Apache Gunhawk by Chad Cull
Copyright 2017 Franklin D. Lincoln
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2017 by Franklin D. Lincoln
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
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.
Names, characters and incidents are fictional, any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be produced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information or storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
Printed in the United States of America
Other Titles by Franklin D. Lincoln Writing as Chad Cull
The Devil’s Justice
Alias: The Cattle King’s Son
Other Titles by Franklin D. Lincoln
The Whispering Bandit
Legend of Wildcat Kitty and the Cyclone Kid
Wildcat Kitty and the Cyclone Kid Ride Again
The Return of Wildcat kitty and the Cyclone Kid
Wildcat Kitty and the Cyclone Kid
Alias: The Hangman from Hell
Trouble Rides a Fast Horse
Monsters and Lollipops
Riders of the Silver Trail
Death Rides the Black Hills
King of the Gun Trail
Billowing dark clouds, roiling and churning in searing wind, seemed to zoom across the jagged mountain peaks of the Mogollons; long dark entrails streaming behind them and meshing with the black mass of the onrushing storm and obliterating the gray blue of the early morning New Mexico sky. Rain began to drip from the leading clouds, soon to be joined by the pelting torrent of water streaming violently from the ensuing storm mass. Rolling thunder rumbled in the distance. A huge bolt of lightning sliced through the clouds, followed by a tremendous crack of thunder with another flash of lightning slicing through the dark sky almost immediately, before the next deafening roar.
Eight riders had emerged from a stand of trees at the base of the Mogollon Mountain range, pushing their mounts steadily forward into the driving rain as the lightning bathed them in its momentary glow. The rain dripping off their wide hat brims and down the dark slickers, that attempted to shield them from the brunt of the storm, added to the general discontent and grimness of their purpose.
The leader of the group rode slightly ahead and at the center of the pack, rain dripping off the thin line of silvery gray beard that bristled along his pudgy jaw line and chin. He was a big man, with a burly frame and aging well into his fifties. His face had turned flabby and his jowls framed the gash of a mouth that turned downward at each end into a snarling scowl. ‘Hell. How did I get this old, this soon?’ Ace Noonan grimaced to himself as he rode. It was already spring of 1855 and he still had nothing more than a life of bank robberies and stage holdups with only a band of low life followers and a hideaway in the Colorado Mountains for refuge between jobs. He was particularly disgruntled this day. Not just because of the storm, although that added to his temper, but because this whole job had a sour taste to it. Things had started to go wrong the day before when they came across a peaceful hunting party of Jiccarillo Apaches.
“Lookee, lookee,” Charlie Noonan had said as he reined his horse to a halt, turning his mount crosswise on the trail and blocking passage for the rest of the gang as they were climbing toward the rim of a canyon. He pointed out the band of five Indians riding slowly below. A deer was slung across the back of one of the ponies. “Let’s have us some fun and get us a couple of red sticks,” Charlie chuckled as he wheeled his horse around and dragged his rifle from its scabbard.
“Leave them be,” Ace bellowed, pushing his horse into the side of Charlie’s. “It’s a hunting party. They’re not looking for trouble. And we don’t need any. When are you ever going to grow up, kid?” Ace scolded his younger brother of twelve years.
“Since when did you get to be an Injun lover, Ace?” Charlie retorted, a look of disappointment on his lean craggy face.
“Never mind,” Ace growled. “Leave them alone. Come on. We’ve still got miles to cover before nightfall. Let’s go.” Ace led his horse out around his brother to continue on up the trail; the rest of the gang following behind, shoving Charlie to the side of the trail, leaving him to bring up the rear.
Charlie grinned from ear to ear, revealing his yellowed and uneven large teeth. He would have his fun anyways. In spite of Ace’s warning. Whipping his horse around, he brought the rifle up and leveled it at the young Apache buck bringing up the rear of the party.
Ace raged with fury when the roar of Charlie’s rifle echoed in his ears. By the time he managed to rein his mount around, the rifle had barked two more times. He could see three red bodies lying on the ground below. The two remaining bucks and their horses galloped away leaving their fallen brothers behind.
The incident still gnawed at Ace as he rode on through the rain. He had tried to raise his younger brother right, but something about Charlie was just not right. Perhaps a bit addled in the head or perhaps he was just mean. Although he had tried, Ace just could not control him. And now the damage had been done. It didn’t take much to incite the Apache these days. The whole southwest was fast becoming a boiling pot of danger. Hopefully, whatever trouble that would ensue from yesterday’s incident, would not start until they had accomplished their business in this area and made tracks back to Colorado and the sanctuary of The Wolf’s Lair as it was called, hidden deep in the mountains south of Denver. The Noonan gang never pulled jobs close to home. Never had they stolen anything within Colorado. Always they would ride far from home, south to Arizona and New Mexico and north as far as Wyoming and the Dakotas. They would strike once and quickly and return home to lie low for a while. So far this tactic had kept them alive and free of the law. Sometimes, Ace was amazed that it had worked so well for so long, but at times he wondered if and when his luck might run out.
