SPEAK YOUR MIND BUT RIDE A FAST HORSE.
You’re never too old to fight for justice in the latest novel in a new trailblazing series from legendary national bestselling Western authors.
As proprietors of the growing D&T Cattle Company, Casey Tubbs and Eli Doolin finally have a business of their own. If they’re going to spend their remaining years corralling cows, at least they can line their own pockets with the fruits of their labor instead of making wealthy ranchers even wealthier. Unfortunately, the meat market has seen better days and the D&T’s finances are drying up faster than a rain puddle—leaving Casey and Eli no choice but to procure cash by any means necessary—usually robbing banks.
Before long, Casey and Eli are the most wanted men in the West. Dogged by U.S. marshals and Texas Rangers, the old outlaws slip away time and again, gaining notoriety and being hailed as heroes by folks who have been victimized by corrupt bankers. Deputy U.S. Marshal Colton Gray, smart enough to suspect that the two cowboys are masquerading as old geezers, grudgingly respects Casey and Eli’s grit. But he won’t let that stop him from bringing them to justice. And if they don’t come peacefully, then Colton will teach them to respect law and order from the barrel of his gun.
Release date: October 24, 2023
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 304
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Nice Guys Finish Dead
William W. Johnstone
“I ain’t surprised,” Casey Tubbs remarked in return. “We never heard of Bradshaw and Lane before we rode into Fort Worth this mornin’, did we, Eli?”
“That’s a fact,” Eli Doolin answered. “We thought it’d be a good idea to talk to you, since Fort Worth is a lot closer to Lampasas County than Abilene, Kansas, is.”
“That’s an important point for anyone selling cattle now,” Bradshaw said. “Two of the biggest meat packers in the country have opened up here this year. We represent one of them.”
“There’s talk that the cattle market has finally gotten back up to reasonable prices for cows, so we thought we’d check with you folks to see what you’re payin’ these days.”
Bradshaw took a hard look at the two leather-faced cowhands, then glanced again at the clock on the wall of his office and decided he’d wasted enough time with them. “You fellows didn’t have to bother coming to my office to find out what the market for cattle is today. If you’ve got a few cows to sell, you can just drive them to our cattle pens, and they’ll give you a dollar and a half apiece for them.”
Casey looked at Eli and shrugged. Then back to Bradshaw, he said, “So you folks ain’t payin’ no more than you paid last year.”
“Well, that is a price increase of fifty cents a cow,” Bradshaw said.
“Reckon that’s so,” Casey admitted. “We thank you for your time. I reckon we’ll be drivin’ that herd up to Abilene, like we figured, Eli. It ain’t back to what it used to be, but it’s a helluva lot better’n a dollar and a half.”
“How many cows have you got to sell?” Bradshaw asked.
“Three thousand head,” Casey answered.
“ ‘Three thousand’?” Bradshaw repeated. “For that many, we can pay five dollars a head for good cattle. That’s the most anyone here in Fort Worth will offer you. You drive that herd into our pens, and we’ll pay you cash money the day you deliver them. No fooling around with banks or anybody else. There’s enough money in that safe right there to buy your whole herd.” When both of the cattlemen looked skeptical, he said, “Abilene’s not paying forty dollars a head, like it was two years ago.”
“I reckon you’re right about that,” Casey agreed, “but they’re payin’ twenty-five.”
“That’s just a rumor,” Bradshaw replied. “I’m offering you a solid price. You’d be crazy to drive them all the way to Kansas, when you could save money selling them to me. Tell you what, I’ll go out on a limb and offer you six dollars a head.”
“We’ll think on it,” Eli said, “and get back in touch.”
“Don’t wait too long, boys,” Bradshaw said. “There’s other ranches looking to get rid of their cows.”
“That smug son of a gun,” Eli remarked when they left Bradshaw’s office. “Him and his kind are gettin’ fat on the poor little ranches that are tryin’ to sell their cattle to keep the banks from takin’ over their land. He said he’s got enough money right there in his safe to give us cash money for our three thousand cows at six dollars a head. How much is that?”
