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On Blacksnake's Trail








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

At first, they could see little, for not much light filtered through
the small door and window. Then details of the interior began to grow
more distinct in the hut's one room. A tarp had been tacked over the
dirt ceiling to keep scorpions and centipedes from dropping down on the
bunks below. There was only a little furniture, and that of a crude
sort. Some of it was smashed, as if in a scuffle.

These things, however, were not noticed until later. What the visitors
saw was the form of a man with legs and arms outstretched at queer
angles.

Kid Wolf was accustomed to horrible sights, but he remembered this one
ever afterward. The scene was stamped on his mind like a fragment of
some wild nightmare.

The body was that of a man a few years older than Red Morton, and the
features, though set and twisted, were the same. A rope had been tied
to one wrist and fastened to one wall; another rope had been knotted
about his other wrist and secured to the opposite side of the hut. The
legs had been served the same way at the ankles. On the body of the
suspended figure rocks had been piled. They were of many sizes,
varying from a few pounds to several hundred. It was easy to see how
the unhappy man had met his end--by slow torture. One by one, the
rocks had been placed on his chest and middle, the combined weight of
them first slowly pulling his limbs from their sockets and then
crushing out the life that remained.

Red, after his first outcry of agony, took it bravely. The Kid threw
his arm sympathetically around the youth's shoulders and drew him away,
while the others cut the ropes that held the victim of the rustler
gang's cruelty. In a few minutes, Red got a grip on himself and could
talk in a steady voice.

"Reckon I'm alone now, Kid," he blurted. "Joe was all I had--and they
got him! I swear I'll bring those hounds to justice, or die a-tryin'!"

"Yo're not alone, Red," said the Texan grimly. "I'm takin' a hand in
this game."

Near the body they found a piece of paper--a significant document, for
it explained the motive for the crime. Kid Wolf read it and
understood. It was written in straggling handwriting:


I, Joe Morton, do hereby sell and turn over all interest in the Diamond
D Ranch property, for value received. My signature is below, and
testifies that I have sold said ranch to Gentleman John, of Skull, New
Mexico.


There was, however, no signature at the space left at the bottom of the
paper. Joe Morton had died game!

"He refused to sign," said The Kid quietly, "and that means that yo're
the lawful heir to the Diamond D. Yo' have a man's job to do now, Red."

"But I don't savvy this," burst out the red-haired youth. "Surely this
Gentleman John isn't----"

"He's the man behind it all, mah boy," the Texan told him. And in a
few words, he related how he had been approached by the self-styled
cattle king, and something of his shady dealings. "He wanted to buy
me," he concluded, "not knowin' that I had nevah abused the powah of
the Colt fo' mah own gain. Blacksnake is his chief gunman, actin' by
Gentleman John's ordahs."

"Where's the other men--the two riders on duty with Joe?" Lefty Warren
wanted to know.

It did not take much of a search to find them. One had fallen near the
little corral, shot through the heart. The other lay a few hundred
yards away, at the river bank. He, too, was dead.

"Mo' murdah," snapped the Texan grimly. "Well, we must make ouah
plans."

In this sudden crisis, the other three left most of the planning to Kid
Wolf himself. First of all, the bodies were buried. Rocks were piled
on the hastily made graves to keep the coyotes out, and they were ready
to go again.

The Texan decided to follow the trails left by the stolen cattle, for
both herds were gone now, driven off the Diamond D range. Failing in
their attempt to get Joe Morton's signature, the outlaws had evidently
decided to take what they could get.

There was one big reason why Gentleman John wished to get his hands on
the Diamond D. Although land was plentiful in that early day, Red's
father had obtained a land grant from a Spanish governor--a grant that
still held good and kept other herds from the rich grazing land and
ample water along Blue-bottle Creek.

As they started down the trail again toward the broken, mountainous
country to the southwest, The Kid sent Red a quick glance.

"Are yo' all right, son?" he asked.

"Fine," said young Morton, now sole owner of the Diamond D.

The Texan was glad to see that he had braced himself. Like his
brother, Red was a man.

"We'll soon overtake 'em," old Mike Train muttered, savagely twirling
the cylinder of his ancient .45. "Blacksnake's gang can't make fast
time with those steers. He's probably drivin' 'em to Gentleman John's
headquarters at Agua Frio."

"Why," asked Kid Wolf slowly, "do they call that hombre 'Blacksnake'?"

"Because he carries one with him--that's how he got his name," spoke up
Lefty Warren. "He's a whipper. He's beaten more'n one Mex to death
with it, and they say a white man or two. He can handle a blacksnake
like a demon."

Kid Wolf smiled grimly. To have Blacksnake McCoy for an enemy was by
no means a pleasant thing to think about, especially when the desperado
was backed by all the power that his employer--Gentleman
John--possessed. And yet The Kid was afraid of neither of them.

"It's shore great of yuh to help us this way," Red told him. "But I'm
afraid we haven't a chance. If Gentleman John is behind all this,
we're buckin' mighty big odds."

"I like a game like that," said The Kid. "Unlike pokah, it's perfectly
legitimate to scratch the aces with yo' fingah nail."

