The stagecoach rumbles toward Yuma when Tom Quinn hears the war whoop. A dozen Apaches strike, hungry for blood. Their first volley finds the driver, forcing Quinn to drive with one hand and shoot with the other. By the time the attack eases up, he is down to his last bullet. As the Apache pull back, the horses bolt, and the wagon flips on its side. Tom is trying to get it upright when two more riders approach.
Escorted by Sheriff Mike Hancock, the accused murderer is on his way to Yuma prison—and now, he’s Quinn’s problem. Yuma may only be one hundred miles away, but night falls faster with a killer at your back.
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About the Author
Paul Lederer spent much of his childhood and young adult life in Texas. He worked for years in Asia and the Middle East for a military intelligence arm. Under his own name, he is best known for Tecumseh and the Indian Heritage Series, which focuses on American Indian life. He believes that the finest Westerns reflect ordinary people caught in unusual and dangerous circumstances, trying their best to act with honor.
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Quinn's Last Run
By Paul Lederer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2010 Owen G. Irons
All rights reserved.
At this late hour the brooding purple-shot clouds above the Arizona desert were as foreboding as midnight on the twelfth of Never. Pushed up all the way from the Gulf of Mexico in front of a waning hurricane, they had crossed the Mexican heartland and entered US territory like some uncertain invading army. From time to time it would rain just enough to pock the sandy soil. Now and again the wind would increase as if the storm were trying to gather bluster, but right now it was hot, dark and still across the long desert.
Jody Short was thinking that the winds would tear the fabric of the clouds apart long before they reached Yuma Territorial Prison. It would likely be a clear, white day in the walled courtyard when they hanged him in front of two guards, who would be assigned as witnesses to the execution and asked to sign his death certificate.
He supposed he had been a hardcase, a troublemaker for most of his short life, but as far as killing the woman.
'I didn't do it, Hancock!' he shouted out in frustration. His companion, the man with the badge on his shirt, did not even turn his head, but continued leading Jody's horse onward.
'I told you before, Short, I'm not a judge.'
'I'm telling you –'
'Won't do you a bit of good to tell me,' Mike Hancock grumbled. 'Someone sure as hell killed Dolores Delgado, and there are witnesses willing to testify that it was you.'
'They're wrong, I swear it! Or else they're lying,' Jody said in frustration. Hancock did not answer. The lawman continued to sit his plodding gray horse, the rope stretched between them tied to his saddle horn and the reins of Jody Short's buckskin pony.
They moved across flat desert, passing stands of shaggy Joshua trees and giant saguaro cactus.
'When are we going to stop, Hancock? I've about had it. My horse is in bad shape, too.'
'Not out here,' the lawman replied, still not turning his head. 'I've got my schedule to keep. We should make Las Palmas in a little over an hour.'
'At least we can find some beans and tortillas there,' Jody Short muttered. 'You don't even let a man eat.'
'You won't have to worry about that before long, will you? But listen, Short,' Hancock said, now swiveling in his saddle to look back at the young outlaw, 'when we get to Las Palmas, be careful what you say. If they find out that you murdered that Mexican woman, what they'll do to you would make you pray that you had met the hangman in Yuma.'
'What do they have to do with it? Even if it were true that I killed Dolores. We're on this side of the border, aren't we? Not in Mexico.'
'That's right,' Hancock answered, 'but some of these border people have difficulty making that distinction. Just keep your mouth shut.'
'All right, I what in hell is that?' Jody said abruptly, standing in his stirrups. Hancock frowned, slipped his Winchester from its saddle scabbard and slowed his horse, staring across the darkness of the clouded night desert.
'We'd better see,' Hancock said in a low voice. He had drawn his horse to a halt now, glancing across his shoulder to make sure his manacled prisoner had remained at the full length of the tethering rope. 'Come on.'
He started his gray horse again, walking it toward the dark bulk of the object lying beside the road. A horse nickered and then another. Nearing the dark object, Hancock could now make out the familiar shape of a stagecoach, although it was turned on its side. The horses, still in their twisted harness, stamped the ground with impatient anger.
