A traditional western set in Colorado in the 1870s
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Joe Prentis Website
When John Spencer returns to town after three years of living with the Cheyenne, he does not expect much of a welcome, but it doesn’t matter that much, because he doesn’t intend to stay that long. From the moment of his arrival he is confronted with the problems he ran away from when his parents were killed. There are those who will stop at nothing to make him leave, and others who are willing to pay any price to make him stay. The Indians called him Wolf and he has a reputation to match. There is a price on his head, bounty hunters on his back trail, and the army with a warrant for his arrest. And if that isn’t trouble enough, there is Shannon the one he loves. This is the first book in The Renegade series.
Wolf Spencer Series
If Wolf Spencer saw the gallows as he rode into town, there was no indication in his manner except for the quick movement of his eyes under the shade of his flat-brimmed hat. Hunched forward in the saddle, he rode slowly, for he was tired to the very marrow of his bones.
At the far end of town the stamp mill at Megan Mine beat a slow cadence and then stopped. Steam blasted and echoed from the row of false-fronted buildings on the main street.
There was the usual group of afternoon idlers leaned back against the wall on the hotel’s front porch. They surveyed the stranger, bumping their chairs down on all four legs as he looked their way. They noted the Indian pony he rode and the condition of his gear, which had seen some hard use. There was a look about him of someone who had ridden too far, and in too much of a hurry. He seemed unaware of the muttering as he went around the end of the hitching post and through the front doors.
Noah Wade nodded pleasantly and turned the ledger around as Spencer leaned his elbow against the polished surface of the desk.
“Can you arrange for a stable for my horse?” Spencer asked as Wade scooted the inkwell where it was within reach.
“Certainly can, sir.” Wade rapped sharply on the wall behind him. A door on the right side of the desk opened and a man stood framed in the opening. One eye was almost closed and the other looked coldly at Spencer.
“The horse at the rail,” Wade said, waving his hand vaguely in the direction of the front doors. “Take it down to the stable and see that it gets the usual.” If the man heard, he gave no indication except to close the door as abruptly as he had opened it.
Spencer signed his name, aware of the clerk’s interest as the pen scratched its way across the page.
“Funny thing,” Wade observed as the pen was returned to its holder. “You can certainly tell a lot about a man by looking at his hands. Usually, I can figure out a man’s occupation before he tells me. Now, you take that scar there on the back of your hand. It looks like a wolf trap might have caught you at sometime or the other.”
“That’s a pretty good guess,” he replied easily. “They even hung a name on me. Wolf Spencer. But most of my friends call me Spence.”
A little choking sound escaped Wade’s throat as the brass key fell from his fingers and clattered on the surface of the desk. Spence caught it on the first bounce.
Wade thought about the sawed-off shotgun that lay within easy reach, but his hands seemed to be frozen to the surface of the desk. Spence turned casually and mounted the stairs as if he had noticed nothing peculiar in Wade’s manner.
Wade waited until he had disappeared up the stairs, then grabbed his hat and rushed through the front entrance of the hotel. The men on the porch leaned forward in their chairs as he ran past them and scurried across the street.
“Marshal!” Wade called as he darted through the door of the jail office.
Marshal Gray looked up, the wrinkles on his long face crinkled in amusement. “Whoa up, Noah! I haven’t seen you move that fast in years. Where’s the fire?”
“There ain’t no fire. It’s worse than that!”
“Just simmer down, Noah, you’re going to give yourself a heart attack.”
“Do you know who just rode into town?” Wade demanded. His well groomed mustache stood out as stiff as hog bristles.
Deputy Abe Wentrell was leaned against the wall of the office cleaning a rifle. He worked the bolt as he looked up. “It must have been the devil to have you worked up like that.”
Wade’s eyes darted between the two men, not liking their good-natured joshing in the least. “Well if it ain’t the devil, it’s the next thing to it!”
Marshal Gray straightened, giving Wade a searching look. “What’s up, Noah?”
“It’s Wolf Spencer!” Wade said. He still had his mouth open, but nothing else fell out.
“Where is he now?” Gray asked. The atmosphere of the room had suddenly become as tense as a prairie hillside before a storm.
