As the crow flies, Cananea stands about 25 miles south of the border, in Sonora, Mexico. Known as the copper city, it was no mirage in that vast tract of bone dry country under a huge blue sky, but a makeshift sprawling town of saloons and whorehouses. Populated by drifters and gamblers and chancers, they were all there for one reason. To mine the wealth from the grudging earth. And when the copper turned into gold, the parasites came, scenting the lure of easy pickings. It was into Cananea that Quantro rode, looking for honest employment to earn the money for a ranch whose cattle would carry his brand. He knew it would take hard work. But something always killed his dream. A crooked businessman protecting his interests, a miner like a grizzly bear who didn’t much like Quantro’s face and who tried to alter it, two men trying to rape his woman, or a bunch of outlaws determined to steal the silver he was protecting. Whichever way it happened, Quantro always found himself in the middle of the gunfire.
He staggered, the big man’s laughter suddenly distant. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. His eyes eased back into focus to see the huge, hairy face bearing down on him.
Second nature brought up his hands to defend himself. He realized he was clinging to the hammer. He whipped it up and rammed the end of the shaft into the miner’s gut. The big man gasped. Foul breath washed from his mouth, forced in a rush between his rotten teeth.
The muscles of his bulging stomach must have been tighter than they appeared. After one faltering step he seized the hammer shaft. With enormous strength he wrenched it from Quantro’s hands.
With horror, Quantro watched him whirl the hammer around like a battle-ax above his head. He moved to jump sideways but found himself hemmed in by the ring of miners pressing forward to gain a better view. Their bloodlust was rising. Caught in the circle of
leering faces, evil in the half light of the tunnel, Quantro realized that nothing short of a bullet would stop this huge angry bear.
He had no gun. They were forbidden underground.
Quantro sifted the precious few alternatives he had. He decided to go for the legs. If he could throw him off balance before he launched the hammer, then there was a chance.
As he made to dive, the big man completed his final swing then hurled the deadly missile.
Quantro was already into the act of his lunge when the big man roared. His hands released the hammer and he swerved sideways, his knees bending, released from the strain of holding ground. His timing thrown, Quantro slammed awkwardly into the solid muscle of the man’s thigh. The maw of the tunnel swallowed up the hammer and it landed with a clatter somewhere in the darkness.
The bad landing jarred Quantro’s jawbone. His teeth rattled like piano keys in the back of his head. Huge hands grabbed the back of his sweat-soaked shirt and hauled him from the floor. A boot crashed into his ribs and he flopped against the tunnel wall. Dazed, chest aching, he was barely aware of the miner standing over him, still breathing shallowly.
“I don’t need no hammer to kill you, Blondie.”
I’m in bad trouble, was all Quantro could think.
Hands grabbed him again. He was effortlessly lifted to his feet. Even then, he could see he was being set up. There seemed nothing he could do about it. A fist crashed into his face, followed by another to the shoulder. His head snapped back, then slumped forward as he began to slide down the wall.