'Is someone there?' Hancock called out, levering a .44-40 cartridge into the breech of his Winchester.
'Marshal Mike Hancock out of Yuma.'
'Mike?' A man rose from behind the overturned coach and waved a hand. 'It's me, Tom Quinn.'
'Quinn? I'll be damned. What happened, did you hit a rut?'
'I wish that had been all,' Quinn said, appearing around the back wheel of the stagecoach to stride toward Hancock. He was a tall, well-set-up man with dark hair and a torn blue shirt. He shot an appraising glance in Jody Short's direction.
'One for Yuma Prison?' Quinn asked.
'Yeah. What happened here, Quinn?'
'A band of Apaches. I think they were Jicarillas. They jumped us about a mile back. Tank Dawson was driving. I tried to fight them off.'
'How many were there?' Jody Short asked with excitement.
'Fifteen or so. Anyway, they got Dawson and I took it into my head that I could manage the team and shoot back at the same time. As you can see, that didn't work out real well.'
Both marshal and prisoner had stepped down from their horses now, Short, in manacles, dismounting clumsily.
'Fifteen Apaches?' Jody Short said with doubt in his voice as the three men walked to the far side of the fallen stage. 'I don't hardly believe it. One man against all those savages. It can't be. How?' he wanted to know.
In the dim light Mike Hancock could see Tom Quinn's expression tighten. Quinn's reply, though he felt obliged to give none, was to toe a cardboard box resting on the sand behind the coach. Hancock recognized it for what it was – a box meant to contain fifty Winchester cartridges. As the box tipped on to its side a single brass .44 rolled from it.
'That box was full when I started firing,' Quinn said. Quickly he changed the subject. 'There are two wounded passengers just off the road. Maybe we can help them.'
One of these was sitting up now, holding his head and groaning. A portly, partly bald man in a blue suit. The other was a young woman with light-brown hair.
She lay flat on her back beneath a striped blanket. She opened her eyes as they approached and the thinning clouds parted enough for them to catch starlight and reflect it. Quinn crouched down and felt her forehead.
'How bad's she hurt?' Mike Hancock asked. Even in the dim light it was plain that she was a beautiful young thing.
'I don't know,' Quinn said. 'She was knocked out, that's for sure. As far as internal injuries, who knows?'
The portly man, who had been sitting rubbing his head, now looked at them and demanded in an obnoxious tone of voice: 'When are we going to get moving? I'm George Sabato! I've business to take care of. What are you going to do about getting us rolling?'
Other than glancing his way, the others ignored him.
'I don't think it will take a lot to upright the coach,' Quinn was saying. 'You've got a rope. Toss it up and over and we'll tie it on. Your horse can supply most of the muscle. The other two of us can shove up from this side once it starts to lift.'
'I'm cuffed,' Jody Short complained, holding up his manacled hands.
'You can push just as well that way,' Quinn said.
That was the way they did it. Mike Hancock tied the rope on across the doorjamb between the two windows, tossed the rope across the stage and mounted his gray horse. As he rode it slowly forward the rope grew taut and the side of the stagecoach away from the wheels began to lift from the ground. When there were a few inches to slip their hands underneath Quinn and an unhappy Jody Short hoisted the carriage-works upward. It was only a matter of a few minutes' work to upright the coach. Quinn inspected front and rear axles and pronounced them sound.
'Any of those horses lame?' Mike asked from horseback, nodding toward the coach team.
'I don't think so. Check them over will you, Mike? Then come back and help me lift the lady into the coach.'
'I'll help you,' George Sabato said, but watching him now, Quinn could see the man was still wobbly from the fall he had taken.
'That's all right, Mr Sabato,' Quinn said. 'Just climb aboard yourself. We'll soon have you on your way.'
'All right,' Sabato said, still rubbing at the front of his balding head. 'I'm sorry about the way I spoke before. I took a harder knock than I thought.'