Casey paused to work it out in his head, then replied, “Eighteen thousand dollars, if I figured right. Three times five is fifteen, right?”
“That’s right,” Eli said. “And some say they’re payin’ twenty-five a head in Abilene and Wichita. How much is that?”
“A lot more,” Casey answered. “I wonder how hard it would be to get that little safe of his open? I expect he’s got a lot more than that in that safe. Wouldn’t you expect that he’s got more, Oscar?”
“I think he might, Elmer,” Eli responded, using the other alias they had adopted for their lawless activities. About to jump on the idea, he hesitated when another thought struck him. “He’s a dad-blamed thief, but if we was to put him outta business, these poor small ranches wouldn’t have no place to get even a dollar and a half for their cows.”
“I reckon that’s right,” Casey said. “I didn’t consider that.” It then occurred to him: “When you think about it, we’re just doin’ the same thing he is. We’re buyin’ up all the cows we can at a price way below their market value.”
“That’s so, but at least we’re payin’ a lot more than he is. We’ve been payin’ ’em enough to pay off their bank loans, so they don’t lose their land. So if we was to get the money Bradshaw has in that safe, we could buy more cattle from the ranchers. And we could give them a better price than what they’d get from Bradshaw. Everybody wins, but Bradshaw.”
Casey grinned while he considered what Eli just said. “I declare, Oscar,” he stated, “sometimes I think you coulda been the brains of this partnership, instead of me.”
“Whoever said you was the brains?” Eli responded.
“Why, I think it was just automatically understood, weren’t it?” Casey responded. “We need to figure out a way to get into that office of his one night.”
“Even if we did, what are we gonna do with that iron safe he says his money’s in. We can’t hardly carry it outta there. It ain’t a great big safe, but did you look at it? It’s bolted to the floor. Even if it weren’t, it’d be a job for Elmer and Oscar to carry it outta there, down the steps, and put it on a horse.”
“Yeah, I took a good look at it,” Casey said. “First thing I noticed was that old safe was built before 1861.”
“How the hell do you know that?” Eli interrupted.
“ ’Cause it’s got a keylock on it,” Casey answered. “Every safe made after 1861 has a combination lock on it. So all we’d have to do is fill that keyhole with gunpowder and blow the door off.”
“Well, I’ll be . . .” Eli started, then paused to see if Casey was serious. “Do you know what you’re talking about? Can you do that with gunpowder?” Casey said they could. “You know,” Eli went on, “me and you have been workin’ cattle for quite a few years. I ain’t ever asked you before, but what was you doin’ before we started workin’ together?”
Casey chuckled and replied, “Workin’ cattle. Before I run into you, I was an honest man,” he joked.
Eli was thinking hard on the idea of taking the money out of that old safe. He looked back at the cattle buyer’s office they had just left, considering how much trouble it might be to break into it. The office was actually a small two-room house built on poles that raised it so Birch Bradshaw could look out over the entire cattle pen area from his desk. “You reckon he stays up there all the time? There was a door to another room. You reckon that’s where he sleeps?”
“I don’t know,” Casey replied. “He didn’t look the kind to cook and do for himself. I bet he goes home at night. The only outhouse I saw was back yonder between the pens where we first came in here.” He thought for a minute. “His name’s Bradshaw. His partner, Lane, might usually be in the office, but just wasn’t there right now.” He paused to stroke his chin as another thought came to mind. “If they ain’t worried about leavin’ all that money in that old safe while they go home at night, then there must be some guards watchin’ this place at night.”
“Most likely have guards that watch all the pens and everything. I reckon we need to find all that out,” Eli said. “You got any gunpowder in your pocket?”
Casey chuckled. “Not right now, but I reckon we could buy a pound of black powder at Hasting’s,” he suggested, referring to Hasting’s Supply, a large supply house they passed on the way into Fort Worth. He waited for Eli to say more, but when he didn’t, he asked, “Whaddaya think? You wanna do it?”
