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Pot Shots

From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

There was an old mission at the outskirts of the town of Skull,
established many years before there were any other buildings in the
vicinity. The Spanish fathers had built it for the Indians, and it
remained a sanctuary, in spite of the roughness and badness of the new
cow town.

Early on the morning after Kid Wolf's arrival in the town, the old
padre was astonished to find a package of money inside his door. It
was addressed simply: "For the poor." It was a windfall and a
much-needed addition to the mission's meager finances.

The padre considered it a gift from Heaven, and where it had come from
remained a mystery. The package contained two thousand dollars.
Needless to say, it was Kid Wolf's gift, and the money had been taken
from the town's dishonest gamblers.

The Texan remained several days in Skull. He was in no hurry, and the
town interested him. Although he heard threats, he was left alone. He
saw no more of Gentleman John, nor did he see Blacksnake McCoy. They
had disappeared from town, probably on evil business of their own.

A note thrust under The Kid's door at the hotel two mornings later
threatened him and advised him to leave the country. The Texan,
however, paid no attention to the warning.

The next day, he scouted about the country, sizing up the cattle
situation. The honest cattlemen, he found, were very much in the
minority. By force, murder, and illegal methods, Gentleman John had
obtained most of the land and practically all of the vast cattle herds
that roamed the rich rangelands surrounding the town on all sides. Yet
to most of the honest element, Gentleman John's true colors were not
known. He shielded himself, hiring others to do his unclean work.
There was no law as yet in the county. Gentleman John had managed to
keep it out. And even if there had been, it was doubtful if his crimes
could be pinned to him, for he had covered his tracks well. Many
thought him honest. Only The Kid's keen mind could sense almost
immediately what was going on.

The country stretching out from Skull was wild and beautiful. It was
an unsettled land, and the trails that led into it were faint and
difficult to follow.

One morning, Kid Wolf saddled Blizzard and rode into the southwest
toward the purple mountains tipped with snow. It was a beautiful day,
cool and crisp. The tang of the air in that high altitude was sharp
and invigorating. The big white horse swung into a joyous lope, and
the Texan hummed a Southern melody.

Crossing a wide stretch of plain, they mounted a rise, and the
character of the country changed. The smell of sage gave way to the
penetrating odor of small pine, as they climbed into the broken
foothills that led, in a series of steps, toward the jagged peaks.
Splashing through a little creek of pure, cold water, The Kid turned
Blizzard's head up a pass between two ridges of pinon-covered buttes.

"A big herd's passed this way," The Kid muttered, "and lately, too."

They climbed steadily onward, while the Texan searched the trail with
keen eyes that missed nothing. Suddenly he drew up his horse.
Blizzard had shied at something lying prone ahead of them, and The
Kid's eyes had seen it at the same instant.

Stretched out on the sandy ground, The Kid saw, when he urged his horse
closer, was the body of a man, face down and arms flung out. A blotch
of red on the blue of the shirt told the significant story--a bullet
had got in its deadly work. Dismounting, the Texan found that the man
was dead and had met with his wound probably twenty-four hours before.
There was nothing with which to identify the body.

"Seems to me, Blizzahd," Kid Wolf mused, "that Gentleman John is a
deepah-dyed villain than we even thought."

He continued on up the pass, eyes and ears open. The white horse took
the climb as if it had been level ground, his hoofs ringing a brisk
tattoo against the stones.

Nobody was in sight. The land stretched out on all sides--a vast
lonesomeness of rolling green and red, broken here and there by
towering rocks, grotesque in shape and twisted by erosion into a
thousand fanciful sculptures. But at the bottom of a dry wash, Kid
Wolf received a surprise.

Br-r-reee! Ping! A bullet breezed by his head, droning like a
hornet, and glanced sullenly against a flat rock. Immediately
afterward, The Kid heard the sharp bark of a .45. He knew by the sound
of the bullet and by the elapsed time between it and the sound of the
gun that he was within dangerous range. Crouching low in his saddle,
he wheeled Blizzard--already turned half around in mid-air--and cut up
the arroyo at a hot gallop.

