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Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas Boone dismounted in front of the Marshal's office in Tucson Arizona. He raised both hands over his head, leaned backwards and stretched. He was 30 years old but felt much older. Too many outlaws, too many long trails, and too many gun fights, he thought. I can't make these long rides like I used to.
Boone turned to the horse that he'd led into town. Jenson Stoolie was tied face down across the saddle. Boone motioned to a 12 year old boy sitting on the porch in front of the store next to the Marshal's office.
"Run down and fetch the undertaker for me son," he requested and tossed the boy two bits. The youngster caught the coin and took off at a run.
"Who you got there Tom?" U.S. Marshal Ted McCoy asked as he walked out of his office.
"Jenson Stoolie. He said he'd just as soon die as to go back to Yuma Prison." Tom tied his horse to the hitching rail. "I obliged him."
"Put up a fight did he?" McCoy said not expecting an answer. "You know if he'd stopped at shooting that cowboy in the saloon he might have claimed self defense and got away with it." The Marshal shook his head. "But the damn fool had to go and steal a horse. That's what caused the circuit judge to put a warrant out on him."
"Jenson never was the smartest man," Tom replied. Looking down the street he said, "Here comes Sam now. Soon as I turn the body over to him I'm gonna get rid of this trail dust. See y'all in the morning."
Tom handed the reins of Jenson's horse to Sam Johnson, the undertaker. He mounted and rode to the saloon. First a whiskey and a beer and then a bath, he said to himself. Rubbing his hand across his face he thought, reckon a shave wouldn't do any harm either.
"That's a hard young man," Johnson said to the Marshal. "Not a speck of remorse in his eyes after killing a man."
"He didn't used to be that way Sam," McCoy replied. "Time was Tom would have talked to Jenson for hours trying to get him to come peaceful. Oh, he'd have still killed him if necessary but only if there was no other choice. Five years as a Deputy Marshal in this country will surely change a man."
Thomas Jethro Boone came to the Arizona territory as a boy of 17 with his father in 1866 just after the end of the Civil War. Tom worked with his father on their small cattle ranch for five years. The folks about Tucson often remarked that there was no doubt that the Boones were father and son. Both men were tall for the times at 6'1, had the same light brown mane of hair and piercing dark eyes. The older Boone, James, was the heavier of the two at 200 pounds but young Tom showed signs of filling out as he matured. The Boones were well liked and respected by the townspeople they came in contact with.
Early on a spring morning a band of renegades, thieves, and outlaws known as Comancheros made a raid on the Boone ranch. The elder Boone was killed and Tom was shot. The Comancheros, led by a man called Texas Jack Billings, stole all the live stock that could travel; they killed the three pigs and a dozen chickens that couldn't take the trail. Billings took anything and everything of value. They left Tom face down bleeding from the gunshot wound in his shoulder.
After the doctor patched Tom up, Justin Wren took him in and helped the boy recover. Wren said he was a retired lawman but most of the folks in Tucson said he'd been on the wrong side of the law for more years than he'd been on the right side. They said a few years earlier Wren might have been riding with the raiders. Of course they never said it to his face.
It took three months and lot of work for Tom's shoulder to heal up and get back to full strength. The first time that he could ride, Tom borrowed a horse from Justin went back to the ranch. He dug up the strongbox that his father had buried behind the house. Inside was twenty gold Double Eagles; a total of four hundred dollars. Tom took one last look around at what had been his home and rode into Tucson. He went to the gunsmith, bought a Remington .44 pistol converted to metal cartridges and a Winchester 73 repeating rifle. He also bought a good horse from the livery.
For two months Tom honed his skills with the Remington and the Winchester under the tutelage of the retired "lawman". Justin taught the youngster the things he'd learned in a lifetime of handling and using weapons. Finally Tom felt he was ready and he started on the cold trail of the Comancheros.
"I could go with you," Wren offered. At 5'8 he had to look up at Tom to see his face. Justin Wren looked more like someone's grandfather than a lawman. He was 40 years old, rotund and didn't look like he'd missed many meals. Justin's hair was steel gray and was just a fringe around his bald head. In spite of his looks, there was no doubt that the man could be a force of nature by the look in his eyes. Justin Wren was not a man that anyone crossed; not more than once that is.
