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Authors: Robert J. Randisi

Texas Iron

Robert J. Randisi

Texas Iron

To WWA

DEADLY CROSSFIRE

Sam McCall watched the men to his right and left, until finally the one on the right moved. That move was the signal to his
compadre, who was just a split second behind. Just enough time.

McCall fired as the man on his right drew. The gunsel hurried his shot and missed, but McCall’s shot traveled straight and
true, ventilating the man through the heart. With the side-by-side Greener in his left hand, he pointed toward the second
man and let loose with both barrels. The impact of the blast picked the man up and tossed him against the saloon wall. As
he fell, he left a red smear on the wall behind him.

Prologue

Clyde Wexler was stunned.

Wexler had been the telegraph key operator in Corozon, Montana, for four years. He’d never before received a message that
so much as made him raise his eyebrows. At twenty-five he’d become pretty complacent about his job. He finished transposing
the last clicks of the key onto paper and then stared at what he had written, his mouth agape. He was so stunned he almost
forgot to acknowledge receipt of the message. He pounded the key as quickly as he could, then switched it off and ran from
the office, holding the message in his hand like a banner.

Walt Keller was the sheriff of Corozon and had been for almost nine years. During that time he hadn’t had to draw his gun
except to ventilate the ceiling of the White Horse Saloon a time or two when the hands got rowdy. When he took office he was
thirty-eight and weighed a svelte 170. Now he was forty-seven and after nine years of an easy job, with free meals and drinks,
he weighed close to 250.

He was shifting his bulk in his chair, trying to fit his lard-ass more comfortably, when his office door burst open and young
Clyde Wexler rushed in.

“Sheriff’” Wexler blurted, breathless.

“Take it easy, Clyde,” Keller said, still shifting, “the town council ain’t gonna buy me a new door if ya bust it, ya know.”

“Sheriff, I gotta show you somethin’!”

“Where the hell is that deputy?” Keller complained.

“I’m ready for lunch.”

“Sheriff, I got a telegram today.”

“That ain’t so unusual, is it?” Keller asked, wondering if he should have the beef stew over at the cafe, or the meat loaf
at Dillon’s Restaurant. “You get ’em sometimes, don’t ya?”

“This one is real important.”

Keller stopped fidgeting and looked up at the young man.

“Is it for me?”

“Uh, no—”

“For you?”

“No—”

“Then what in the blue blazes are you talkin’ about, boy?”

Wexler, in a gesture of exasperation, held the telegram out to Keller. “It’s for Sam McCall.”

Keller, who was reaching for the slip of paper, stopped short and stared at it, as if it had suddenly burst into flames.

“McCall?”

“Sam McCall.”

“B—but McCall isn’t in Corozon.”

Wexler opened his fingers, allowing the telegram to fall, and as it fluttered to the top of the sheriff’s desk he said, “You
mean he ain’t
yet!”

Chapter One

McCall was feeling old.

And unwanted.

The cause of these feelings, however, was not one and the same.

He was feeling old because his keester was forty-three, and had just spent three days in the saddle. He wanted nothing more
than a drink, a meal, and a soft bed, and possibly an even softer woman.

He was feeling unwanted because as he rode down the main street of Corozon, Montana, everyone was staring at him, as if they
knew who he was. Now, he wouldn’t have been surprised if some of them knew who he was, but all of them? That was too much
coincidence for any man, let alone a man who didn’t believe in coincidence.

He had the uncomfortable feeling that Corozon knew he was coming.

Deputy Sheriff Bob Collins entered his office and said to Walt Keller, “He’s here, Sheriff.”

Keller, seated behind his desk, looked up at Collins and wet his lips with his tongue.

For the first time in a long time, he wasn’t hungry.

The first person McCall stopped to ask directions shied away from him, as if he expected McCall to strike him. All McCall
wanted was to know where the livery stable was.

He rode further down the street and tried to ask a woman this time, but she almost ran from him.

Yep, the little town of Corozon knew he was coming, all right.

But how?

He decided to try one more time before looking for it himself. He spotted a lad of about ten standing in front of the general
store, eyeing some licorice candy in the window. He reined in, dismounted, and walked over to the window.

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” he asked.

“Sure does,” the boy said, not bothering to look up.

“I reckon you would need about a nickel to get enough, huh?”

“Yeah,” the boy said, “I guess so.”

“Well, it just so happens,” McCall said, digging into his pocket, “that I have a nickel here.”

The boy looked up this time and stared at the nickel.