They were soon off the limits of the Diamond D and on the Casas
Amarillas--a ranch owned by Gentleman John and taking its Spanish name
from two yellow houses of adobe several miles distant. They saw
scattered cattle branded with a Lazy J--one of Gentleman John's many
brands--but discovered no stragglers from the stolen Morton herds.

Following the trail was easy, and they struck a hot pace down through
and out of the grassy valley, climbing through a pass and up on a
rolling mesa dotted with thirsty-looking sage. For two full hours they
rode, while the sun crept toward the west. Their horses were beginning
to tire. A line of cedar-sprinkled hills loomed up ahead of them, but
by keeping to the plateau they could circle them.

"I think we'd bettah keep to the mesa," The Kid advised.

"But we're about on 'em," put in Red. "They'll see us comin', miles
away. If we cut down through those hills, we'll gain time, too, and
keep hid."

"It's a fine place to be trapped in," mused the Texan. "Well, Red, yo'
know this country, an' I don't, so use yo' own judgment."


Against the far horizon they could make out a faint yellow haze--dust
from the trampling hoofs of many cattle. They could cut off a full
mile by riding down into the cedars, and Red decided to do so. The Kid
was dubious, but said nothing more. If Blacksnake had a rear guard of

any kind, they might have been sighted. In that case, they would run
into trouble--ambushed trouble.

Kid Wolf rode in the lead, the three others drumming along behind him.
He was grimly wary. A chill gust of wind hit them, as they entered the
depths of the notch between the hills. The straggling growth of cedars
and stumpy evergreens loomed up ahead of them, and they crashed
through. For several hundred yards they tore their way and found their
pace slowed by the difficult going. The trees began to thin out. Then
they heard a spring tinkling down among the red rocks, and the cedars
began to thicken again, as the little canyon narrowed and climbed
steeply.

"Stick 'em up!"

Kid Wolf fired at the sound of the voice while the loud shout was still
echoing. His double draw was lightning fast. Before the others knew
what was taking place, his two guns had flashed. At the dull boom of
the twin explosions, a crashing sound was heard in the brush, as if
something was wildly threshing about. Then bullets began to rip and
smash their way through the undergrowth. Cedar twigs flew.

With a yell, Mike Train slumped down over his saddle pommel and rolled
off his horse. At the same instant, the two others--Lefty Warren and
Red Morton--reached for their guns. The thing had happened so quickly
that until now they had not thought of drawing their weapons.

But Kid Wolf stopped them.

"Don't pull 'em, boys!" he cried. And at the same time, he dropped
both his own guns. It was a surprising thing for the Texan to do, but
his mind had worked quickly. His sharp eyes had taken in the
situation. They were covered, and from all sides. His first quick
shots had brought one man down, but there were at least six others, and
all were behind shelter and had a deadly drop. If The Kid had been
alone, he would, no doubt, have shot it out there and then, using his
own peculiar tactics. But he had the others to think of. If they
touched their guns, they would be killed instantly.

The Texan's doubts had been well founded. They should have kept to the
mesa top. They had jumped into a trap. Surrender was the only thing
to do now, for while there was life, there was hope. The Kid had
slipped from tight situations before.

Lefty Warren, Red Morton, and The Kid elevated their hands. A low
laugh came from behind the cedar thicket, and a group of desperadoes on
foot slipped through, holding drawn and leveled Colts. In the lead was
Blacksnake McCoy. His eyes fell on Kid Wolf and widened with surprise.
Then his teeth showed through his close-cropped beard in a snarl of
hate.

"Well, if it ain't the gamblin' Cotton-picker!" he ejaculated. "I
didn't know I was goin' to have such luck as this! Keep yore mitts up,
the three of yuh. Pedro, collect their guns!"

A grinning desperado disarmed Lefty and Red and picked up The Kid's two
Colts.

"It'd 'a' been better fer yuh if yuh'd shot it out," sneered
Blacksnake, "because Gentleman John will have somethin' in store fer
yuh that yuh won't like. Wait till he sets eyes on yuh, Cotton-picker!
Boilin' alive will seem like a picnic! I knew we'd get yuh sooner or
later, if yuh kept stickin' yore nose in other folks' business."

"Blacksnake," said The Kid softly, "yo're a cheap, fo'-flushin' bully."

Blacksnake's evil eyes went hard. His face reddened with anger, then
paled. He was trembling with fury and deadly hate. He turned to his
men.

"Take the others up to the Yellow Houses and wait for me there," he
rasped. "Pedro, my whip's on my pony; bring it to me. I'm havin' this
out with Cotton-picker, alone! When I'm through with him, I'll bring
him on up. One of yuh ride up to the herd and tell Slim to let
Gentleman John know we've got 'em. He'll finish with Cotton-picker
when I'm done with him. Savvy?"

A blacksnake was brought to McCoy, and the others roughly surrounded
Lefty and Red, herding them through the timber and out of sight.

"Take the skin offn him, Black!" an outlaw yelled back.

The others laughed. And then Kid Wolf and his captor were left alone.





Next: The Fang Of The Wolf

Previous: Pot Shots



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