She was a feisty little thing, flaming red hair, large breasts spilling out of her transparent gown. “You like it? It came all the way from Paris France.”

I grinned. I’d been on the trail for two months with only my brother for a companion, and I was in need of a little female comfort. “I like it just fine, but I like what’s in it even better.”

I pinched a nipple lightly and she squealed, sliding around in my lap, feeling my raging hardon. Like I said, it had been a while. We had already discussed and agreed on price. I was to get her for the night, and for the price I could fuck her as much as I wanted. She even threw in a ‘French’ for that price, and I was pretty sure I was going to start the festivities with her mouth wrapped around my cock.

I looked over at my brother and grinned. He was just as randy as I was, and had latched down on a buxom little blond. He had her tits out, stroking the nipples as she moaned. The madam came into the parlor, grinning. “Enough, boys. Nobody gets to look for free. Take it upstairs and have a good time.” Bradley had made the same deal, and I had a feeling somewhere during the night we would change partners. After all, they were getting the same amount of money. What difference would it make?

I stood up, offering my soiled dove my hand, when all hell broke loose. A large, heavyset man charged into the parlor mad as hell. “Delilah (like anyone believed that was her real name), what the fuck’s going on here? Get your ass away from that cowboy. We got a standing date. It’s Saturday night, remember?”

She blushed and stuttered, so I decided to smooth things a bit. “Mister, I don’t know what arrangement she has with you, but I’ve bought and paid for her services. She didn’t say nothin’ about no previous commitment to me, so I consider her a free agent. I’ll be gone come tomorrow, you can have her then.”

“Fuck you, saddlebum. Pick someone else.”

The saddlebum comment got me. Brad and I were just back from the Colorado goldfields, flush with money. Our little claim proved up, and when we found an eight pound nugget, the big boys came calling, after we’d settled the hash of a few claimjumpers. It really didn’t do to piss Brad off. They all offered us a deal,and we picked the best. They would run the mine, and we got fourty per cent. To cement the deal, they gave us twenty grand upfront. We intended to amble on down to Texas, find us a decent spread somewhere, and become gentlemen ranchers. Yeah we looked like bums, because it was a lot safer to look broke than to flash that kind of money around. Actually, the money was in a Wells Fargo bank except for a few hundred, and we had a certified letter of credit. If we found something we liked, we’d wire the bank and get the money transferred locally. Before they had bought us out, we’d cleaned out thirty thousand in ore and dust. For the time, it was a small fortune.

“If I’d wanted someone else, I’d already be with someone else. Now go away. Me and Miss D have some serious getting acquainted to do.”

“Back off, boy. Drop the bitch and get the fuck out of here.”

The man was starting to ruin my good mood. I grinned lazily. “Or what?”

He seemed confused. “What you mean?”

“I mean what if I don’t get the fuck out of here, as you put it? Is there a whore anywhere on this earth worth getting into a gunfight over? You need to draw those horns in before we stop being friends.”

“I ain’t your friend, kid. Move along.”

I’d gotten Delilah off my lap and stood, facing the asshole. Brad had dumped the little blond, standing off to the side. He had a couple of friends and now they had to face two fronts. You could tell it made them nervous. Apparently this was the Bull of the Woods, and wasn’t used to anyone bucking him.

I stood, looking bored. “Draw when you feel a mind too. Just don’t take too long. I got some serious fucking to do.”

He looked at me like it was the first time he’d laid eyes on me. I was in beat up trail clothes, lean from eating my own cooking, with shoulders and arms that came from swinging a pick and using a shovel every day for five months. I had a bullet hole in my hat thanks to a Kiowa who thought he was a better shot, and a scar on my cheek from a Mexican pistolero whe fancied himself a knife man. He should have stuck to the pistols. Just short of six feet, black hair and far seeing grey eyes, I looked like a bundle of trouble waiting to happen. If he had any sense at all, he’d see my guns were the cleanest thing on me, one Remington in a side holter, the other rigged for a cross draw, and an old Navy Colt in another cross draw holster, the butt pointing to my left.

Just then the Madam came up, raising hell. “Goddamn you Buck, there ain’t gonna be no gunplay in here. I just got done putting up the new wallpaper, and I don’t need no more bulletholes. You boys need to take this outside.”

He turned to jaw at her and I moved. Caught by surprise, he turned just in time to see my fist before it made contact with his nose. I put every bit of the muscles I’d built up mining into it. For a minute I thought I’d knocked his head off, it flew back so fast. I felt his nose crunch, and he went down, out like a light. Brad took advantage of the commotion to draw his pistols, an old LeMat I wished he’d get rid of, one of his Smith & Wesson Russian .44’s in the other hand. He grinned and spoke for the first time.