“If you can tell me where the livery stable is,” McCall said, “this shiny nickel is yours.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh boy!” the boy exclaimed. “Mister, the stable is down the end of the street and to the right. Ya can’t miss it!”

“I can’t, huh?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, here’s your nickel.” McCall handed the coin to the boy. “Don’t eat all that candy at one time, you’ll end up with a
bellyache.”

“No, sir!”

The boy snatched the nickel and ran into the store.

McCall laughed, mounted up, and rode down toward the end of the street.

Sheriff Keller walked over to the telegraph office and found Wexler sitting at his key.

“Clyde.”

Wexler looked up at Keller and read the look on the lawman’s face.

“No.”

“Yes,” Keller said, “he’s here.”

“Jesus,” Wexler said, “I can’t, Sheriff.”

“It’s your job, Clyde.”

“You give it to him,” Wexler said, “you’re the sheriff.”

“You’re the telegraph operator.”

“I don’t know where he’s stayin’.”

“He’s not stayin’ anywhere, yet.”

“Then how am I supposed to know where to take the telegram?”

Keller glared at Wexler.

“I have Bob Collins watching him,” Keller said. “He’ll tell me where McCall is stayin’, and I’ll tell you, and then you deliver
the telegram.”

“If I give him that telegram,” Wexler said, “he’ll kill me.”

“You give him that telegram and he’ll leave Corozon,”

Keller said.

“And then you won’t have to deal with him.” Wexler’s tone was accusing.

“And then none of us will have to deal with him, Clyde.”

“Except me.”

“Well,” Keller said, “that’ll make you a goddamned hero, won’t it.”

Wexler opened his mouth to respond, then stopped short as Keller’s words hit him.

“Yeah,” he said, “I guess it would.”

McCall found the livery with no trouble. He lifted his saddlebags, bedroll, and rifle from the saddle and handed the animal
over to the liveryman.

“How much?”

“A d-dollar,” the man said, “uh, in advance.”

“In advance,” McCall said, and started to shift his saddle-bags from his right hand to his left so he could dig into his pocket
for the money.

The liveryman, an old timer named Jesse Dean, misread the move and thought that Sam McCall was going for his gun.

“Or not in advance!” he said, quickly. “W-whatever you want, Mr. McCall.”

McCall frowned and said, “Hey, old-timer, if you want your money in advance, that’s what you’ll get.”

He dug the dollar out and handed it to the man, who accepted it with a shaking hand.

“What the hell is wrong with this town?” Sam McCall asked.

“Huh? Oh, nothin’,” the man said, “Nothin’. It’s a nice town.”

“Well, it sure hasn’t shown me that yet. Where’s the nearest hotel?”

“Three blocks, back the way you come. Only hotel we got.”

“Thanks.”

“S-sure, Mr. McCall, sure thing.”

McCall carried his bedroll and saddlebags in his left hand, and shifted the rifle to his right. If every-damn-body in town
knew who he was, he’d better have a gun in his right hand and be ready for trouble.

“He’s here,” Del Butler said.

Simon Weeks looked up from his table in the White Horse Saloon. In front of him was a drink, and he picked it up and downed
it.

“Where is he?”

“He just left the livery and went to the hotel.”

Weeks stood up. He was tall and rangy, dark-haired, in his late thirties. He and Butler had arrived in Corozon sixdays ago,
and had found it a sleepy little town. They had intended to leave until they heard the news that Sam McCall was on his way
there, so they decided to wait.

It was the longest two days in Simon Weeks’ life, but now the wait was over.

“Let’s go.”

McCall had seen the deputy as soon as he left the livery, and he was aware that the man followed him to the hotel. He had
no problem with that.

The desk clerk, a foppish man in his early thirties with a carefully tended mustache, exhibited the same nervousness that
the liveryman had.

“A room, please.”

“C-certainly, Mr. McCall.”

The man reached for the key to a room, dropped it, picked it up, and then dropped it again. He looked up at McCall from his
position crouched behind the desk, laughed nervously, then grabbed the key and held it tightly, standing up.

“Here you go, sir.”

“How much?”

“Uh, th-three dollars a day…if that’s not too much.”

“No, that’s fine,” McCall said. “You want that in advance?”

“Uh, well, it is hotel policy…but if you’d rather pay when you leave—”

“Never mind,” McCall said, “I’ll pay now—here.” He dropped the money on the desk.

“Will you be staying just the one day?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s, uh…too, uh…bad…”

“Yeah, ain’t it!”