And now the business at hand was more difficult due to the raging storm, which showed no sign of let up before they reached their destination at Mud Flats. With grim determination, Ace Noonan led his men onward. The bank at Mud Flats was holding army payroll for the men at Fort Union and the usual detail of Cavalry would be there to pick it up that afternoon. The Noonan gang needed to be in and out of Mud Flats before noon with the loot, and be well on their way home before the cavalry arrived. The pelting rain had slowed them down considerably adding to frustration and the grimness of their task. Ace began to think perhaps he was getting too old for this life, but once on the outlaw trail, it was difficult to give it up. There just didn’t seem to be anyplace else to go. No other kind of life to lead.
is wife Eleanor, had lived with him these many years in the Wolf’s Lair and had put up with being cut off from the outside world. She had never complained and had always stood steadfastly at his side until she died of pneumonia a year and a half ago. Ace no longer found a purpose to his life. All that kept him going now was his son Bill.
Bill rode next to his father on the right. He was a tall strapping young man and sat the saddle with an air of authority and confidence. Ace was proud of the boy. Boy? Hell, he was a full-grown man with a wife and family of his own. Still, Bill was his boy and he was proud of the capable young man he had grown into. Next to Ace’s right hand man, Sid Denglert, who rode to the bandit boss’ left as he had for the last fifteen years, Bill was the most level headed member of the gang and almost as proficient with a horse and gun as Sid. Ace didn’t know what he did differently for Bill to turn out this way, when he had had no success with his younger brother. He guessed that Charlie was just defective and there was nothing he could have done differently for him to turn out any different.
Bill and Sid had both kept quiet since the incident with the Apache hunting party. They could feel Ace’s anger and left him to his own morose temper as they kept their mounts abreast of their leader.
Bill had his own thoughts and was downright worried. He had never seen his father scared before, but he could sense that the old man was actually frightened as if he had a premonition of impending doom. And if Ace was scared, then Bill knew he should be too. Bill’s wife Virginia had implored Bill to give up the gang before something bad might happen. Somehow she felt the time was near, as if she too had a premonition. Bill had shrugged her concerns off, blaming them on the fact that she no longer wanted the confines of Wolf’s Lair and longed for the excitement and company of the outside world. He could understand her loneliness, especially when he was away on a job. Virginia had coped with it all much better when his mother was alive. She had been a great companion to Virginia and the two were like mother and daughter. But since Eleanor’s passing, Virginia became more discontented and irritable. Even with the arrival of baby Bill, Virginia was still not content, but caring for the child seemed to give her new purpose and took the edge off being alone. She still took every opportunity to talk her husband into taking them away from the outlaw stronghold and live an ordinary life.
Bill wanted desperately to please his wife, but as long as his father needed him with the gang, he was compelled to stay on. He knew if he ever brought the issue up to Ace, the old man would tell him to go live his life, so he never would approach the topic with his father.
But now, as Bill felt the elder Noonan’s edginess over the current job, he began to think that perhaps Virginia was right. Perhaps this way of life was no longer suitable, even to Ace Noonan. Perhaps he should call it quits with this job. That is if everything went as planned in Mud Flats. Somehow, this day held a foreboding of impending disaster; that seemed unshakeable.
With silent grimness, the band of riders pushed on through the darkness and pounding rain, riding toward the destiny that awaited them.
Jean LaFarge slouched lazily in his chair on the front porch of his daughter’s and son-in-law’s cabin. He whittled idly on a stick with his knife and gazed out across the valley toward the setting sun. The giant golden orb splayed fingers of light against the backdrop of the hills to the west. The streaming rays were particularly misty this afternoon after the torrential rains earlier in the day. A misty fog steamed off the wet grass as it dried in what was left of the day’s sun.
As the setting sun settled lower behind the valley wall, the old man thought he saw a movement on the hill. He forgot his whittling and sat erect, pulled his pipe from his lips and began chewing on one corner of his gray flowing handle bar mustache. Was he seeing things? He thought. Must be, he told himself, but then he caught the movement again. He squinted into the setting sun and as its last rays of light settled beneath the horizon, he saw it again. He jumped to his feet, dropping his whittling and pipe at the sudden realization of what was out there.