“You boys need to take him on out of here. You tell him when he wakes up if he wants to have any discussion with us, to look up the Walters brothers. We’ll be right here until about noon tomorrow.”

One of his buddies glared at me. “You sucker punched him!”

“You’d rather I spread his brains all over Miss Toussant’s new wallpaper? I ain’t braggin’ here, but he ain’t the first one to brace me with a gun. Tell him what my brother said. Now go home, or to another whorehouse, or back to the saloon. If I see any of you here before I leave, I’ll think you have evil intent and shoot you down where you stand. Now get out.”

“You’ll regret this mister. He’s the fastest man I ever seen with a pistol.”

“That may be so, but you ain’t seen me. Or my brother. Hell, he’s a lot faster than I’ll ever be. Now let sleepin’ dogs lie.”

They dragged him out, grumbling, and I turned back to Delilah. “Come on honey. You and me got unfinished business.” Brad had his blond over his shoulder, carrying her up the stairs while she squealed and laughed. First thing we did was get into the bath I’d had drawn. I wanted her clean and the trail dust off me. I made a note to give the maid a little something in the morning for all the water we spilled.

Delilah wasn’t the hellcat I was expecting, but the little blond, now she was something. Delilah did a half ass job on her French, but Blondie made me feel like she’d sucked my brains out. We swapped back sometime in the early morning, and I was just sliding into her when she woke. “Hey, the deal was for the night!”

“Still dark, honey, so it’s still night.

Brad and I took another bath just before we left. I tipped Delilah a five, but gave Blondie a ten. Red was a little pissed off when we left. Blondie gave us both a big kiss and a promise. The next time we were through, it would be just the three of us. “Nobody’s ever fucked me to a standstill, but you boys came closer than anyone else. I’d like to see what it’s like when you’re both fresh.” We promised faithfully, knowing we would probably never see her again. We were decked out in the new clothes we’d had the local tailor make, feeling good about shedding our trail gear. I had on a black shirt with a twin row of pearl buttons, grey pants tucked into tooled black boots, with a brand new black Stetson and a red silk neck scarf. Brad had went with brown. We’d gotten haircuts and I’d had my handlebar mustache waxed. He grinned when he saw me. “You look like a dude straight off the train.”

“Well, yeah, but I always thought they was sharp dressers.”

We’d checked out of the hotel, and were lazing on the porch. We’d decided since it was late we’d eat at the diner before we left, another meal we wouldn’t have to cook. I was sitting with my feet up on the porch rail, my hat over my eyes, while Brad was sitting on a rocker. “Set up, boy. You got trouble comin.”

I casually stretched and sat up. It was the asshole from last night and his cronies. He looked kind of funny, at some point he’d been to a doc and had white plaster all over his nose. His black eyes made him look like a ‘coon. “You bastard!” He’d tried to yell, but it came out muffled. It was all I could do not to laugh.

“Don’t bitch, mister. You got what you deserved. She’s just a whore, liable to be gone on the next stage. Count your blessings it didn’t come to shootin’.”

He went even redder, if that was possible. “You know who I am, boy?”

“Nope. Don’t care none neither.”

He seemed stunned I’d never heard of him. “I’m Jack Benson. I own the Split Trails Ranch.”

I knew who he was then, though most people called it the Split Tails, because besides the looker of a wife he had, there were three more women there just as hot. One his sister, two hers. Make that three, but one was just a child. The place got a lot of visitors. In fact, Brad and I had planned to grubline by there, to get a hot meal and look at some outstanding females. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be welcome now. I wondered that why, if his wife was as beautiful as everyone said, he was getting all upset over a skinny whore. Ain’t no accounting for tastes, as my Grandma used to tell me.

“I’ve heard of you,” I grinned. “More importantly, I’ve heard about how beautiful your wife is. But to be honest, I ain’t impressed much. You got a good woman, a big spread, yet you’re willing to die over a skinny bitch that will throw you over for the next guy who waves around a bigger bankroll? You might be rich, mister, but you ain’t too smart.”

One of the townspeople laughed, and he whirled, to be met by a wall of blank faces. He might be an asshole, but he was still the biggest spender in town. Realizing he’d turned his back to me, he whirled back around. I was still there, leaning against the porch rail. “Go home Mr. Benson, while you still can.”