"You could, but it's not your fight Justin," Tom replied. "I believe this is something I got to do myself."
"Trails near six months old boy. You'll never pick up their tracks."
"Don't have to follow them, just got to find out where they lit. Reckon they headed down Mexico way so I'll start my search toward the border." Tom shook hands with Justin, mounted and looked down.
"You're a good man Justin and a better friend. Thanks for your help."
"Y'all come back if you're able Tom. I've always got a place at my fire for ya."
Tom touched his hat in a salute and turned his horse south toward Mexico.
The journey south wasn't an easy one. The harsh desert, lack of water holes and the vast distances between settlements made for a hard trail. In addition Tom twice ran into bandits who thought the young man would be easy pickings. They found they had made a bad decision when they tried to rob him. Both times Tom left men dead behind him on the desert floor as he continued his quest to find Texas Jack and the Comancheros.
Tom wasn't having any success in finding the raiders. He'd been on the trail for better than a year and a half and was no closer to finding Texas Jack than he'd been when he started. Tom would ride into a small town and ask questions but got no information about Billings or his band. Oh everyone knew who he was talking about and said the Comancheros had passed through but none would offer any idea of what direction the gang took or how long it had been.
It was in the border town of Nogales that a senorita, seven or eight years older than Tom, working in a cantina told him why people wouldn't talk about Billings. "He is a dangerous man Niño," Theresa told him. "All the people are afraid that Texas Jack will come back and punish them if they help anyone trying to find him. But I will help you."
"Why would you help me? Aren't you afraid of him too?"
"Texas Jack and his men killed my husband and my son. What can he do to make my life worse?" Theresa asked. "I'm alone; I work as a whore in this miserable town just to get food and shelter. I'm a toy to be used by any vaquero with a few dollars and then thrown away. What can he do to make my life worse?"
"Why don't you leave?"
"Where would I go? I have no family left except an aunt and my sister down in Magdalena and no money to get to them. There is no work there and I'd just be another mouth to feed." Theresa looked down for a bit and added. "So I'll stay here until I get to old for the men to want me. After that, quien sabe... 'Who knows?"
Theresa brought another plate of beef and beans to Tom and poured another glass of tequila for him. "Texas Jack came through here last month. One of the pendejos told me they were headed down to Santa Ana. Wanted me to go with them." Theresa touched Tom's shoulder as she sat down at the table. "Niño, that's four or five days hard ride through country that makes this place look like a garden. You will end up a pile of bleached bones in that desert. Please don't go?" Theresa pleaded. "There will be another time for Texas Jack. You are young, wait for your time."
Tom continued eating for a few minutes. He downed the tequila, threw two dollars on the table and stood. "Come Theresa, it's time for you to leave this damn place." At the questioning look on the woman's face Tom said, "I will take you to Tucson and we'll find you work and a place to live." He smiled and added, "Something different that what you're doing here."
Theresa had little worth packing and was soon ready to travel. Tom bought a horse for her. The animal wasn't a beauty but he felt it could make the hard journey back to Tucson. The landscape north of Nogales was an improvement. There were several waterholes and a few lush valleys like Green Valley. Tom and Theresa rode easy. They would start just before first light, ride until the heat of day, and make camp. Usually they were able to find a stand of Mesquite or Palo Verdes for shade. Around five or six they would continue until it got too dark to ride and they would camp again.
It was early morning of the fifth day when they rode into the clearing at Justin Wren's place. Tom stopped about a hundred feet from the ranch house.
"Hello the house," he yelled. "Like to ride in if we can."
"C'mon in youngster," Justin yelled back. "You sure ride noisy. Been waiting for you for the last twenty minutes." Justin stepped into the yard in front of the ranch house. When Tom and Theresa got closer, Justin's eyes opened wide.
"Who's your friend?" He asked Tom.
"I am Theresa Sanchez and I can speak for myself," she replied with a nod of her head.
Justin swept his hat off his head and nodded. "Sorry ma'am didn't mean no disrespect. I'm Justin Wren."
"You are the Senor Wren that taught Tom how to shoot. He has spoken of you often."
