He’d been on the run all his life. Running from the brutality of the white man who had been his father. Running from the stigma of being called “half-breed.” He’d run until he got tired of running, tired of backing down, tired of pretending he was less than everyone else because his mother had been a Lakota medicine woman.
His mother. She had been the only good thing in his life. Kind, caring. She had loved him more than her own life and died at the hands of his father rather than let the bastard hit him again.
In a move that had become habit whenever he thought of her, he rested his hand on the butt of the .44 Colt at his side. The same Colt that had killed his old man. Zane Two Shadows smiled faintly. He had killed other men since that night but none had given him the same sense of satisfaction as emptying his Colt into his father.
He’d met a priest once who’d told him he was surely bound for hell. Zane had
nodded, thinking he’d love to spend eternity tormenting his old man.
Throwing the dregs of his coffee on the coals, he kicked dirt over the ashes, then swung onto the back of his horse. With luck, he’d make it to town before dark. He’d had enough sleeping under the stars. It was time to treat himself to a bed, a bath, and a bottle. And maybe one of Sally’s whores.
Cross Creek wasn’t really big enough to be called a town. It was little more than a wide spot in the road. If it hadn’t been for the two large ranches in the area, the town would have died long ago.
Zane tended to head in this direction whenever he felt the need for a little civilization.
Sally’s Saloon was one of three that lined the dusty street. Sandwiched between the saloons were a combination barbershop and bathhouse, a hotel with a small restaurant, and a smithy run by a big bear of a man who doubled as the sheriff. Since there was no jail, prisoners were lodged in a wooden shed with iron bars on the windows and a sturdy lock on the door.
As he rode down the street, Zane noticed two new, false-fronted buildings, one on each side of the street at the far end of the road.
He snorted softly when he read the sign on the first. J.J. Lee. Attorney at Law. A lawyer. Here, in Cross Creek? Unbelievable. The population of the town, the ranch hands and owners combined was less than a hundred people. To his knowledge, none of them had ever needed a lawyer.
He perused the second sign. Carmichael’s General Store. That made a hell of a lot more sense. He was in bad need of a new shirt. And maybe a pair of socks.
He drew rein in front of Sally’s. Dismounting, he tethered his mare to the hitch rail, settled his Colt on his hip, and strode into the saloon. He paused a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the dim light. The place hadn’t changed – the same long bar stood opposite the batwing doors. The same faded painting of a voluptuous nude hung on the wall behind the bar. Sawdust on the floor. Round tables scattered at intervals. Three men sat at one, engaged in a desultory poker game. Two men stood hipshot at the bar, arguing over who was going to buy Sally’s favorite whore, French Lil, her next drink. The bartender stood nearby, ready to interfere if it looked like words were going to turn into bullets.
Zane took a chair at one of the empty tables.
Looking bored, Lil glanced around the room. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. Pushing the two men aside, she hurried toward him.
“When did you get here?” she cried as she plopped down on his lap. “I’m so glad to see you!”
“Here now!” one of the men at the bar exclaimed, glaring at Zane. “Get your own whore.”
The two men exchanged glances, then strode toward him, eyes narrowed.
“Better move out of the way,” Zane advised Lil. “They look angry.”
“Damn right, we’re angry!” The first man grabbed Lil by the arm and pulled her off Zane’s lap. “She’s ours.”
“Let her go,” Zane said, his voice deceptively mild.
“And if I don’t?”
Zane unfolded from his chair in a single, fluid movement.
The two men exchanged glances again. The second one nodded almost imperceptively.
It wasn’t lost on Zane.
As the first man backed up, dragging Lil with him, the second man reached for his gun.
He never cleared the leather.