Longarm - Longarm And The Double-Barrel Blowout Part 17

"And keep your gun handy."

"I will," she promised. "Please come back to me, Custis."

"Count on it," he vowed. "But if something should happen to me and-"

"It won't!"

"But if it did. You go back to the livery and get the liveryman to saddle our horses. Then ride like h.e.l.l back to where you came from and never look back."

"I'm not sure that I could leave you behind."

"Just do it!" Longarm ordered. "You promised you'd obey my orders if I let you come along. I expect you to keep your promise just as I've kept mine."

"All right."

Longarm left their hotel room and did not walk away from the door until he heard the distinct snap of the dead bolt in its lock. Satisfied, he headed out on the town. Nogales was just as wild and lawless on one side of the border as it was on the other. Longarm knew that he would be well advised to keep his hat pulled down low and his six-gun resting light in his holster. Above all, he needed to keep his United States marshal's badge under cover.

Chapter 19.

Longarm was in a deadly frame of mind as he prowled the American side of the border. He kept thinking about Jimmy c.o.x and how badly he'd been tortured before being killed. And about Victoria and how Hank Ba.s.s had fed her to his men like so much meat to dogs. One thing for sure, he would have no qualms about killing Ba.s.s on sight.

Saloons and cantinas lined the shabby streets of Nogales. Wh.o.r.es, drunks, gamblers, pimps, and all manner of degenerates prowled the dirty streets. Longarm kept his chin down when men saw him coming; they parted so that he could pa.s.s.

His routine was always the same. He would enter a saloon, order a whiskey, and take a sip. Then he'd lay a dollar down and tell the bartender, "I'm looking for Hank Ba.s.s. There's twenty more of these if you can help me find him."

No one could, until Longarm asked that same question at the Blanco Bar, one of the area's most notorious watering holes known to be frequented by cutthroats, thieves, and murderers.

"What do you want to see that b.a.s.t.a.r.d for?" the bartender asked under his breath.

"I have a score to settle with him," Longarm said, pretty sure this man's hatred for Ba.s.s was genuine.

"So do I," the bartender replied, "but I don't have any urge to die. Do you?"

"I can handle my own business," Longarm said. "Just point him out to me."

"He's with one of our wh.o.r.es," the bartender said. "He went out the back door about ten minutes ago with a girl named Rita. He should be back soon enough."

"How is he dressed?"

"Gray Stetson hat, black shirt, and boots. Haven't you ever seen him before?"

"Yes, but the light is poor in here."

"You'll be able to smell the pig," the bartender said with contempt. "He'll also have a bottle of whiskey in his hand and Rita's a.s.s in the other."

Longarm turned toward the back of the room. "That door?" he asked, pointing.

"Yes. Now move away from here so that if he plugs you first Ba.s.s don't get the notion that I said anything. And try not to shoot the gawd.a.m.n place up, all right?"

"I generally hit what I aim for," Longarm told the man.

"I sure as h.e.l.l hope so. That b.a.s.t.a.r.d beat the h.e.l.l out of me and cut off my ring finger. See that?"

Longarm studied the stub. "Why?"

"He liked the ring I was wearing! I wouldn't give it to him so he sucker punched me and cut my d.a.m.n finger off to get it!"

"Why didn't you shoot him later?"

"He's always had a lot of friends here before. But now he's alone. Just step in behind Ba.s.s and drill him in the back. Do whatever it takes but don't make a mistake."

"I won't," Longarm promised as he moved off toward the back of the room.

Almost ten agonizingly slow minutes pa.s.sed until Hank Ba.s.s charged back inside the saloon, dragging a Mexican girl in his wake. She was sobbing and her lower lip was running with blood. Longarm stepped in between the wh.o.r.e and the outlaw, drawing his gun.

"You're under arrest, Ba.s.s. Don't move or I'll put a slug in you quicker than you can bat your eye."

Ba.s.s was even bigger than Longarm, but hard living and heavy drinking had ruined his appearance. Even so, there was an animal-like quality about him that Longarm had seen in only the worst types of men.

"You're a lawman?"

"Head for the front door under your own power, or be carried out by an undertaker," Longarm said in a low, cold voice. "Your choice, Hank."

"Hey!" Hank shouted. "This son of a b.i.t.c.h that is trying to arrest me is a United States marshal! Anyone in here like lawmen?"

Longarm realized his mistake at once. He should have pistol-whipped or even shot Hank Ba.s.s the moment he came through the back door. Now he was about to pay for his mistake.

"We're going out back," Longarm hissed, grabbing Ba.s.s by the shirt and dragging him toward the rear door. "Come on!"

But the outlaw wasn't about to be pulled out into the rear alley. He struggled and would have broken free if Longarm hadn't pistol-whipped him across the forehead so hard that his eyes crossed and his legs buckled.

"Stay back!" Longarm shouted as the mean-spirited crowd edged forward. "I mean it!"

Longarm wrapped his left arm right around Hank Ba.s.s's neck and held off the crowd with his six-gun as he struggled out the back door. But no sooner was he outside than the crowd charged the door, and Longarm had no choice but to haul Ba.s.s up on his toes and open fire.

He didn't know how many men fell under his gun, but it must have been several. Longarm did know that Ba.s.s took a fusillade of bullets to his chest and belly and was leaking like a sieve by the time he could drag him around the building and empty his pockets of whatever Spanish gold coins remained. There weren't many, maybe twenty or so, but Longarm collected them as best he could in the darkness, then he sprinted off hearing shouts and more gunfire.

He wasted no more time and took no more chances. With a half dozen good lawmen, he might have stood a chance of cleaning out this festering hole of humanity. But by himself Longarm knew that he stood no chance at all. So he circled around to the front of the hotel, sprinted to their room, and pounded on the door.

"Victoria, it's me! We've got to get out of here!"

She had the door open and was instantly in his arms. Longarm rushed into the room, grabbed his rifle and shotgun, then his saddlebags, and they took off running from the hotel.

Nogales was such a lawless town that a few gunshots did not arouse much attention. And maybe some of the Spanish gold coins were lying spilled around Hank Ba.s.s's riddled body. Whatever the reason, Longarm and Victoria had no trouble getting to the livery and then riding hard out of town.

At daybreak, they stopped on a high, windswept ridge and gazed across twenty or thirty miles of desert toward Nogales and then on to Mexico.

Only then did Victoria ask, "What about the golden coins?"

"I was able to fill my pockets, but that's all." Longarm dug out one pocketful but kept the other. "Do what you want with them."

"And what will you do with the ones you keep?" Victoria asked.

Longarm's mind drifted back to Denver, and to Dolly. He recalled making a promise to that woman and said, "I think I'll spend *em all in New Orleans."

"I could go with you," Victoria offered hopefully.

"Maybe next year, if you're not married by then," he said with a half smile as he reined north and put his horse into an easy gallop. "There's always next year."

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