"Please step inside out of the heat Senora," Justin said and pointed to the door of the house.
"Thank you Senor, you are most kind," Theresa said.
"Ahem," Tom cleared his throat. "Can I come in too?" Tom asked with a smile.
"Oh, sure Tom. It's good to see you. Come in, both of you." Justin stood at the door waiting for Theresa and Tom to enter his house. He followed them in and put a pitcher of spring water on the table. After a few minutes he stood and said, "I'll take care of the horses."
"I'll go with you Justin." Turning to Theresa he said, "Why don't you wash the trail dust off and we'll be back in about 30 minutes."
Walking to the corral, leading Theresa's horse Justin thought about her. He gauged her height at 5'4 or so. Ain't many people shorter than me, he thought. Fine looking women though. Got that long black hair and those big dark eyes that make a man want to run around in circles. Course the fact that she's got a fine strong body don't hurt none neither. She's not a youngster but she's not as old as me, he continued his thoughts. From the look in her eyes, she's seen some hard times.
Justin was too short to look over the back of Theresa's horse as he curry combed the animal. He looked under the horse's neck at Tom. "Where'd you partner up with senora Sanchez?"
Tom smiled at his friend. Justin don't know it yet but if Theresa's of a mind she's already got him roped and hogtied, he thought.
"Met her down in Nogales. She was the only one in a year and a half that would talk about Texas Jack." Tom brushed his horse for several seconds. "Theresa is a friend; she kept me from makin a bad mistake."
Tom told Justin about the gang going south to Santa Ana and how Theresa had warned him about going after them. "Maybe I could've got there but I don't know ifin I'd a made it back or not. She told me there would be another time for Jack and his boys. Figured she was right, so we come home." Tom stuttered a little and added, "I mean back to your place."
"Home's close enough boy," Justin replied with a grin. "Glad you're back."
"There's something you ought to know about Theresa." She was a whore in Nogales. Didn't have much choice in the matter but I thought you should know."
"Why would that matter to me? She's your friend Tom and that's good enough for me."
"Friend I said, and that's all I meant," Tom told Justin. "I never partook of her services, but I did listen to her advice. Damn good advice it was too." He walked over to Justin. "I can see that you're taken with her. If something comes up between you two I just didn't want you to be surprised later on."
Justin looked at Tom for almost a minute. He smiled and said, "There's things in my past that I'm not real proud of either. Reckon everyone deserves a second chance to get things right. We'll say no more about this."
Yep, roped and hogtied, Tom thought as the two men returned to the house.
Theresa had washed up and changed out of the split riding skirt she'd been wearing. She had put on one of her two gingham dresses and brushed her hair. Tom and Justin could smell the bacon cooking and as they entered the kitchen and saw her cooking flapjacks on the griddle.
"Sit down please and I will get your coffee," Theresa said. "Breakfast will be ready very soon."
Near the end of breakfast, Tom sat back with the last piece of bacon. "I'll make a run into town in a few days if you like Theresa and we'll see what kind of work we can find for you. Justin and me know a few people that might be able to help." He stood and walked toward the door. "Guess I'll take a look at my horse. He looked like he was getting a sore hoof; might have a stone under his shoe."
"Niño is a good person," Theresa said to Justin watching Tom leave. "He was always respectful to me; he did not treat me like a puta, a whore." Turning to Justin she added, "Don't worry; I know he told you of my life. Niño told me of how you took him in when his father was killed. Of how you nursed him until he regained his strength. He also told me you taught him how to use that big pistola he carries; he is fortunate to have a friend like you Senor Wren."
"No need for that Senor business," Justin said with a smile. "Name's Justin if you care to use it." He scratched his chin. "As far as Tom, he needed a hand about then. Been there myself and someone helped me so I thought I'd just pay it back." Justin smiled again. "Maybe Tom will do the same one day and pay it back."
"He did 'pay it back' as you say when he helped me," Theresa replied.
Tom re-entered the kitchen about ten minutes later and sat down. "Justin I had a thought just now."
"Did it hurt Tom?" Justin teased with a big laugh.
Tom grinned. "I've about used up the money from Pa's strongbox and I can't keep living off you. Reckon I need to find work for myself as well as Theresa."