'That's all right,' Quinn answered. 'Don't give it another thought. We've all had a rough trip.'
Heavily the fat man climbed aboard the coach. Jody Short beside Quinn asked: 'What about me? Do I get on?'
'That's between you and Mike Hancock,' Quinn replied. 'He may prefer to ride on alone with you.'
Hancock had been considering the point as he checked out the stagecoach team. Returning now, he told Quinn: 'They seem to be in good enough shape. The off-wheel horse might have been nicked by a bullet along its flank – hard to tell in this light.'
'What about him,' Quinn asked, jerking his head toward Jody Short. 'Want to let him ride in the coach or not?'
'I suppose so,' Hancock said wearily. 'As long as he's wearing those manacles I guess it's safe enough. Our own horses are kind of beat down, Quinn. Probably better to get our weight off their backs. At least as far as Las Palmas. I'll consider matters again after we reach the town.'
'All right then,' Quinn said. 'I'll drive, you ride shotgun, if that suits you.'
'It'll have to,' Hancock said with a laugh. 'I've never handled a four-horse team.'
'I don't claim to be a professional at it myself,' Quinn answered with a smile, 'but I did pick up a few pointers from Tank Dawson along the trail. There was a man who could drive 'em. The horses knew his touch on the reins.'
'I guess we'd better get started,' Mike Hancock said with some uneasiness now as he studied the long desert. Would the Apaches return? There was no telling.
'I guess we had,' Quinn agreed. 'Give me a hand with the woman.'
Working swiftly but gently, they were able to get the lady up into the coach, laying her down on the rear-facing seat. George Sabato leaned against the wall beside the opposite seat. Jody Short sat slumped beside him. Hancock checked his manacles and reminded him:
'There's nowhere to run to out here, Short.'
Quinn lingered near the woman for a moment. He folded a spare blanket for a pillow and placed it under her head. He covered her with the striped blanket and studied her face again. Straight nose, full mouth, cheeks a little gaunted from the long trail, light-brown hair loose across her shoulders. There was a smudge of dirt on her temple and what looked to be the beginnings of a bruise. Twenty, was she? Twenty-five? Young anyway. She had never explained what she was doing out here alone.
'Quinn?' Mike Hancock said, nudging Quinn out of his reverie. 'Help me with the two saddle horses. We'll slip their gear and tie them on behind.'
'All right,' Quinn said impatiently. He backed away from the girl, stepped down and closed the stage door. He was irritated, not at Hancock's reasonable request, but with himself for wasting time watching the woman. There was no time to be wasted musing over her. Not if they wanted to get off the desert alive.
At last, with the horses Jody Short and Marshal Hancock had been riding tied on behind, their saddles tossed up to ride on the roof, Quinn stepped up on to the bench seat of the stagecoach, gathered the multiple leather ribbons guiding the team, used his boot to release the brake and started the team forward toward Las Palmas. Hancock sat at his side, rifle in hand, eyes alert to each shadow cast by dune or cactus, rock or ridge.
'How far?' Mike called out as the stage rolled on, dust streaming out behind it.
'I'm guessing no more than an hour,' Quinn called back. Then he muttered a small curse. The team was balky for some reason. He thought that Mike had been correct about the off-wheel lead horse. It probably was wounded. It kept trying to pull away from the harnesses, to bolt free, and the other three horses resented it. Quinn adjusted the handling of the reins he held in his leather gloved hands just slightly, trying to accommodate the wounded horse. Tank Dawson would have known how to handle the team; Quinn did not.
'I'm going to have to slow them down some,' Quinn said.
'You're the driver,' Hancock replied. 'We aren't going to outrun any raiding party anyway.'
'I guess not,' Quinn said, tugging back slightly on the reins. 'The Indians were all mounted. I don't think I've ever heard of that many Apaches choosing to fight from horseback.'