Horses and riders moved out onto the top of the ridge, silhouetted against the golden glow of sundown. Then more appeared behind them. They were not just any riders. They were Apaches.
LaFarge had seen Indians before, but they were usually a few young bucks on a hunt. This time there were a great many of them and several wore the headdress of a War Chief. So far since he had stayed with his family, here in this lonely valley, there had been no sign of hostiles, but he had heard stories about the Army’s treatment of Apaches and the growing unrest among the tribes. It had been peaceful here and Jean LaFarge was comfortable living with his daughter and her husband. Now he was frightened and his knees trembled. Oh, how he wished Claudine’s husband had not taken that part time job in town. Oh, how he wished he were here right now.
The band of Indians began to descend from the top of the hill, moving steadily, slowly, and silently with deliberate approach. The old man backed slowly to the door, keeping his eyes on the approaching hostiles. He reached behind him and opened the door. Then with a sudden move he dashed inside and slammed the door behind him, holding it shut as he leaned his narrow back against it. His eyes were bulging with fear and his breathing was fast and deep.
“Papa!” His daughter exclaimed as she turned around from the kitchen tub and saw he father in a state of panic. She was a slender, small framed young woman with long raven black hair and large round dark eyes. “What’s wrong?”
At first he could say nothing. Then as he gathered himself, he gasped. “Apaches! They’re headed this way.”
“But Papa, we’ve had no trouble with the Apaches before. It’s probably just a hunting party.”
“Not this time, daughter,” He choked it out. “It’s a war party.”
“It can’t be,” she said calmly and moved toward the front window.
“No!” LaFarge shouted. “Stay away from the window.”
She had already parted the linen curtains. Her breath caught suddenly, her nonchalance evaporating instantly and replaced by sudden fear. “My God,” she uttered. “They are coming this way.”
The band of warriors had already reached the valley and were headed toward the cabin. She let the curtains fall and dropped back from the window.
“Oh, Papa. What shall we do?”
“I don’t know,” he muttered with his broken English and French accent. “I wish your husband was here.”
“Do not be harsh against him, Claudine. Your husband is quite a man. He is only thinking about taking care of you and little Tommy.”
“I know but we need him now,” she wailed.
The old man began to realize that his daughter and the baby had only himself to rely on now. It would still be some time before Claudine’s husband returned. He began to try to calm himself. He had to bring his own fears under control. He had to think more clearly now. What would his son-in-law do? Then he remembered the rifle hanging above the door jamb. He stepped away from the door, turned to face it. There it was. He reached up and pulled it down. He fumbled with it nervously trying to figure out how to use it. It was a simple mechanism. A single shot breech loader. He reached above the door frame once more and found a box of shells. Some of them spilled out and clattered to the floor as he nervously pushed several rounds into his trouser pockets and then one into the breech. He let the bolt snap shut, sliding the cartridge into place and darted to the window, pulling the curtains back slightly to peer out. His heart leaped in his throat as he saw the hostiles approach the other side of the corral and barn. Then as if on cue the window shattered over his head as a feathered arrow shot though and embedded in the log wall behind him. Then with a whoop, the party shot forward at a gallop, shrill war cries breaking the stillness of the approaching twilight.
The old man in terrified rage slung the muzzle of the
rifle over the sill of the broken window and with his eyes squeezed shut, he jerked the trigger. The weapon boomed in his hands and he staggered back a step from the impact of the recoil. His eyes opened and he threw himself back against the wall beneath the window. Then mustering his courage, he reloaded and raised the weapon, thrusting it through the opening once more. Once again the rifle roared. This time he kept his eyes open and to his surprise, he saw a warrior fall from his horse and lie still on the ground. He felt a sudden elation, then ducked low and crammed another round into the breech. As he arose once more to fire, a flaming arrow sliced through the air over his head and landed on the kitchen table. The table cloth immediately whipped into flame. Claudine screamed and instinctively reached for the water bucket that was still three quarters full, since bringing in water from the well just before suppertime. She sloshed the liquid over the burning table, then picked up a blanket and beat the remaining flames out.
He father, momentarily stunned, had taken his attention away from the window. As Claudine beat out the last of the flames, she glanced toward the old man and the open window behind him. “Papa!” she shouted pointing toward the window. He whirled just in time to see a red face at the window. Without thought, he brought the rifle up and fired point blank at the attacker. Blood splashed across the window sill and the warrior fell back out of sight. The old man stepped back to the window. A cloud of smoke outside impaired his vision and for the first time he realized that the cabin was completely on fire from flaming arrows embedded in the outside walls. He fired haphazardly, hoping to do some damage.