“I reckon it’s about time we had another payday,” Eli answered. “And that money would do a lot more good in our hands than his. Let’s give it a try.”
“As you and me, or as Elmer and Oscar?” Casey asked.
“I expect you’re thinkin’ about hittin’ that office after dark and hopin’ nobody sees us comin’ or goin’. That’ud be all right for you and me. But I don’t think we ought to take a chance on anybody seein’ us near that office. So I think we oughta leave all the outlaw business to those two little old men.”
“I reckon that’s the reason we packed their outfits, just in case they showed up,” Casey said. “Let’s go get some supper and come back to take a walk around the pens after that. See what it’s like around here in the evening.”
After a supper of chicken and dumplings at a little restaurant named The Potluck Kitchen, Casey and Eli felt like they needed to take a walk. Chicken and dumplings were not an entrée they often had a chance to sample. It was not a dish that Juanita Garcia, their cook back at the D&T Ranch, was familiar with. As a result, they both found themselves uncomfortably full.
“I noticed that woman that does the cookin’ back there was payin’ kinda close attention to you,” Casey said as they walked away. “You weren’t makin’ eyes at her, were you? She was a pretty good-sized woman. You sure you could handle her?”
“I didn’t notice,” Eli claimed. “She was just being friendly, most likely.”
The hotel they were staying in that night was only a few doors down from the restaurant, and it was only a short stretch of the legs from the stable where they had left their horses. Everything in this little part of Fort Worth was built for the convenience of the cattle sales, so everything was close at hand. Even the cattle pens were within close walking distance. So that was where Casey and Eli planned to walk off their supper.
The sun was already in the process of finding a comfortable spot to drop below the horizon when they walked between the pens on their way to the Bradshaw and Lane office. They had gone only halfway to the office when a man on horseback met them. He pulled up before them and asked, “You gentlemen lost?”
“Why, no, we ain’t,” Casey answered at once. “Why do you ask?”
“’Cause the pens are closed for the day, and the owners don’t generally want people in here at night.”
“I swear,” Casey continued, “we never even thought about that possibility. We just ate so doggone much at the Potluck Kitchen we decided to take a walk. And I think I left my watch on Birch Bradshaw’s desk this afternoon. So we decided this was the best place to walk, and we’d go get my watch.”
“Mr. Bradshaw ain’t in his office this late,” the man on the horse said. “There ain’t nobody in that office after five o’clock any day.”
“Now, ain’t that something, Eli? That’s gonna put us late startin’ for home in the mornin’.” He smiled at the man then and asked, “Are you some kinda guard or something?”
“That’s right,” he said, “but I’m just one of four riders who will be patrolling these pens all night long.”
“Well, I expect we’d best turn around and start back for the hotel,” Casey said to Eli. “Best not try to rustle any cattle tonight.”
“It’d be kinda hard on foot, anyway,” the guard said with a chuckle. “You fellers have a nice evenin’.” He rode on past them.
“Much obliged,” Eli called after him.
“ ‘Much obliged’?” Casey questioned after the guard had ridden on. “I kept waitin’ for you to jump in there and help me out with that fellow, and you acted like your lips grew together.”
“You was doin’ all right,” Eli remarked. “I was ready to jump in there to bail you out if you got in too much trouble. While you was makin’ chatty talk with that feller, I was noticing the Roundup Saloon over yonder, next to the Potluck Kitchen. If I can see the chairs on that porch, we could sit on the porch of that saloon and see over here where we’re walkin’.”
“And we could get an idea of about how much time we’d have between them guards ridin’ around,” Casey finished for him. “Damn, that’s a good idea, Eli. Let’s go buy a bottle of whiskey and sit on the porch. It’ll be a little while before it gets hard dark.”
