Quinn killed one more of them, and his second shot wounded Jack.
Then the last man recovered, and returned fire. His first shot hit Quinn in the shoulder. His second one hit him in the stomach. Quinn howled in pain. Then, unable to hold onto Gunpowder any longer, Quinn fell into darkness.
When Quinn awoke, everything was white. Slowly, he saw the edges of a teepee. “Ah, you’re finally awake,” a woman’s voice said.
“Mother,” Quinn croaked. “Where are we?”
“The reservation at Fort Sill,” Little Child replied.
Quinn’s heart sank. “Is the whole family here?”
“We didn’t have a choice, Lonely Spirit,” Little Child said, using Quinn’s Comanche name. “There’s no food on the plains. The buffalo are nearly extinct.”
When Quinn turned his head, he saw Small Runner, his younger sister, sitting next to him. Quinn smiled at her, even as he groaned from the pain he was in.
“You have several gunshot wounds,” Small Runner said. “You need to be careful.”
“How long have I been here?”
“You know, Smiles A Lot came to see you.”
Quinn looked back at his sister.
“I haven’t forgotten that you wanted to marry her.”
“That was a long time ago.”
Small Runner shrugged. “Did you know her husband was killed when the whites attacked us last winter? I think she’s still interested in you.”
Quinn swallowed and looked away. After all this time, he was not sure whether to hope.
Two days later, he finally hobbled outside. At the stables, Gunpowder’s wound had been bound, and was clearly healing. At the Fort’s Army barracks, Quinn was surprised to find Tony and Jake.
“We just got here,” Tony said.
Jake nodded at the Army officer that was as standing next to him. “Colonel Graypool was the scout in charge of the officers that brought you back here.”
“Thank you,” Quinn said.
Graypool’s lively blue eyes smiled in reply, and his black hair was cropped short. “You’re welcome,” he said. “I’m also the commanding officer here at Fort Sill.”
“Thanks for taking care of me,” Quinn said. Then he looked back at Tony and Jake. “How is Jack Mattherson?”
“Wounded, but alive.”
“Good,” Quinn replied. “I want him to hang.”
“He probably will,” Jake said. “I never envy the defendants in Judge Parker’s court.”
Suddenly, Quinn felt tired and injured.
“You should get some rest,” Tony said.
“Make sure you catch that woman that’s been waiting for you, though,” Graypool said, nodding at the barracks’ window.
Outside, Smiles A Lot smiled shyly. “Your mother said you’d be here,” she apologized.
“Here I am,” Quinn said with a smile, even if he still felt awkward dealing with her.
Smiles A Lot supported him as they walked.
“I’m sorry about your husband,” Quinn said.
Smiles A Lot shrugged. “You know I never wanted that marriage.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” Quinn said. “But I don’t suppose you’d still be interested in me?”
“I am, but I’m not sure I could live in Fort Smith,” Smiles A Lot admitted.
“And I couldn’t stand living here,” Quinn said. “I’d rather live there and have you with me.”
Smiles A Lot thought about it. “I would be willing to join you,” she said finally.
Quinn’s heart jumped. “Let’s start making arrangements.”
They had reached Little Child’s teepee. Inside, Quinn fell asleep immediately. When he awoke the next day, he went to the hospital to check on Jack and his other prisoner. Tony and Jake were already there. “They could make it back to Fort Smith,” the doctor said.
“Good,” Tony said. He and Jake looked at Quinn.
“How are you, Quinn?” Jake asked.
“Fine,” Quinn said. “When are we leaving?”
Tony and Jake paused as they contemplated their answer. “How ‘bout we give it one more day?” Tony said. “I didn’t like the look of your wounds.”
The next morning, Quinn awoke as the sun rose. The early hour did not prevent his family from watching him pack up his belongings.
Smiles A Lot arrived as Quinn was saddling Gunpowder. “I have something for you,” she said, and held out an intricately beaded knife cover.
“Wow,” Quinn said. “This is really beautiful.” He took the knife he carried out of its sheath and put it into the beaded one. “Thanks.” This must have taken her forever to make,he thought as he looked over the cover again. She really must not have forgotten about me after all.“Write to me,” he told her. “It won’t be hard to get you to Fort Smith.”
Smiles A Lot nodded.
Then Tony and Jake rode up. Quinn mounted Gunpowder, and gave his family one last nod. Then the three marshals headed off the reservation, prisoners and caskets in tow.