“You have no idea who I am! I’m the fastest man around here.”

Brad finally joined the conversation, and his crew blanced when they saw him standing, the Colt revolving shotgun I’d just bought held loosely in his hands. I was pretty sure when it came down to it, his crew was out of the fight. They were bunched too close, three rounds would tear them to pieces. “That may be so, but you know what? We ain’t from around here, and we ain’t seen your graveyards.”

That gave me an idea. “Tell you what, why don’t we mosey up to Boot Hill and look at some of the men you’ve put there. I’ll go halvers in the cost of having a grave dug. I’ll stand on one end and you stand on theother and we’ll draw. That way nobody has to drag the carcass anywhere, they can just tumble you in and start covering.”

He didn’t like that idea at all. A shootout at six paces pretty much meant both were gonna die. He finally got his voice back. “NO! By God,we do it right here, right now!”


He looked at me, so mad he couldn’t talk for a minute. “What in hell you mean no?”

“I mean no. If I’m gonna get plugged, it needs to be over something bigger than a two dollar whore. Tell you what, you put up 52% ownership in your ranch against my twenty five thousand dollars. Get a lawyer over here, draw up a contract, and we’ll commence.”

His mouth opened and closed several times before he started cussing. I grinned, unbuckled my belt and let it fall to the ground, laying the Colt on top of it. “I ain’t armed. You shoot me now and you’ll hang. I ain’t putting them back on until you agree to the deal.”

Brad grinned. “There won’t be no trial. If he shoots you, I’ll blow him in two right where he stands.”

Someone had finally got enough sense to get the county sheriff. We were lucky, there was a U.S. Marshall there to pick up a prisoner, and he trailed along. “What’s going on here, fellers?”

Brad told the marshall, and the Federal man had a hard time keeping a straight face. “Well then, it looks to me like ever’body needs to go home, and you two need to get out of town.”

“It’s what we were planning all along. If this asshole hadn’t showed up, we’d be an hour down the trail by now.”

People were starting to talk, and Benson realized he was standing there looking like a fool. Still a little drunk, he signed his death warrent. “Hold on just a minute there! This is a private affair between two citizens. The law don’t need to be getting mixed up in it.”

“That’s true, Jack, but he ain’t armed. Come on now, pull your horns in, go home to the ranch. You can come back again next month.”

“We’ll be leaving now,” I told the Marshalls as I stooped over to pick up my pistols.

“Like hell you will! Get a damn lawyer, and I’ll sign the contract.” Well hell. Just when I thought it was over. Suddenly I just didn’t care anymore. He’d asked for it, begged for it, and nowhe he was going to get it.

We all went into the saloon to have a drink while we waited for the lawyer. We sat with the law, making a bunch of the locals nervous.

“You gonna go through with it?”

I looked at the Sheriff. “Looks like I got no choice. If I leave, I’m a coward. If I dodge him some other way, he’ll take his boys and hunt me down. So yeah, I’m going through with it.”

The U.S. Marshall was deep in thought, then he asked a question. “Ya’ll any kin to Randall Walters?”

Brad grinned. “He’s our old man.”

The Marshall sighed. “He ain’t got a chance, does he?”

I shrugged. “Everybody’s got a chance in something like this. I might be a little slow today. The pistol might misfire, or the shell be a dud. I might step on a rock and lose my aim. But all things considered, he’s pretty much a dead man. When the dust settles, I want it clear I done everything I could to stop it.”

We sat in silence until the lawyer bustled in. He was a small guy, but he had sharp eyes and an erect bearing. Ex-military would be my guess. “This is the stupidest contract I’ve ever written up. Is there not some way bloodshed can be avoided?”

The federal marshall spoke. “The boy gave him every opportunity, but the fool won’t take it. So no, somebody’s gonna die today.”

It was written up in a matter of minutes. If I won the gunfight, I became majority owner of the Split Trails ranch. If I lost, Benson was twenty five thousand richer. I showed the lawyer and marshalls my letter of credit, signing the contract. He took the contract over to Benson, who’d been sitting on the other side of the saloon. I’d seen him take four drinks, pretty foolish behavior for someone about to enter into a gunfight. He explained everything, and Benson signed with a flourish. Both marshalls signed as witnesses.

The lawyer had made two copies, and had given each of us one. Nothing for it now, I guess.

I got up and called out. “Come on then, Benson. The quicker I get this over with, the quicker I can inspect my new property. Who knows, maybe your old wife will become my new one. Then I’d own it all.”