So that’s what they did. They went into the saloon and bought a bottle of rye whiskey, that being Eli’s favorite drink. Casey preferred corn whiskey, because that’s what he was raised on, but he would drink rye on occasion, and this seemed to be one such an occasion. They told the bartender they wanted to sit on the porch and enjoy it and promised to bring the two glasses back to the bar. There were only two chairs on the porch and there was a drunk in one of them. “I’ll buy you a couple of shots of likker for that chair,” Eli told him, and the drunk came out of the chair immediately, staggering as he did. Casey grabbed his elbow to steady him, while Eli pressed a couple of coins in his hand. Then Casey headed him toward the door. They sat down and poured themselves a drink.
It was a pleasant evening to sit on the porch and enjoy an after-supper drink. As they had speculated, they could see Bradshaw’s office sitting above the fences of the cattle pens. They could also see the spot in the alleyway where they had been stopped by the guard. It was probably no more than fifty yards from where they sat. The drunk came back to the porch before they caught sight of a guard. His last two drinks evidently having erased his short memory, he asked if they could spare a quarter to buy him a drink. He went over and slumped down against the wall of the saloon after Casey told him they didn’t have any money, while keeping their bottle out of sight.
It was forty-five minutes by Casey’s watch before they sighted a guard passing the spot where they had encountered the man who stopped them. By that time, the light of day was already heading for the barn. If it was that long again before he made his next round, it might be dark enough to make it hard to see him. “Whaddaya think, partner?” Casey asked. “You wanna sit here for another hour to see if we can catch sight of him again?”
“Hell, I don’t know if it’s any use or not,” Eli said. “There’s a lotta cattle pens out there, but if there’s four riders, like he said, they oughta be around a lot sooner than that. Maybe there’s four of ’em, but there’s just two of ’em ridin’, while the other two are sleepin’. Let’s give ’em a little bit longer, until it gets too dark to see from here.”
As they suspected, after another thirty minutes had passed with no sign of a rider, they determined it too dark to see anymore. “I’m still thinkin’ we could get in that office without anybody seein’ us. Then watch for the night guard to pass by before we blow the door off that old safe,” Casey declared.
“That suits me,” Eli said. “We’ve got a big outfit to support, and I can’t think of anybody I’d rather have some financial help from than Bradshaw and Lane. We’ll get what we need at Hasting’s tomorrow and get ready to go to work tomorrow night. Gimme your glass and I’ll take ’em back to the bar.”
While Eli returned their glasses, Casey walked over to the drunk slumped against the wall. “Hey,” he said, “wake up.”
“Huh?” the drunk blurted, not really asleep. Then he uttered “Huh?” once more when Casey dropped the half-full bottle of rye whiskey in his lap. Realizing what it was, he clutched it with both hands. Then, with no word of thanks, he scrambled off the porch and disappeared into the darkness of the alley between the saloon and the Potluck Kitchen. Casey was reminded of a stray dog that was thrown a scrap of meat.
“What’d you say to him?” Eli asked when he came back in time to see the drunk’s exit.
“I didn’t say anything to him,” Casey replied. “I just dropped that whiskey bottle in his lap and he took off.”
“What’d you do that for? That bottle wasn’t half-empty.”
“I figured you could afford it, and it would make that fellow’s day,” Casey said.
“Or be just enough to kill him,” Eli declared.
“Either way, he’ll be a whole lot happier.”
After breakfast the next morning, Casey and Eli checked out of the hotel, then went to the stable to get their horses. Raymond Rakestraw, the owner of the stable, offered a helping hand as they saddled their horses. “We’ve got a few places we’ve got some business to clean up,” Casey told him. “So we’ll leave our packhorses and packs here till this afternoon. Then we’ll be headin’ for home.”
“That so?” Raymond asked. “Where’s home?”
“About a hundred miles south of here on the Lampasas River,” Casey answered.
“I reckon it’s a good thing I gave them horses some grain last night,” Raymond said.
“Reckon so,” Eli said. “They got a pretty good ride ahead of ’em.”
