THE WHISPERING BANDIT
THE WHISPERING BANDIT
Copyright © 2016 by Franklin D. Lincoln
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
FOR ROSE MARIE LINCOLN
The midday sun burned white hot over the vast arid expanses of the Staked Plains below. The brilliant orb muted into huge spreading beams of streaming light blotting out the paleness of the endless empty blue sky spreading across the Llano Estacado to the jagged peaks of the far off Sangre De Cristo mountains to the west.
Shimmering heat waves rippled off the sands of the desert floor below, rising like smoke into the stillness of the otherwise stagnant air and blurring the scene with hazy and fuzzy stripes of blue from the sky behind; the brown of the desert sand, and green from the scattered vegetation of short grass, manzanita and creosote growth.
Out of the haze a dark form began to appear in the distance and began to take shape with ever advancing movement. Like an apparition appearing out of nowhere, the shape loomed larger and gradually took the dark shape of a horse and rider emerging out of the steamy haze of blazing heat.
Across the desert floor and dipping down into an arroyo, already spotted with greenery fed by the promise of moisture, the rider and horse advanced. Through the arroyo and up an embankment of clay and patches of weed, the rider continued. Down the other side of the incline, into a narrow valley of scrub short grass, and up a grassy knoll dotted with patches of brush and young saplings, the rider guided the horse to the top of the ridge, emerging from a stand of pine and prickly pear and threading between a pile of large boulders.
The rider, pulled up rein. The big black stallion beneath the rider, slid to a halt; its iron shod hoofs digging clods of grass and spewing them aside. Here, on top of the ridge, the rider and horse were sky lined against the clear blue of the sky above. Had they been seen, they would have made a magnificent sight.
The black stallion stood like a shadow with no markings or hint of any other color. The rider, like the horse was also a black shadowy figure, clad in black from head to toe with black shirt and black trousers tucked into black high top boots. A broad brimmed black hat, tied beneath the rider’s chin, perched on top of a head covered with a black hood that draped down tight across the rider’s face hiding everything but the shadowed eyes that peered through the two slitted eyelets in the cloth.
From this vantage point on top of the ridge, the sight below was magnificent. The wide expanse of flatlands extended for miles in all directions. A winding road ranging north to Alamogordo and beyond, twisted like a thin ribbon through the giant red sandstone bluffs and crossed the middle of the of the tract in what appeared to be an ever widening trail as it approached and passed by the black rider’s vantage point, and continuing southward toward Gila Bend, Santa Fe and on west toward the Mogollons.
The sun reflected brilliantly on the coppery colored sandstone desert floor, giving a reddish hue to the scene. The giant bluffs to the north cast dark shadows spreading a tapestry of velvety copper on each side of the trail.
It was from between the far off buttes that the Concorde stage first appeared. The rider on the black horse gazed up at the noonday sun as if confirming the time for the arrival of the approaching coach. It was almost on time, which was unusual, for it normally ran at least a half hour late and often up to three hours late.
At first it was just a small shadow as it passed between the buttes; vaguely visible as it blended into the deep purple shadows until it emerged into the sunlight as it approached along the trail. The sound of churning wheels, the rapid clip clop of advancing hooves, the chink of leather and trappings, occasional cracks of a long bullwhip, and bellowing cries from the driver, urging the three teams of horses that formed a six up, carried sharply in the stillness of the oppressive heat of the day.
A cloud of dust spewed up around the advancing vehicle and animals, engulfing all in a masking shroud of almost invisibility, save for the lead horses’ necks and heads that seemed to grow out of a giant orb of dust and floating debris.
The rider in black settled back in the saddle; relaxing in patient wait. But as the stage rolled closer, the patience waned and the rider stiffened and almost standing in the stirrups with heightened excitement and anticipation.
Blinds, inside the coach, had been drawn over the passenger windows to keep out the flying dust, and as the vehicle and horses passed by on the trail below, rolling on, far enough away that the bandit could not be seen approaching, the rider slid a Winchester rifle from the saddle boot and held it one handed by the small of the stock with barrel pointing skyward. With a sharp jab of spurs to the black stallion’s sides, the black rider urged him forward, off the ridge, half prancing and half sliding down the embankment in pursuit.