"Got any ideas?"
"I thought I might talk to the stage line; get a job as a guard. Or maybe ride guard for the payroll shipments to the mines. No need to do anything real quick. I want to rest up after that ride from Nogales."
"If it would be no problem, I would also like rest," Theresa said. "When you go to town to see about work I could go with you."
"I wouldn't mind some company for a few days," Justin said. "Y'all rest as long as need be."
Tom, and Theresa, 'rested' for a week. During that time Theresa took over the cooking duties and kept the ranch house clean.
Saddling the horses as he and Theresa prepared to go into town, Tom said, "Sure gonna miss your cookin Theresa. I ain't ate that good in a long time." He fingered his clean shirt. "Nice having my clothes cleaned and pressed too. Thank you."
"I'll be goin with you," Justin said leading his horse out of the barn. "Got some business to take care of. Gonna need your help."
"Sure, be happy to give you a hand. What business you need help with?"
"Going to see the Justice of the Peace; need you to be my best man." Justin laughed at the surprised look on Tom's face. He walked over and took Theresa's hand. "Me and Theresa have got real used to each other this week and want to make it permanent like."
Tom looked first at Justin and then at Theresa. "Si Niño, it is true. This is the first home I've had in many years; I don't want to leave." She smiled and touched Justin's cheek. "And Justin will be a good husband."
"Well I'll be danged," Tom exclaimed. "I was right the day we got back." Justine raised his eyes brows with a puzzled look. "Said the day you met Theresa that if she wanted you that you were already roped and hogtied."
Theresa laughed and hugged Justin. With a smile on this face Justin said, "I reckon you were right youngster."
The three road into Tucson and went to the county court house. Justine gave the county recorder two dollars and got a marriage license. While Justin and Theresa were busy at the court house, Tom tracked down the Justice of the Peace. Tom took him to the hotel to meet the happy couple where the wedding ceremony took place.
Leland Chambers, the owner of the hotel and Justin's good friend, walked Theresa down a hastily made aisle to where Justin and Tom waited. Tom thought he was going to have to put a lead rope around his neck to hold Justin in one place because he was so nervous.
Chambers had a special wedding supper prepared for the newlyweds and as a wedding present gave them the best room in the hotel for the night. Tom went to a boarding house for the evening. He was sitting on the porch of the hotel the next morning waiting for the newly married couple to make an appearance.
Tom was young but he had better sense than to go knock on their door. I'll just wait a spell, Tom thought. Got nothin pressing anyway.
Sheriff Will Jenkins stopped to talk to Tom on his morning rounds. "Heard Justin and that lady you brought home with you got hitched yesterday. Sorta quick wasn't it?" Jenkins saw the hard look that came in Tom's eyes. "No disrespect meant Tom; but you only been back about a week or so."
Tom relaxed and let a smile grow across his face. "Sometimes it just happens that way Sheriff. I'm no expert bout things like that but I saw the look on Justin's face when he first saw Theresa." Tom chuckled, "Fact is I wondered what took them so long cause Theresa had the same look about her."
"You gonna work the ranch with Justin?"
"Nope, done my share of workin with cattle," Tom answered and smile. "Think I've seen all the butt ends of steers that I care to. I'll look around for something else to work at."
"If you don't mind the work, I heard that John Seager is lookin for men to ride guard for his payroll shipments to the mines. Could be easy work."
"Until someone tries to steal the payroll," Tom replied. "Then things could get rite interesting and you'd earn your wages right quick."
"Yep, there is that possibility. Guess that's why the pay is pretty good." Jenkins gave Tom a small grin. "But I heard your pretty good with that hog leg and can take care of yourself."
"Better than most, well better than the ones I've run into so far." Tom leaned back in his chair. "Being good with a sidearm don't matter if there's someone shooting at you from two hundred yards." Tom looked thoughtful for a few seconds. "John Seager you say? Suppose I could talk to the man."
"He's over to the Molly's Cafe having breakfast."
