Book Excerpt: Prologue to Destiny’s Way by Ben English
The lone rider had found them again.
Two hours before, as the morning sun first peeked over the Sierra del Carmen, he had flushed them out along a nameless creek west of the Tornillo. There had been seven but now they only numbered six; one of the Villistas lay dead in that same arroyo where he first came upon them.
Now the renegades were heading for the river, moving fast with horses taken during a murderous spree above the Alto Relex. Raiding his ranch had been their first mistake, assuming he was someplace else was their second. Not knowing the land as he did was going to be their third.
Their rattled, ill-considered route taken after the first deadly brush was a more roundabout one, and when the rider topped the rise ahead he knew they would be within rifle range again. The big buckskin powered himself across the last of the eroding draw, nostrils distended as the animal took in and exhaled air in cadence with his ground pounding stride. The last fifteen miles had been hard ones, doubly so when arrowing across unforgiving country by the dark of the moon. But the buckskin was game for the chase and seemed to have no quit in him.
At the head of the narrowing draw the stud horse hit the steep part and shot up through it, ears laid back and stretching his head out as if running for the roses. Just as he topped out the rider reined him in, leaning back in the Texas-style saddle and reaching for the Model 95 as the animal squatted on his rear haunches and slid on the broken shale.
But even as the buckskin did so, the rider had the long-barreled Winchester out and was jacking a round into the chamber. Letting go of the reins, he stepped off at a scramble and moved quickly to where he had a good firing angle. Below, the trailing Villista was riding directly away from his position, pushing the stolen horses to certain sanctuary now less than a mile away. Dropping into a semi-kneeling position the rider estimated the range, timing his breathing as he squeezed the trigger.
The Model 1895 boomed, sending a soft-nosed .30 Army bullet that knocked the raider off his mount. Five faces full of fear turned in unison to the outcropping where the shot had come from. Five men urged their near exhausted mounts on even faster, giving no further thought to the stolen remuda that two of their fellows had paid in the most precious coin for. Their only goal in mind now was to stay alive, and across that river and away from this unrelenting demonio.
The rider on the rise levered another two quick shots at the fleeing Villistas and was on the buckskin again, guiding the big horse by knee pressure with the reins in his teeth while reloading the Winchester. He knew the raiders had to be pushed hard and given no time to think, or they might take cover and make a stand of it - or, far worse, split up and flank him from both sides.
Throughout the night he had heard shooting from different points on the compass, mostly in the direction of Glenn Springs. By morning’s light he could see black smoke rising from there, telling him this was not the only Villista band north of the river, nor the largest.
Where the high ground played out he pulled the buckskin up and dismounted again. This time he was far more careful on foot, easing along like a stalking cat until he could see up and down the river a fair piece. Off to his right and below were two rock and adobe dwellings that had been abandoned some time before, reminders of past pillaging by the Banderos Colorados.
Beyond the empty casas and about three hundred yards away, he could also see the surviving five killers plunging their beleaguered mounts into the Rio Grande and up the other side. A short discussion, along with some evident argument, erupted before two of them began climbing off their horses to seek cover along the opposing high ground.
Dropping into a high prone position, he carefully sighted through the iron aperture of the Winchester, calculating the distance and drop to the man closest to him, then placed his aim a good foot or so below and touched off the rifle. The 220 grain slug caught the bandit full in the thigh, and the lone rider heard him scream from the shock and pain.
This time the bandits returned fire, but it was haphazard and at best only in his general direction. The wounded man managed to keep control of his horse and kept him from bolting, while his compadres continued shooting and the other dismounted marauder lifted and shoved his unlucky associate into the saddle again. Then all five rode pell-mell up the opposite creek bed and were out of sight in a matter of seconds.
The lone rider had chambered another .30-40 round, but did not shoot in response. He had already accomplished what he had in mind; that wounded bandit would slow the rest of them down drastically, giving him time to recover his horses and get them started back to their burned out home. They were all that he had left; everything else was either ashes or dead. After that, he could pick up the hunt again.
Making himself comfortable as best he could, he crawled into some paltry shade near the ruins that offered relief from the rapidly warming sun. Pulling his stained, wide-brimmed felt hat off, he wiped the sweat away from his face with a long sleeved forearm. It would soon be blisteringly hot this day in early May of 1916, and he wanted to sit, watch and listen for a while.
A few minutes later, the sound of shod hooves alerted him that something was in the creek below. The mouse-colored mustang ridden by the dead bandit came into view, walking slowly and dragging his reins on the ground. The weary horse made his way to the river and took his fill, pausing on occasion to look around with ears pricked forward.
Then he began working his way along the river’s edge, muzzle down and sniffing around like some sort of saddled blood hound. When he picked up the scent of the other horses and riders, the mount crossed over to the other side and continued to do the same.
The smell of blood from the wounded Villista startled the grulla for a moment, and he snorted and shied away. After calming down, the animal picked up their scent again and disappeared into the same arroyo they had taken.
It wasn’t much longer that his own horses came drifting through, headed for the water. He wanted to keep them from open ground, but knew by now they must be thirsty. Led by the blazed face black, the remuda went to the river and put their heads down to drink.
Noting the black seemed to be their leader, the rider struck upon an idea. He had been working with that horse and calling the animal up over the past few weeks. He spotted an old lard can in an adjoining trash pit and retrieved it, placing some small rocks in the metal bucket. Then he started rattling the container as if it had hard cake inside and making a kissing sound, just loud enough for the black to hear. The horse turned around and pricked his ears forward, listening.
His newly found habit took over and the animal began strolling back up the creek, heading toward the rifle-wielding rider and followed by the rest of the man’s stock. The rider walked his way up the arroyo, tempting the horses on until they were out of sight from the river. Making his way quickly back to the buckskin, he remounted and began hazing the remuda toward Tornillo Creek.
He left the dead renegade where he fell, same as with the other one. They’d have done equal for him or worse, and every hour was valuable. The hunt had only begun.
He had promised as much to the dead man the Villistas butchered while torching his ranch. The old Mexican had not only been good with the horses and a trusted hand, but also considered a friend.
And to the lone rider, the only promises made were those to be kept, even if it meant riding through the front gates of hell to do so…