Flinging himself from his horse when he reached shelter, he touched
Blizzard lightly on the neck. The wise animal knew what that meant.
Without slackening its pace, it continued onward, its hoofs drumming a
rapid clip-clop, while its master was running in another direction
with his head low.

Breaking up the ambush was easy. The Kid took advantage of every bit
of cover and went directly toward the sounds of the shots, for guns
were still barking. The men, whoever they were, were shooting in the
direction of the riderless horse. Squirming through a little pinon
thicket, Kid Wolf saw three men stationed behind a low ledge of red
sandstone. The guns of the trio were still curling blue smoke.

"Will yo' kindly stick up yo' hands, gentlemen," the Texan drawled,
"while yo're explainin'?"

The three whirled about--to find themselves staring into the two deadly
black muzzles of The Kid's twin six-shooters. Automatically they
thrust their arms aloft.

"Well, I guess yuh got us! Go ahead and shoot, yuh killer!"

Kid Wolf looked at the speaker in surprise. He was a little younger,
perhaps, than the Texan himself--a slim, red-headed youth with a wide,
determined mouth. The blue eyes, snapping angrily now, seemed frank
and open. Then the Texan's eyes traveled to the youth's two
companions. Both were older men, typical cow-punchers, rough and
ready, and yet hardly of the same type of the men The Kid had noticed
in the Longhorn Saloon in Skull.

"I'm not sure that I even want to shoot." The Kid smiled slowly.
"Maybe yo'd like to explain why yo' were tryin' to shoot me."

"I guess we won't need to explain that," snapped the redhead. "Yuh
know as well as we do that yo're one o' Blacksnake's thievin' gunmen!"

"What makes yo' think so?" the Texan laughed.

The other opened his mouth to speak, then stopped. He was looking The
Kid up and down.

"Come to think about it," he muttered, "we've never seen you before.
And yuh don't look like one o' that rustler gang."

"Take my word fo' it," said the Texan earnestly, "I'm not. I thought
yo' were Blacksnake and his gang myself." He reholstered his guns.
"Put yo' hands down," he said, as he came toward them, "and we'll talk
this thing ovah."

Reassured, the trio did so with sighs of relief. A few questions by
each helped to clear things up. The Kid told them who he was, and in
return he was told that the three were members of the Diamond D outfit.

"It's just half an outfit now," said the red-haired youth bitterly.
"They've run off our north herd. Yuh see, Mr. Wolf----"

"Just call me 'Kid,'" smiled the Texan, "fo' I think we'll be friends."

"I hope so," said the other, flashing him a grateful look. "Well, I'm
'Red' Morton. My brother and me own the Diamond D, and we've shore
been havin' one hot time. Guess we're plumb beat."

"Wheah's yo' brother now?"

"He's at the sod house with our south herd. These two men are the only
punchers left me--'Lefty' Warren and Mike Train. There was one more.
The rustlers shot him." Red Morton's eyes gleamed fiercely.

"Yo' know who the rustlers were?"

"Blacksnake McCoy's gang. He's been causin' us a lot o' trouble.
Until now, that bunch have just been runnin' a smooth iron and swingin'
their loops wide. But yesterday they drove off every steer. Half of
all the longhorns on the Diamond D!" Red's lips tightened grimly.

"Excuse us," spoke up one of the cowboys, Lefty Warren, "for takin' yuh
fer one o' them cutthroats, but we was b'ilin' mad. It's a good thing
fer us yuh wasn't. Yuh shore slipped in on us slick as a whistle."

"I'm hopin' my bud, Joe, don't think it was my fault that Blacksnake
got away with the herd," groaned the red-haired youth. "Reckon we'll
have to sell out now."

"That's it," agreed the eldest of the trio--the man called Mike Train.
"The Diamond D would be on Easy Street now, if we had the cattle back.
The mortgage----"

"Who would yo' sell to?" asked The Kid quietly.