Tom went into the hotel and left a message with the desk clerk for Justin and Theresa. He walked the fifty yards to the cafe and stepped inside. At a table against the back wall was a man that had to be John Seager. He was wearing a black frock coat, stripped gray pants and a shirt with a button on collar with a string tie. If it wasn't' for his size and his hands people would think he was a merchant or drummer.
Seager was bigger than Tom. Got to be 6' 4 or so, Tom thought. His hands have seen a lot more hard work than most. They're scared and rough. Those crooked fingers show they've been broke. No sir, this ain't no normal business man.
"You be John Seager?" Tom asked as he walked to the table.
"Sorry to interrupt your breakfast. Sheriff Jenkins said you'd be looking for men to ride guard. Like to talk to you about it if I can. I'm Tom Boone."
"Sit down and have coffee with me Mr. Boone and we'll talk." He motioned and the waitress brought the coffee pot and a cup for Tom. After she left Seager said, "You'd be the youngster that Justin Wren took in a while back."
"Yes sir. Justin took me in and helped me heal up right after my Pa was killed."
"Understand after you got saddle ready you went after the gang that killed you Pa and shot you. That true?"
Tom nodded. "Never could cut their trail though; looked for a year and half. Last I heard they headed down to Santa Ana. Got some good advice about not followin them and decided I'd come back." He took a sip of coffee and scratched his ear. "Texas Jack won't go away. He'll be back in these parts one day and we'll settle what's between us."
Seager looked at the man sitting across from him. He's young, Seager thought. But he's got bottom to him. And from what folks tell me he's better than average with that .44 and his Winchester.
"In partners with an English lord you know. We got holdings and mines all over the southwest. The ones I need you for are over to Steven's Mountain and up near Benson." Tom nodded to show he knew the areas.
"Rode over to Steven's Mountain with my Pa when we first came out here," Tom said. "Never been but I've heard of Benson. Pretty well know where it is."
"I send payroll and supplies to Steven's on the first of the month. It's near 40 miles; usually takes five days there and back. It's faster comin back with an empty wagon." Seager looked at Tom and saw him nod again. "On the 15th I do the same for Benson. It's about 50 miles, through rougher country. That trip takes seven days, depending on the trail and the weather. You interested?"
"So far, but I ain't heard about wages yet," Tom answered with a grin. "Got to be worth a lot for a man to be on the trail that much."
Seager laughed. "Got your head on straight anyway," he said. "You're right; I pay better than the stage line or freight companies. Pay is $50 a trip; that's $100 a month for about two weeks work. I'll also provide a room at Mrs. Duncan's boarding house while you're in Tucson. You provide your own horse and gear. I'll supply weapons or if you want to use what you got I'll pay for your ammunition. I need two men; you're one of them if you want the job."
Tom took another sip of his coffee. "That's a lot of money for two weeks a month Mr. Seager."
"Yes it is but each payroll is between three and four thousand dollars," Seager replied. "I reckon the expense is worth the outlay to make sure that payroll gets to the mines."
"Well sir, you just hired yourself a guard Mr. Seager. When do I start?"
Seager smiled and extended his hand to shake with Tom. "This is the 20th. First trip will be to Steven's Mountain at the first of the month. Get your gear together and come to my office, it's over the bank, on the morning of the first."
Justin and Theresa entered the café as Tom stood to leave. "Wondered where you run off to," Justin said.
"Thought I was gonna be sittin on that porch all day," Tom replied and watched as Theresa and Justin's faces turned red. "Had to talk to Mr. Seager there about work. I start on the first of the month as a payroll guard."
The three friends ate a late breakfast and started back to the livery to get their horses. Tom was a little concerned about sleeping arrangements and said so but Theresa put his mind at ease.
"I will move into my husband's room and you can stay in the same room you've been using," she told Tom. "Don't worry Niño, we won't make you sleep in the barn," Theresa added with a smile.
As they got to the livery, Tom explained his new job, the traveling, and the destinations.
"Better find a good horse between now and the 1st," Tom said. "Mine's still a little stove in from all that hard riding for better than a year. He needs to rest for two or three months with good feed and nothing to do but chase after the mares."
"Tell you what. I like that horse of yours," Justin said. "I got a spare horse here at the livery. Brought him in to be shod just before you got back and he's been here ever since. I planned to take him home with me today. Let's trade horses. You get an animal that's fresh and can handle the trails you'll be riding and I get a good looking animal to breed to a couple of my mares."