The man was all but foaming at the mouth in rage, stomping to the door. I think the whole town turned out to watch, especlially on the balconies, where they felt they’d be safe. The Federal Marshall tried one last time to talk him out of it. It was a waste of breath.

I walked to the edge of town, giving him no choice but to follow me. I didn’t want some gawking kid to get hit by a stray bullet. We stood, twenty feet apart, the by now afternoon sun behind the saloon, the Marshall off to one side. “I’m asking one more time for you boys to forget this foolishness.”

Benson never said a word, so I just shook my head. “All right then, shoot when you’ve a mind too.”

Benson wanted to talk. “I’m gonna enjoy kil…” He looked down in surprise at the two bullet holes that had appeared in the center of his chest. He looked up, seeing me holding the Colt in my left hand. He went to his knees, trying to raise his pistol. He actually managed to get a shot off, into the dirt beside his feet. I stood there while Brad stood guard, carefully ejecting the shells and reloading before I moved.

And that’s how I became the majority owner of the Split Trails Ranch.


I looked over at the four who’d rode in with Benson. “Looks like I’m your boss now, boys. Let’s walk over to the saloon and have a beer. Then you can tell me all about what I just acquired.”

“Fuck you!,” said the obvious leader. “Just ’cause you kilt the boss don’t mean shit to me.”

“You were his foreman?”

The man nodded and spit. “Well then, I guess you just quit. You figure out what wages you got coming, and I’ll pay you off here and now.”

I looked over at the other three. “That goes for you boys. You can stay, or you can go. I’m pretty easy to get along with, but my new foreman is a hardass. Meet Bradly J. Walters. He’ll be carrying out what I think needs to be done.”

Brad looked at me stunned, then grinned as he nodded. “All right, for now. I ain’t stayin’ in New Mexico forever though. There’s a dark eyed little senorita down Nogales way that’s just pinin’ for me to sweep her off her feet, and carry her home to rule my new ranch. She don’t know it yet, but I’ll tell her when I find her.”

“Fair enough. I might just take one look and sell out. Either way, I might as well go see what I got.”

Two more of the hands quit, but one stayed. We took him to dinner that night, then to the saloon, and pumped him. He was not impressed with the way Jack ‘Buck” Benson ran the spread. “He’s too heavy on the graze he’s using now. The grass is startin’ to give way, and soon prime grazin’ land won’t be nothin’ but a bunch of gullies and weeds. I tried to tell him, the foreman tried to tell him, hell, even his wife tried to tell him. He told us all to go to hell, he knew what he was doin’ Them cow critturs ain’t gonna be nothin’ but skin and bones unless you do something.”

This was news I was not happy hearing. “Is there nowhere else to let them run?”

“Hell yes there is, almost five times as much as he’s grazing now. He absolutely refused to move the cows, and told us he’d fire the first man he caught messin’ around on the South side of the ranch. Somethin’ not right there.”

I agreed. Then I asked him how many hands they had, and how many he thought would stay when I took over. He snorted. “There’s close to fifty, but prob’ly twenty of them just loaf around. Boss refused to fire them, though. I figure when you show up, they’ll all leave, along with maybe ten more. You better try rounding up hands while we’re here.”

He told me they were in town for their monthly supply run. I asked, and he said he had a list, so I told him to fill it. He asked where the money was coming from. That led me to the lawyer. “Benson had money on him for supplies, and I’m thinkin’ that it belongs to the ranch.”

Joshua Clemmons, esq., let out a sigh. “Well, that helps. I got his personal effects, I though his wife might want them. Here’s his money belt. He banks here, so you might want to talk to the banker come Monday morning. After all, you have controlling interest in the ranch now, so you need him to change things around.”

I hired him to be my lawyer right then. He’d spoken plain so far and had done what was fair without offerin’ anything extra, and seemed to be a decent man. He accepted with a nod and slight smile. “You’ll have to fire his old one. He’s the only other lawyer in town. He probably won’t take it well, there’s not much use for lawyers round here, and he’ll be losing his biggest client.”

There wasn’t as much in the moneybelt as I figured there would be, but it was just barely enough to buy what they came for. I pulled another hundred out of my own belt and gave it to the new segundo, Bill Williams, and told him to make sure we had enough to last the month. Then we sent him around the saloons with a little money to buy drinks with, in case he could find anyone worth hirin’. He just ended up getting a bunch of bums sloshed. “Ain’t a real cowpoke in the whole bunch,” he said with a sad face. Then the Marshall came to see me.