They rode out on the same road they had come into Fort Worth on, but now with two objectives in mind. First, a stop at Hasting’s Supply to buy some black powder. But secondly, they were looking for likely places to leave their packhorses while they made their visit to Bradshaw and Lane. They had talked it over again last night, but still decided it best to make the visit as Elmer and Oscar, the two elderly bandits. Consequently, they would need a place to change into their “working clothes,” a place where the horses would not likely be found. And that might take some time.
“Howdy, what can I help you fellows with this mornin’?” Floyd Hasting greeted them when they walked into his store. It was a large building with long rows of racks displaying many different tools and implements.
“Howdy,” Casey returned his greeting. “My partner and I are headin’ back home to Lampasas County. And we’ve been havin’ this argument for two days. Maybe you can help us.”
“Well, I’ll be happy to try,” Floyd said.
“Here’s the thing,” Casey went on. “Back at the ranch house, we’ve got a jim-dandy oak tree about yea-big.” He demonstrated by making a circle with his arms. “It’s growing right up beside the back porch, makes a wondrous amount of shade. The only problem is, it’s got a big hole in the trunk, right there at eye level. And that ain’t a problem because that hole is big, but it ain’t nowhere near as big as the trunk. The problem is a bunch of yellow jackets have found that hole. And they’ve run us off the porch.” He paused to make sure Floyd was following. He was, but he had a look like he wondered if it was ever going to lead anywhere useful.
“All right,” Casey continued. “Here’s what I’m thinkin’. You sell black powder for guns, right?” He paused again for an answer. Floyd nodded, so Casey continued. “I’m thinkin’ a small amount of black powder in that hole would clean that nest outta there without hurtin’ the tree trunk a whole lot. What do you think? Think that would work?”
“I expect it might,” Hasting answered. “You ever use black powder before?” Casey and Eli both shook their heads. “Well, you gotta be careful how you handle it. That hole you described might be big enough to where the powder would just make a big ball of fire when you lit it. That sounds like it would get rid of your yellow jackets. But you wanna make sure you just dump the powder in the hole loose. ’Cause if you’ve got it closed up in a small container, it’ll explode and tear hell outta your hole. It don’t like confinement.” Casey glanced at Eli and winked.
“That sounds like what I need,” Casey said. “Probably don’t need but a few pounds, you reckon?”
“I can sell you the smallest container it’s sold in,” Hasting said. “And that’s a five-pound cannister. You have to keep it dry.”
“We’ll take a cannister of it, and we sure appreciate you tellin’ us all about it. We’ll be careful, won’t we, Eli?”
“Just remember, don’t let this stuff get down into any tight places, ’cause if fire touches it then, it explodes instead of makin’ a big splash of fire.”
“We’re gonna remember that part, all right,” Eli assured him.
“How are you gonna light it?” Hasting thought to ask.
“I don’t know,” Casey said. “I hadn’t thought about that. I reckon to be safe, maybe tie a match to a broom or something so I ain’t too close to it.”
“I think it’d be a better idea to use some dynamite fuse,” Hasting suggested. “That way, you can just cut the length you need to give you time to light it and walk away from the tree. I can fix you up with that, too.”
“We ’preciate your help, Mr. Hasting. I believe you’ve solved our yellow-jacket problem for sure.”
When they walked outside the store, Eli asked, “You got that idea about the tree from those yellow jackets in that little tree behind the bunkhouse, didn’t ya?”
“Matter of fact,” Casey said. “Brilliant, weren’t it?”
They left Hasting’s with their metal cannister of black powder and fuses, and rode on out the road leading south out of Fort Worth. They remembered a creek that ran right across the road, when they rode into the town, and they thought it might be the place for them to make their secret camp. As they recalled, it was about a mile short of Hasting’s. It turned out to be less than that, when they struck it this morning, but everything else they had recalled about it was accurate. It was wide, but it wasn’t deep enough to have to have a bridge to cross it, about axle deep on a standard farm wagon, they figured. The road passed through a heavily wooded area built up around the creek, so it looked to be the perfect spot for their camp. The first thing they checked for was hoofprints on either bank of the creek that might indicate others had camped there. They didn’t want to leave their horses and packs in a popular campground.