'No. They prefer to fight afoot. Seems to me that with all those horses, they were planning on covering some ground in a hurry. Army after them, maybe. I'd guess they just happened to run across the stage and decided to take the horses and maybe a few scalps.'
'It's a good guess,' Quinn conceded. 'In time they would have overrun me. I think they pulled out not because of my rifle but because they had something more important in mind.'
After another mile or so, jolting over uneven ground, Mike asked: 'That woman back there, what's she doing way out here alone? For that matter, Quinn, what are you doing on a stagecoach?'
'I don't know anything about the girl,' Quinn said, slowing the team to guide it into and up out of a dry wash. 'She didn't have much to say – or maybe it was just that she didn't want to talk to me,' he added with a short laugh.
He went on: 'I was on my way down to Carrizo – you know where that is? Not far from Nogales. A man there had a string of horses that I was looking to buy. You know where my place is, right? I've got good graze for a lot of horses up in those hills, but stock is hard to come by.'
'What happened?' Mike asked as they hit the flats again. Now, far ahead, the lawman thought he could see a string of lights blinking across the distance. Las Palmas; or so he dearly hoped.
Tom Quinn continued: 'By the time I got to Carrizo the rancher had been burned out. Border raiders. They had taken the herd and driven it across into Mexico, I guess. My own pony was pretty beat up by then, and I was tired of the saddle myself so I rode into Carrizo, sold the pony, and bought myself a stagecoach ticket back.'
'I see. Tough, isn't it, the way plans can go bad?'
'Out here,' Quinn said, gesturing with a gloved hand, 'if you can get one plan out of ten to work out, you're doing fine.'
Yes, Hancock thought, the long desert had a way of ruining plans – and breaking men.
The twinkling lights in the distance seemed to be growing nearer. 'I think that's Las Palmas,' Hancock said with a nod.
'Let's hope so.'
'The border raiders who stole that horse herd, that wouldn't have been our old friend, Guerrero and his bunch, would it?' Mike asked.
'I've no idea. I heard that he was locked up over in Riodoso, but they could have busted him out of jail, I suppose. If it was Guerrero, he made a mistake passing up this coach down in Carrizo in favor of a string of horses, no matter how good they were.'
'I don't get you,' Hancock said frowning in puzzlement.
'This stage is carrying a little something extra, Mike. In the boot there's twenty thousand dollars in gold heading for Yuma Prison to pay the guards, feed the prisoners and maintain the facility.'
'Holy ! And you don't think that's the reason the Apaches hit it?'
'If so, they gave up awfully easy. Besides, Mike, you know as well as I do that an Apache has little use for gold. He can't ride into a town and buy whatever he likes. They're a nomadic people; they don't have artisans who can sit in one place long enough to make jewelry or golden idols like those Indians deeper down in Mexico used to. It's shiny and appealing, but it's heavy enough that it's inconvenient to tote around from place to place. No, Mike, they just wanted the horses and then decided that they just weren't worth the trouble.
'It's not anything I'm going to worry about now, either,' Quinn continued. 'In Las Palmas I'm delivering the coach to the stage office, slapping the dust from my jeans, buying another horse and riding home. Let them worry about the gold. It's none of my concern.'
The stage hit a deep rut and bounced into the air a few inches. Quinn slowed the horses still more. They were weary and now the pueblo of Las Palmas could be seen ahead clearly. Quinn said to Mike Hancock:
'I hope that the girl is riding comfortably. That bump was enough to send her rolling to the floor.'
'There's two men back there to make sure that doesn't happen,' the lawman replied.
'Yes, you're right, of course. But does George Sabato strike you as a man to be counted on in any circumstance?'
Hancock smiled thinly and shook his head. 'No, no, I can't say that he does.'
'Well, there's your prisoner. He can brace her up even wearing manacles. What is Jody Short, Mike? A cattle rustler or something?'
'No,' Mike Hancock had to tell Quinn. 'He murdered a woman.'
Excerpted from Quinn's Last Run by Paul Lederer. Copyright © 2010 Owen G. Irons. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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