“Daughter!” He shouted over his shoulder. “They are burning us out. You must get the baby and go to the root cellar and try to get out. I will hold them off as long as I can.!”
“No Papa!” She screamed. “I cannot go without you.”
“You must!” He shouted without turning around to look at her. He fired through the window again. “Think of the baby! Go! It’s not much of a chance anyways!” He reloaded and fired again.
Claudine knew her father was right. Until then she had not thought about the child, but now she could hear the baby crying in his crib. “Go!” The old man implored her, over his shoulder, as he kept firing. “I’ll be along, if I can. Just get yourself and the baby as far away as you can.”
She ran to the baby’s crib and lifted him into her arms, wrapping his blankets tightly around him. Debris from the rafters fell on her shoulders and she glance upward to see smoke pouring through a gaping hole where fire had burned through the roof.
The baby was crying loudly in her ears, but it muted into the sound of the Indian’s shrill war cries from outside and the booming sound of LaFarge’s rifle. She ran quickly to the back of the cabin, pulled the door to the root cellar open and stumbled down the wooden stairs into the dank darkness. Had she not left the door open behind her, she would have needed a lantern, but with some light from above and her own familiarity with the cellar, she found her way to the outer entrance, where four steps upwards would take her to the ground level outside door. The sounds from above in the cabin were somewhat dimmed now do the thickness of the earth around her.
As she neared the door, she prayed that her husband had not padlocked it from the outside. Holding the screaming baby in one arm, she pushed upward on the wooden door. It lifted free. Light filtered through the cracks around it. Good. It was not locked. She pushed the lid higher, just enough to peer out. The war cries were louder now, from the front of the cabin, but as she gazed out into the twilight, she could see no Apaches on this side of the cabin. Quickly, she heaved the door upward and it fell flat open against the ground. She then clasped one hand over the baby’s mouth, to stifle his screaming, and ran out of the cellar into the shadows toward the thicket some twenty five yards away.
She ran with a stagger, her breathing labored and she sobbed desperately, clutching the baby’s mouth tighter. So tight that the child’s squirming ceased and his face turned beet red. “Oh God!” She told herself. “Don’t let me smother my own baby.!”
It seemed like it took forever to reach the thicket. Almost as if everything had slowed down and every step was in slow motion; all the while expecting to be caught by an attacking Apache. Finally, she slid to the ground behind a bush at the edge of the thicket. Her legs could take her no farther. She laid the baby down on the new spring grass next to her, and pulled her hand away from its face. The tiny child, lay very still, motionless; eyes closed.
Oh no! She sobbed. Have I killed him? I can’t have. Don’t let it be! She examined him closer. Is he breathing? She couldn’t tell. Her own chest was heaving, gulping for air and she couldn’t distinguish if it was her own movement or that the baby actually did move on its own. She lifted the baby in her arms, cradling him and shaking him violently, willing the child to be alive.
Then as if seeing it for the first time she looked back toward the cabin. It was brilliantly alight with raging fire now and the rifle fire had stopped. Papa! She thought with a shudder. He’s still in there. He’ll die in the fire or, is he already dead? No, it can’t be!
Her heart skipped a beat and her breath caught as she saw the old man emerging from the root cellar and starting to run toward the thicket. Thank God! She thought. Then in another heartbeat, an Apache rider appeared, galloping his pony around the far corner of the cabin. Be fore she could scream a warning, the warrior was already bearing down on the running old man. With spear in hand, the brave thrust it deep into LaFarge’s bony back. His eyes bulged, his knees bent and he fell to the ground in a heap. The warrior pulled his lance free, danced his horse around in a circle and holding his lance skyward in victory, he let out a shrill whoop and then kicked his horse in the ribs to ride back to the front of the cabin and join the other warriors.
“Nooooo!” Claudine screamed as she put the baby down, pushed herself to her feet and ran out of the thicket toward her fallen father. She fell to her knees beside him and rolled him over. His eyes were wide open staring upward and lifeless at her. She let his body fall back, blood dripping on her hands and dress; unable to move from the shock. All sound seemed to cease as delirium began to overtake her. She didn’t seem to hear the pounding of horses’ hooves behind her as two young bucks rode down on her; one on each side, reaching down and each grasping her under her arms and lifting her from the ground. She made no sound nor did she attempt to fight them off as they carried her off between them into the darkening night.
In another moment, the war party was gone, leaving the cabin in smoldering flames. Once again all was quiet in the valley, not a sound could be heard, not even a bird or hoot owl. And then a lonely sound broke the stillness. The sound of a baby crying, alone in the wilderness.