To make sure they didn’t leave any hoofprints now, they kept their horses on the road until entering the water. Then they turned them upstream and remained in the water until they reached the spot they thought was perfect for their needs, before leaving the water. “We ain’t gonna find a much better place than this,” Eli declared. Casey agreed, so they took a little time to picture the setup for their camp. After they decided where they would tie their packhorses with enough lead rope to let them reach water, they gathered enough dead limbs to build a fire. It would be late at night when they came from the cattle pens, and it would be awful dark back in those trees. Finally Eli said, “I’m satisfied. You?”
“Yep,” Casey answered. “This oughta do just fine. I’m tempted to go get the packhorses and leave ’em here now, but I don’t wanna dare bad luck to happen.”
“Me neither,” Eli agreed. “We better wait till it’s time to come back here to get ready for tonight.” He looked straight up through the trees at the sun almost directly overhead. “Accordin’ to my belly, it’s about time to eat some dinner. You wanna ride on back to that place we ate supper at yesterday?”
“The Potluck Kitchen,” Casey reminded him. “Well, we ain’t been hurt there so far. We’ve got plenty of time to kill before dark, if you wanna ride on in closer to town and try something different, though.”
“It suits me to go back to the Potluck,” Eli said. “Like you said, we ain’t been hurt there yet. Besides, after them chicken and dumplin’s, I’d like to see what that woman comes up with today. What was her name?”
“Joy,” Casey replied.
“Right, Joy,” Eli remarked. “I swear, if there was ever a woman that got stuck with the wrong name, it has to be her. I wonder who she’s so mad at. When she set that plate down in front of me, she gimme a look like she dared me to eat it. Well, I didn’t touch it till I saw you start eatin’ yours. She didn’t do nothin’ to you, so I went ahead and ate mine.”
Casey chuckled. “I saw her eyeballin’ you. Hell, she weren’t mad at you. You got worst things to worry about. She was lookin’ at you like she was measurin’ you for a weddin’ outfit.”
“I’ll be damned,” Eli protested. “That’ud be like matin’ with a gorilla.”
“So I reckon you’re tellin’ me you don’t want to go back to the Potluck for dinner, right?”
“No, I ain’t sayin’ that,” Eli answered meekly. “We wanna eat where the food’s good, and we don’t know nothin’ about any of the other places here.”
“Well, that’s to my likin’,” Casey said with a chuckle. “Let’s go see what Joy’s servin’ today. We need a good dinner. We’re workin’ tonight.”
They climbed back on their horses and entered the water again to ride back downstream to the road, then headed back to the cattle pens and the short strip of businesses that were close by. After tying Smoke and Biscuit up at the hitching rail in front of the Potluck Kitchen, they walked inside and took a seat at one end of the long table in the center of the dining room. When Joy Black came out of the kitchen and saw them, she broke out a crooked smile that was purposefully adapted to hide the missing teeth on one side of her mouth. “Well, look who’s come back to see us, Roy.”
“Howdy boys,” Roy Black greeted them from his usual position by the cash register. “You musta liked Joy’s chicken and dumplin’s.”
“We sure did,” Casey said. “We’re fixin’ to head back home today, but we decided we had to stick around to see what Joy cooked for dinner.”
“Somethin’ you ain’t likely to get nowhere around here,” Roy told them, “especially if you folks are in the cattle business.”
“What’s that?” Eli asked.
“Lamb,” Roy said. “And even if you’ve et it before, you ain’t never had it like Joy fixes it with rice and gravy.”
Both Casey and Eli were astonished to hear that. “Why, that’s the same as sayin’ a cussword to a cattleman,” Eli said. “I ain’t never ate no lamb, but I’ve ate rattlesnake on occasion, so I reckon I’ll risk lam. . .
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