Outlaw Starr: An Anthology of Fiction by Kai Starr
An unlikely band of brothers... A ruthless gambler, a reckless young outlaw and a tough Buffalo soldier find themselves accidental partners in crime. But things really heat up when the outlaw's carelessness puts the law hard on their tail. They set out to flee New Mexico Territory and cross the border into Colorado...or die trying.
AN UNLIKELY BAND OF BROTHERS
The ruthless gambler
Elijah Cooksey is a little man with a big secret—and a big appetite for excitement. But he never expected excitement could be so much bother.
The reckless outlaw
Young Joshua Love has a habit of getting himself—and everybody else—into a heap of trouble. And this time, it might cost him his life.
The Buffalo soldier
Charlie Neill, the freeman from Ohio, is Joshua’s rival and enemy—and reluctant ally in escaping the law.
The accidental partners in crime have only one hope: Cross the border into Colorado…
Or die trying.
Charlie Neill, Joshua Love and Elijah Cooksey
Phoenix, Arizona Territory
Elijah stepped out of the frisky Capitol Saloon, to get himself a breath of fresh air. He leaned back against the rough adobe wall and stared out into the hazy darkness of Washington Street. Old “Whiskey Row” seemed quieter than usual, even for three in the morning, or maybe it was just that Eli had become used to the noisome crowd who made up the rougher element of the Phoenix population.
But for Elijah Cooksey, getting used to it meant it was time to move on. He’d run a fairly successful faro bank in the Capitol, and had hung around the dry, dusty town several months longer than he normally chose to hang around, any place. He was starting to get tired of it, tired of the heat of the desert and the loneliness of it, tired of the same old faces attached to Mexican, Irish, French, German and crazy Indian names that he didn’t care to remember. He was starting to miss St. Louis, and the fact that anything could be tiresome enough to make him miss St. Louis was a bad, bad sign.
He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. The lids slid over his clear hazel eyes like crinkled parchment paper dragging over a dry sponge. The dessicated air and the thick cloud of cigar smoke in the saloon assaulted a fellow’s whole body, but it was his eyes that suffered the most. Eli squinched his eyes and blinked, trying to get some tears flowing, again.
During one of his blinking sessions, he saw the tall blonde cowboy with the dainty little mustache saunter out through the Capitol’s doors. He’d taken notice of the man, before, not only because he’d not been around in the six months Eli had been working the cards, but because he looked so disgustingly good-natured and happy. It set Eli to wondering what kind of man could possibly hold onto a disposition like that, out here in the underbelly of Hades. He was certain it was covering up something awful. He didn’t believe anyone could live in this place and honestly be that happy.
Though, on seeing the man’s face closer up, Eli thought he might have been hasty in calling the cowboy a man. His wispy, sandy mustache had the look of a boy’s first attempt, and his face clung to the softness of youth. His eyes sat just far enough apart and were just wide enough to give him the appearance of a naďve choir boy, and he was long and lean and lanky, like one who was still trying to make the transition from gangly boy to grown man. Yet his stride wrote speeches about his inner confidence in a graceful, feline way, and was echoed in the hint of amused, insolent smile that curled up the outermost tip of his mouth on the right side. Eli couldn’t tell, in the darkness, but he fancied such a fellow would have to have bright blue eyes to match that childish face.
If not for the cowboy’s dangerous walk and the tied-down Navy Colt at his right hip, Eli might have marked him as a sucker. He stood there on the boardwalk and watched the cowboy glide toward his buckskin stallion, feeling certain that no amount of sucker ever lived in that young man.
He noticed, then, another presence coming around the corner toward him. He instinctively drew farther back into the shadows, thinking it might be some disgruntled punter who wanted to get even for his losses at the tiger table. But the man crept right past him, not even seeing him, his gun drawn and shakily aimed at his target.
Before Eli had a chance to tell who the target was, the mystery man fired a single shot into the blonde cowboy’s back. The cowboy cried out and fell against his horse, trying to hold on to the saddle, but quickly losing strength and slumping to the dirt. Eli made his move, then, without thinking, twice. His Derringer found itself against the killer’s back, square between his shoulders, before he even realized he had drawn it. The man froze, feeling the barrel in his back.
“Drop that gun.” Eli said, pulling the hammer back on his pistol with an audible click. He could feel the man shaking as he let the revolver drop to the ground. Elijah felt sick at his stomach, appalled to the bottom of his boots at the poor excuse for a man on the hurting side of his gun. “Little unsporting to shoot a man in the back, don’t you think? Downright cowardly, in fact,” he hissed. “I think I need to show you how a real man does it.”
He spun the man around with his left hand and shoved the Derringer into his face in the same motion. Eli hesitated just long enough to catch sight of the terror in the shooter’s eyes, and his surprise at seeing his assailant was only a slight runt of a man. Eli smiled at the surprise. Then he fired.
The bullet drove through the man’s right eye and into his brain with a sickening, wet thump, and Elijah let him fall to the ground. He huffed at the body.
“Huh. If you’re gonna kill a man, at least kill him to his face.”
The gunfire drew a few curious eyes from inside the Capitol Saloon and a few of the other Whiskey Row establishments, but nobody was curious enough to step outside and risk wandering into somebody’s sights. The few who had been fumbling about outside promptly made their ways inside. That suited Elijah just fine. He stuck the Derringer back into his vest and knelt beside the cowboy, who was gurgling and gasping and spitting up blood, and digging his hands into the dirt like that could make it stop hurting or help him breathe past the hole in his right lung.
“Hey,” Eli said, touching the man’s straggly blonde hair and stroking its length, all the way down to where it brushed his shoulders, “You hang on, you hear? I got the bastard that shot you.”
The cowboy looked up at him with a quizzical expression in his bright blue eyes, and Eli smiled at having guessed right. A professional gambler’s ego needed to be right more often than wrong. “I’m gonna try to get you to a safer place, before the law gets here, and it may hurt you a bunch when I lift you up. Think you can help me out, a little?”
“Y...yeah,” the man gasped.
Eli bent down and put his arms under the cowboy’s shoulders and lifted him up. The man groaned and then instantly tried to stifle it. He grasped Eli’s arms in a painful squeeze and tried to stand. He made it, wobbling like a drunk, and let Elijah slip under his left shoulder to help him walk around to the back entrance of the hotel next door, where Eli had a room by the month. The two had barely made it to the hallway before the cowboy passed out, and his weight and height worked to nearly topple the much shorter and slighter Elijah to the floor. But Eli let himself fall into the wall, instead, and dragged the other man the rest of the way to his room, where he kicked open the door and dragged him inside.
He struggled to hoist the bigger man onto the bed, then went huffing and puffing to the door to close and lock it. He lit a lamp and leaned against the door to rest a bit, staring at the sandy-haired boy on his bed. After a few long stares and wonders of what to do with him, he figured he’d better make sure he was still alive, before doing anything else. He laid his head on the cowboy’s breast and confirmed a heartbeat, then he shook him, to see if he was really unconscious or just lightly out. He got no response, so he decided it would be safe to go round up a doctor. Doc MacDougal would, no doubt, be annoyed at being rousted from his bed at such a late hour, but he wouldn’t refuse to come, and most importantly, he could be trusted to care for a gunshot victim with neither fuss nor uncomfortable inquiry, especially if assured he would promptly be paid in gold.