Three cowboy's search for work in the Texas cattle drives and find more than they bargained for.
Riders of the Desert
The man rode hard and fast across the desert. The big black under him beat its hooves at a furious pace. Hastily tied equipment slid from place and landed on the desert floor. The rider pressed onward, doing nothing to save the fallen gear. The leather satchel at his side, and the letter therein, remained the only vital element of his mission.
Looking behind him, the man was able to see several figures on horses pursuing him. These men had followed him for some time but had failed to shorten the gap between them and him. Now, much to the concern of the message carrier, these riders seemed to be gaining on him. The details of the once minute figures along the horizon grew much finer. He could tell that each man had stashed revolvers in their belts and were prepared for a fight.
The gap between the riders and the message carrier closed to an almost negligible distance. The carrier could hear the sound of the other horses' hooves growing louder. Looking over his shoulder, the carrier was able to make out the features of the other riders. The stubbly, hard-jawed face of the one closest to him had shifted from a grimace that suggested complete determination, to a smirk that revealed two rows of teeth stained by coffee and drink. The two riders locked eyes and the face of the pursuer once again shifted to a grimace. Pushing his horse even further, the message was able to accelerate quickly across the desert. After only a few moments, however, the distance was closed yet again.
The carrier heard the cock of a revolver's hammer. Glancing over his shoulder, the carrier saw that the lead rider had pulled a revolver from his belt and was lining up the sights. The message carrier kicked his horse's sides to no avail. The horse was unable to quicken its gallop and gasped for air with each stride.
Death came suddenly to the message carrier. A loud bang sounded. Within a second, the man could feel a sudden pain in his side. His vision became awash with red and the pain he felt along his left flank shot through his body. Each breath became a struggle. Blood spilled from his side and painted a crimson trail along the desert floor. The man sunk in and out of consciousness. After just a few minutes, the man succumbed to his wounds.
The horse continued to carry him for some time. Seemingly unaware of its rider's death, the horse pressed on with the same rapidity. The horse came to realize the futility of its ride and slowed to a halt. The body that lay atop the horse's back slid from its position and fell with a loud thud on the desert floor. After sniffing and prodding the body with its muzzle for several minutes, the horse realized that the man had passed and continued across the desert.
Casey Ross took long draws from his canteen. Putting his mouth to the canvas bag, he was able to draw out the cool water and give himself some relief from the noon sun. As he prepared his mouth for another draw and tilted the canvas bag towards his dry lips, a weathered hand stayed him. Looking up the arm that stopped him from relieving his parched throat, Ross saw that it belonged to his friend, Smith Bannon. Behind Smith, Brett Kelley stood with a scowl on his face.
"Mr. Ross," said Brisco, "you may want to save some for the rest of the ride out. Look behind us." Ross complied and saw the outskirts of Laredo just along the horizon. Brett Kelley, whose wit was dry as the desert around them, said "Let him drink it. I ain't gonna cook for three." Brisco, casting a harsh glare towards Kelley, continued, "We have a long way to cover in order to get to Coyote Ranch and there aren't any towns or post along the way. You'll have to make do with the water you have now for some time."
"What do you plan to do once we get there?" asked Kelley.
"Around this time of year, the cattle are being rounded up for herding to Kansas City. Ranches, 'specially the big ones, are in need of hands to help drive the cattle up north. Long as we make good time, we should be able to join of the drives."
Brett questioned Smith once again, "Sure we'll be able to make it what with the human molasses riding behind us?"
"Brett," said Bannon, "if you're riding is half as fast as you're tongue, we'll be able to make it there before sundown." Kelley closed his mouth and remained silent for some time.
Casey Ross placed his canteen back on his belt. Pulling himself atop his chestnut-brown steed, Ross guided both boots through the stirrups. The young quarter horse snorted and shook but Ross's gentle pats reassured the beast. Sitting atop his horse, Ross gazed northward towards the vast desert that lay before he and the two men beside him. Stretching far beyond the horizon, the desert appeared as vast as any ocean to Ross. Only a few variants in the terrain were visible. The only signs of life visible on the desert were a few parched plants that sprung up from the desert floor in scattered and clung tenaciously to the soil.
He looked at his two friends and saw that they had also saddled up.
Bannon led his horse in front of Ross and turned back towards the two men. Smith questioned each man's preparation with a curt "Ready?"" and both answered in the affirmative. Smith tightened his grip on the saddle's reins, drove his heels into the sorrel under him, and set off towards Coyote Ranch.