The trail of vengeance had lasted two long years, forcing Quantro to use his guns on four men. Now it was over and he decided to try his hand in Mexico. The Arizona desert was hot after the cool mountains of Colorado, but things were to grow hotter. On the trail behind was the son of a man he had killed only weeks earlier and who was eager to carve a notch on his gun. Riding towards him from the south was a renegade Apache and a white man. And then there was the hungry buzzard circling above.
When Quantro found himself bleeding to death from a bullet wound, he wondered if this day would be the last he would ever see the sun rise. The old west was a hard unforgiving place and there was no place more unforgiving than Mesa del Diablo, the Devil’s Plateau, in Arizona. There, the merciless sun seared and charred the desert and sucked the life out of everything that didn’t have spines or scales or a tail that rattled. For two years Quantro had ridden a trail of vengeance with only his Winchester and his faithful buckskin horse for company. Those men had taken everything from him. He knew he couldn’t get his life back, but he also knew that there are men who build things and there are men who create nothing, just rampage through the years taking what they want and destroying what they don’t. Somebody has to stop them. And Quantro did. But when it was over, it wasn’t quite over. He had been working the trail to Mexico. Now things didn’t look good. Out there among the rocks and scrub was a man eager to carve a notch on his gun. Quantro didn’t know who he was. But Quantro wasn’t going any place, wounded, his strength stolen by the sun and his will sapped by the loss of blood. Even his horse had been spooked and run. He also didn’t know about the white man and the renegade Apache riding toward him from the south. And he didn’t know how long the hungry buzzard circling above him would wait for its next meal before it closed in. One thing he did know. He didn’t want to die today. And most of all, he didn’t want to die here.
He kept the climbing sun on his left shoulder throughout the morning, allowing the buckskin to set his own pace as he threaded his way in and out of the arroyos and rock spurs as he pleased. He passed the hours studying the terrain, his ice-blue eyes
restlessly moving back and forth under the brim of his sweat-stained Stetson, the only sound the clicking of the horse’s hooves on the rocky ground. The sun had chased away the chills of the night and now his buckskin shirt was stuck fast between his shoulder blades, a dark patch of sweat spreading slowly across his shoulders.
By noon he reckoned he had covered another fifteen miles which would place him about eighty miles from Sasabe to the east and about fifty miles from the Mexican border in the south. He had heard talk of Sasabe, maybe he would try there first and
buy some supplies. Coffee and bacon and some grain for the stallion to supplement its meager diet. Two or three times during the morning the horse had stumbled and he had became increasingly aware its ribs were beginning to make long shadows under
the once lustrous coat. With luck, the tough buckskin would take him all the way to wherever he was going. He had developed an attachment for the loyal horse, and he knew he would hate to have to trade it in or turn it loose.
He whispered a few words of encouragement, and at the sound of his voice the stallion’s ears picked up, but he stumbled on some loose shale and Quantro decided to rest for a while. He selected a spot under an escarpment which would provide some
shade, then reined in and dismounted. He loosened the saddle cinch a couple of notches, then unhooked the canteen from the saddle horn and drew the Winchester from its scabbard before he turned the horse loose to find what forage it could.
He carried the canteen and the rifle over to the lee of the rock, occasionally flexing his stiff right leg as he walked. After a cursory glance around the base of the outcrop to see if any snakes had made it their home, he sat down with his back against the rock wall and gave his attention to his back trail.
There were no telltale plumes of dust moving so he reconciled himself he was alone. Satisfied, he lay the Winchester across his knees and began chewing on the strip of jerked beef. When that was finished he rolled a cigarette.
An hour later he whistled for the buckskin and the horse immediately gave up its search for nourishment and returned to its master. Quantro slid the rifle back into its saddle boot, then uncapped the canteen and poured a little of the water into his hat.
When the stallion had finished drinking he put the damp Stetson back on his head and tilted the canteen to take a gulp or two himself that would have to last him the afternoon.
In the act of raising the canteen to his lips something made him turn. Nothing specific, just a notion.
That was when he saw him.
A boy of about eighteen was standing on a rise off to his right, and at the very second he saw him he heard the flat bark of a Winchester.
The canteen was torn from Quantro’s fingers, but still hung from his wrist by the rawhide thong. He was already moving, the Colt fluidly drawn from the holster and coming up to bear on the boy. The first shot roared out from his pistol almost across the rump of the stallion. The buckskin spooked into a rear, then galloped away.
The rifle was still on the saddle.
He ran, thumbing off shots to cover himself, but the boy was stationary. He merely levered another shell into the Winchester’s breech and squeezed the trigger again.
The .44 shell tore into Quantro, throwing him sideways on to the dusty shale. The explosion of pain in his shoulder almost made him howl, but instead he began to curse fluently and with great imagination through fiercely clenched teeth...