Tom looked at his friend for about 10 seconds. "If that's what you want Justin, we've got a deal."
"Don't you want to see my horse first?"
"Nope. You say he's a good animal and I trust you and your judgment." Tom handed Justin the reins to his horse. "Where's my new horse?"
Justin held up his hand for Tom to wait and went into the livery barn. He came back leading a big Appaloosa stallion that was prancing with his head held high and his ears cocked forward. Justin handed Tom the lead rope.
"This here's Cochise," Justin said. "Look him over and see if he suits you."
Tom took the lead rope and held out his hand so the horse could get his scent. As Cochise settled down Tom stroked his muzzle and spoke in a low soothing voice to the horse. He stepped back and gave the animal a good look.
Cochise coat was a chocolate brown from the midpoint of his barrel to his head; right down to his nose. The rear of the horse was an almost dazzling white with chocolate colored spots. That horse has to be sixteen hands, Tom thought. He's got real strong legs and a deep chest. This is a horse you could ride for days and days and he'd still be strong and ready to go some more.
"Reckon I got the best of the bargain," Tom said. He started switching his saddle and gear to Cochise. "Why'd you name him Cochise?"
"I got the horse from a horse breeder from Nebraska. Said the animal was born the same year that the Apache Chief Cochise died on the reservation. The man said when he was in the Army; they'd chased Cochise and his band all over Arizona and New Mexico. Said he had a lot of respect for Cochise, so that's what he named the horse." Justin scratched his head. "Don't know if all that's true but sure makes a good story."
Tom finished changing his gear and mounted Cochise. He gave the horse several seconds to get use to how Tom sat his saddle and then rode him slowly around the open area in front of the livery.
Reining the horse back in front of Justin, Tom looked down. "He'll do," he said with conviction.
Tom Boone started his career as a payroll guard for Seager Mining. On his first trip he was the only guard. Seager didn't like sending just the wagon driver and one guard but he hadn't found another man of the caliber he wanted. That changed before Tom made his first mid month trip to Benson. Seager hired a former lawman from central Arizona.
John Templar was close to 50 years old and had been a town marshal in the central Arizona mining town of Wickenburg for over 10 years. Templar had been a lawman in Texas for many years before that. He sure didn't look like a lawman. John was only 5'5 and whip cord thin; his dark hair was streaked with gray and his face was leather like from the weather. But one look into his eyes you knew that he was a man to respect. His hands were large for his size and his right thumb had a callous from cocking the hammer on the big Colt .45 he carried.
During his time as town marshal, he'd scouted for the U. S. Army on some of their campaigns against Yavapai Indians. Returning from one such campaign John got into a vicious fight with a young Army Captain. It took four men to pull him off the captain; Templar decided it was time for him to move on.
"I faced down outlaws, rustlers, and lynch mobs," John told Tom on their first duty together. "I've tracked and fought Indians, Apache, Comanche, and Yavapai; I don't mind using my gun if necessary. But I had to leave Wickenburg or I might have shot that young horse's ass."
"You brought it up so I'll ask. What was the trouble with the captain?"
"We were on a scout looking for some Yavapai that had just raided a ranch outside of town," John replied. "This young fool, Captain Stacy was his name, insisted we go use a pass through the Buckhorn Mountains to shorten our trip back to Wickenburg. I told him the Yavapai knew that was the only way through them hills and they could ambush us if we rode through. I suggested he and the troops wait for a couple of hours and let me do a scout to make sure the pass was clear."
John spit out the chaw of tobacco in his cheek, cut a fresh piece from his tobacco plug and put it in his mouth. "Nasty habit boy, don't get started on it," he said with a smile. "Where was I? Oh yeah, Stacy said we could ride over any Indians in the pass. Then he told me he was in charge and that I'd follow his orders or he'd charge me with sedition and have me put in the stockade."
Looking at Tom, John said, "That pass was narrow, not more than 30 feet across or so with jagged rocks on the floor. It meant the troop would have to ride single file. Dangerous way for a unit to travel in hostile territory."