The stage had just rolled by, leaving a massive cloud of dust in its wake. Horse and rider gained the flat land and raced after the speeding coach. Sunlight gleamed off the shiny black satin coat of the stallion as it raced onward with strong rippling muscles flexing with each graceful and long reaching stride, approaching the rolling vehicle from behind and immediately becoming engulfed in the debris, and all sounds of the galloping hoofs drowned out by the clatter of the coach and racing teams.
The racing six up was no match, however, for the speed of the black stallion, whose strength and stamina was beyond equal. It was only a matter of minutes before the rider came up alongside the left rear corner of the stage behind the canvas covered boot.
With the left arm outstretched and the rifle still in the right hand, the bandit reached out and gripped the top rail on the roof of the coach. With an athletic heave and half standing in the stirrups, the rider pulled upward and left the saddle, swinging upward, leaving the black stallion to run free behind. The horse slowed his pace and drifted back and away from the rolling vehicle; reins dragging free.
With the jouncing of the stage beneath them and the clatter of the rolling coach, driver and guard, neither one, feeling or hearing the thud as the bandit landed and pushed baggage aside to perch on bended knees, behind them.
It was only when the unsuspecting shotgun guard, who had been lulled into indifference from repeated trips without incident or danger, felt the cold steel of the rifle barrel pressed against the back of his neck. At first he only turned his head without thought of what might be happening, but immediately, he jerked to awareness. His body stiffened and his eyes bulged wide, accentuating his lean, wrinkled face with a drooping white mustache.
Even if the guard could have heard demands from the black clad intruder, words were not necessary for the flourish of the rifle barrel was enough to indicate that he should toss his shotgun off the coach. He did so and raised his hands.
The slim, young driver next to him, on the right, suddenly aware of his companion, half turned on the seat to look over his shoulder. The
black figure swung the rifle barrel toward him and he automatically hauled back on the reins, slowing the horses.
Another flourish of the rifle toward the guard and indicating the boot was enough for him to understand. He reached beneath his feet and lifted a strong box. The rifle pointed to the side and the guard tossed the chest overboard.
The coach was slowing now and the bandit leaned close to the driver’s ear. “Keep going and don’t look back!” The bandit whispered. Then rolled off the right side of the moving stage with a calculated landing; bending knees at just the right time and rolled into the dust alongside the trail. The bandit rose to stand and watched the stage disappearing into the distance.
The black stallion pranced forward. The bandit mounted and rode back to the waiting strong box, lying in the dust.
Flame spat from thundering guns; flashing in the late night darkness, in the empty street in Alamogordo. The acrid smell of cordite and gunsmoke filled the cool night air.
The tall, slim man had been just a shadow as he emerged from the saloon. HIs face had been in shadow with the light from inside the saloon drifting through the frosted glass windows, backlighting him. Muzzle flashes lit up the darkness as bullets crashed into the clapboard siding and door jam, just to the right of his head, raining shards of splintered wood across the man’s broad shoulders. He instinctively threw himself to the left, landing on his shoulder, hitting the board sidewalk hard and feeling the pain stab through him.
More bullets plowed into the wooden flooring, painting a zig zagging trail of holes between the man’s outstretched long lanky legs as he pushed himself into a half sitting position while clawing at the holster on his right side. The plain black handled Colt slid free and came up, belching flame and thunder with rapid thumbing of the hammer; spewing lead at the muzzle flashes from out in the street, until the gun clicked empty.
The muzzle flashes had come from distances from apart, but seemed to be moving. There could have been as many as four assailants, but given the events earlier, there was probably only two.
As the man’s pistol emptied out, silence fell across the darkened street. Remaining patrons inside the saloon made no effort to go outside to see what was happening. Lights went on in houses, farther down the street but no one seemed to want to venture outside. There was no more movement in the darkened street and from far off, a dog barked.
Gingerly, the tall man pushed himself to his feet and ventured forth into the street; reloading his weapon as he moved cautiously forward until he found the still forms lying in the street. He had been right, there were only two of them. Brothers! Billy and Pete Lowery.
With the toe of his boot, the man lifted a shoulder of each young man. Dead.
That would pose a problem for there were two more Lowery brothers still alive and they would want revenge.
The tall man, holstered his pistol, turned and strode to the hitch rail down the street to a waiting horse. He climbed into the saddle and rode off.