“He’s upstairs in his room. The name he signed on the ledger was John Anderson Spencer. There’s no doubt of it being Wolf. I didn’t recognize him until he had already signed the register. Are you going to arrest him?” He rolled an eyeball at Abe as if he were expecting a comment from that direction.
“As far as I know, there aren’t any valid charges against him. I still have a handful of wanted posters around here, but all of them are from cattlemen’s associations. No authority there to begin with. You go back to the hotel. I’ll be over in a minute.”
“In case you need a posse, there’s a bunch on the porch.”
Marshal Gray raised his hand and cut off Noah’s speculation.
“I won’t need a posse, Noah. John Spencer and I are old friends.”
Wade looked at him doubtfully but wasn’t inclined to argue. He jammed his hat on his head and jerked the door open. Gray waited for it to close before he moved to the front of his office. He took a cautious finger and pushed the gingham curtain aside.
How long had it been?
Gray peered through the grimy window at the street, then raised his eyes and darted a glance toward the cemetery where the men lay in the long, silent rows under the shade of the aspens. He leaned wearily against the wall and felt the old ache from the bullet wound start up in his shoulder. The ache always foretold one of two things, rain or trouble. He glanced toward the mountains. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
The street was quiet except for the group who sat in their usual position on the porch of the Cattleman’s Hotel. Farther down, two cowpokes were leaned against the rail at the Paris Saloon. Before long, the day shift at the mines would be spilling down the street. It didn’t matter too much about the miners. Most of them were new in town and they wouldn’t know Spence anyway. It was the cattlemen he was worried about. He couldn’t see the two cowboys well enough to know if they were McClellan’s men. This was what worried him the most.
As Gray watched, Wade scurried past the men on the porch without looking in their direction and disappeared through the double doors of the hotel.
“Are you expecting some trouble, Marshal?”
Gray jumped at the sound of the voice so close behind him. Being able to move without sound was a valuable asset out on the range, but in the office, it was an irritation. Gray looked around at his deputy and saw the smooth youthful face and felt a moment of overwhelming sadness. In the last three years he had lost three deputies. Abe was too young for this kind of life, and Gray was getting too old. When he spoke, his voice betrayed nothing. There were bigger irritations to occupy his time.
“There could be some trouble, Abe.”
“You think he brought someone with him?”
“No, but it’s likely someone followed him. There’s bound to be a bunch on his trail. You go around to the back door of the hotel and see if you can spot anything suspicious. If there are any strangers hanging around, don’t take any chances.”
“I’ve heard this Wolf Spencer is a real bad hombre.”
Gray felt his back stiffen. Sometimes Abe would go for days without saying anything, and then when he did speak he was likely to say the wrong thing.
“I know the bad things you’ve heard. He lived with the Cheyenne after his folks were killed. Some folks say he was at the Fort Mead Massacre. There’s not a word of truth in any of it. But even if he did some of the things the army has accused him of doing, I can’t say I blame him.”
Wentrell’s eyebrows went up. “That is a funny thing to say, seeing you were a horse soldier yourself at one time.”
“Not so funny when you know the facts. If a man ever had reason to have bad feelings against the army, he does. Have you ever heard of the Lawson gang?”
“They were renegade soldiers, weren’t they?”
“Spencer’s father was their commanding officer during the rebellion. After the war, he resigned his commission and came out here. His old outfit was transferred up to the fort a year or so later. There was a lot of robbing and killing all over the area. Nobody suspected it was soldiers. Things went on like that for two or three years until they finally made a mistake. Lon Spencer wasn’t afraid to testify against them. They swore they would kill him for getting them convicted. Two days before they were to be hanged, they escaped from this jail.”
“I heard something about that. The story this fellow told me . . .” Wentrell began, but Gray cut him off as if he hadn’t spoken.
“Nobody knows how they escaped, although there was a lot of speculation at the time. All we know is that somebody unlocked that door and they walked out. I was Marshal Wayne’s deputy at the time. Judge Dirkson appointed me to take his place.”
Wentrell grunted. “I know about that too. Heard there was a heap of shooting before things got settled.”
Gray moved away from the wall, one steel blue eye regarding Wentrell gravely. “There was a lot of shooting all right, but if you think anything was settled, you’re mistaken. We never caught the one responsible for opening that jail door, and God help them if I ever do.