"Gentleman John, the cattle king," explained Red Morton. "He told my
brother some time ago that he'd like to buy it, if the price was low.
Joe refused then, but reckon it'll be different now."

Kid Wolf raised his brows slightly.

"Is this--ah--Gentleman John the right sort of hombre?" he drawled.

"Why, I guess so," said Red in surprise. "He's one o' the biggest
cattlemen in three States."

The Texan was silent for a moment, then he smiled.

"Wheah are yo' headed fo' now?" he asked.

"Why, we're on the trail of the stolen herd," Red replied, "and we
intend to stop at the sod house and tell my brother, Joe, what's
happened--that is, if he don't already know. Maybe he's had trouble,

"If we find any of that Blacksnake gang, we'll fight," Lefty Warren
spoke up. "The odds are mighty bad against us, but they got one o' the
best punchers in the valley when they drilled Sam Whiteman."

"I'm interested," Kid Wolf told them. "Do yo' mind if I throw in with

"Do we mind?" repeated Red joyously. "Say, it would shore be great!
And--well, Joe and I will try and make it right with yuh."

"Nevah mind that," the Texan murmured. "Just considah yo' troubles
mine, too. And I'm downright curious to know what's happened to yo'
steers. Let's go!" He whistled for Blizzard.

For several hours the quartet of horsemen pressed southward, following
the trail left by the stolen beef herd. The four quickly became
friends. Kid Wolf liked them all from the first, and the Diamond D men
were overjoyed to have him enlisted in their cause. He learned that
Red Morton and his older brother, Joe, had worked hard to make the
Diamond D a success. The ranch had been left them by their father a
few years before, heavily burdened with debt. Now, until the
catastrophe of the day before, they were at the point of clearing it.
Evidently the brothers did not know of Gentleman John's criminal
methods, and the Texan said nothing. He was waiting for better proof.

"The ranch is in Joe's name," said Red proudly, "but we're partners.
He could sell it to Gentleman John, all right, without my consent, but
he wouldn't. I'm not quite twenty-one, but I'm a man, and Joe knows

"Will yo' have to sell the Diamond D now?" the Texan asked.

"I hope not. Joe and two riders still have the south herd--at least,
they have if nothin's happened. It might pull us through. Eight
hundred head."

After a time, they swung off the trail they had been following, in
order to reach the sod house. Here Red expected to find his brother
and the other two Diamond D riders.

"With them, that'll make seven of us," young Morton said. "Then we can
show that Blacksnake gang a fight that is a fight! There's over a
dozen of 'em, though I think Lefty here wounded one, just after
Whiteman was killed. We saw red stains on the sagebrush for a hundred
yards along the cattle trail."

Mounting a long rise, they began to descend again. A fertile valley
stretched out beneath them, green with grass and watered by the bluest
little stream that Kid Wolf had ever seen. It was a lovely spot; it
was small wonder that Gentleman John wished to add the Diamond D to his

"That's Blue-bottle Creek," announced Red Morton. "Queer that we don't
see any cattle. There's not a steer in sight. They ought to be
feedin' through here."

There was no sign of anything moving throughout all the basin, either
human or cattle. The silence was unbroken, save for the steady
drumming of the little party's pony hoofs.

"There's the sod house--over there in those trees," said Red, after
another mile.

He was worried. The two other Diamond D men, too, were showing signs
of nervousness. Had the south herd gone the way of the other?

They neared the sod house--a structure crudely built of layers of
earth. It had one door and one window, and near it was a
corral--empty. There was no sign of any one about, and there was no
reply to Red's eager shout.

"Oh, Joe!" he hailed.

His face was a shade paler, as he quickly swung himself out of his
saddle. He entered the sod house at a half run.

"Is anything wrong?" Train shouted.

Then they heard Red Morton cry out in grief and horror. Without
waiting for anything more, The Kid and the two Diamond D riders
dismounted and raced toward the sod hut. None of them was prepared for
the terrible thing they found there.

Next: On Blacksnake's Trail

Previous: A Game Of Poker

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