McCall took his key and gear and climbed the steps to the second floor. The whole damned town was sojumpy he probably should
have ridden out right then and there to avoid trouble, but he was too drag-ass tired to do that.

He stopped halfway up the steps and called out to the clerk.

“Hey!”

The clerk jumped and said, “Yes, sir.”

“There’s a deputy outside, he followed me from the livery.”

“Yes, sir, that would be B-Bob Collins.”

“Yeah, well you ask Mr. Deputy Collins to come up to my room for a minute. Tell him I’d like to talk to him.”

“Up to your, uh, room?”

“That’s right, my room.”

“I’ll tell him, sir.”

“Thank you.”

McCall continued up the steps, found his room, opened the door, set his gear down and sat on the bed. While waiting for the
deputy to arrive he yanked off his boots.

“Wait,” Weeks said.

“What?”

“There, across the street.”

Butler looked across the street from the hotel and saw what Weeks was talking about.

“The deputy,” Butler said. “What’s he want?”

“Probably just keepin’ an eye on McCall,” Weeks said.

“What do we do?”

“We wait,” Weeks said. “We just wait.”

“Deputy?”

Collins looked up at the sound of the voice and saw Anson Delacroix, the hotel clerk, crossing the street toward him.

“What is it, Anson?”

“Uh, Mr. McCall said he’d like to see you in his room…now.”

“In his room?”

“That’s what he said.”

“How did you know I was out here?” Collins asked, frowning.

“He told me.”

“McCall?”

Delacroix nodded.

“He said you followed him from the livery.”

“Shit.”

“You better get up there.”

Collins stared at Delacroix for a few seconds, then hitched up his gunbelt and said, “Yeah, I guess I’d better. What room
is he in?”

Delacroix frowned and said, “I was so nervous I forgot to look at what key I was giving him.”

“Well, let’s go back into the hotel and find out, then.”

“He’s goin’ inside,” Butler said. “What’s he goin’ inside for?”

“Relax,” Weeks said. “We got plenty of time.”

“How can I relax?” Butler asked. “That’s Sam McCall we’re goin’ after.”

“I know that, Butler, but we ain’t just goin’ after him,”

Weeks said, smiling. “We’re gonna kill him.”

Butler’s stomach churned. He wished he were as confident as Simon Weeks.

McCall was standing by the window, watching two men across the street who were watching the hotel, when there was a knock
at the door.

“Come in!”

The door opened and a man stepped in. He was tall, slender, not yet out of his twenties. He was wearing a deputy’s star.

“What’s your name, Deputy?”

McCall was barefoot, and his gunbelt was hanging on the bedpost across the room. The deputy had to swallow hard before answering.

“Collins, B-Bob Collins.” He’d almost called McCall
sir,
but he stopped himself.

“Your boss tell you to bird-dog me?”

“Yes, sir.” Damn! “Yes.”

“What’s his name?”

“Keller,” the man said, “Sheriff Walt Keller.”

“Well, you go back and tell your sheriff that I’ll only be in his town overnight, and I’m not lookin’ for trouble. You got
that?”

“I got it.”

“Well, go on then…git!”

The deputy turned to leave, but McCall thought of something else.

“Deputy!”

“Yes?” The deputy turned away from the door real quick, his shoulders tensed.

“How many deputies in this town?”

“Just me, si—uh, just me.”

“How’d everyone know I was comin’?”

“You, uh, would have to ask the sheriff that, si’mr.

McCall,” the deputy stammered. “I don’t rightly know. All I know is I was told you was coming, and then I was told to follow
you.”

McCall frowned. He couldn’t figure out right at that moment who knew he was going to Corozon. He himself hadn’t known it until
he saw the road sign proclaiming Corozon five miles away.

“When were you told I was comin’?”

“Uh…two days ago.”

“Two days, eh?”

“Yessss…” The “sir” almost slipped out again.

“All right,” McCall said, “go and give your boss my message.”

“Sure,” Collins said, opening the door, “sure.”

After the deputy left, McCall looked out the window again, standing to one side, not directly in front of it. He’d learned
that long ago. The two men were still across the street. Now that he knew they weren’t deputies, it wasn’t hard to figure
out what they wanted.

For a moment McCall considered just holing up in his room until sunup and then riding out, but he balked at that. For one
thing, he was hungry and thirsty, and he wanted a bath.

Fuck ’em, he thought. If they want to take their chance, let ’em. He wasn’t going to let some two-horse town with the willies
make him dig a hole like some desert critter.

He pulled his boots back on and went looking for his comforts.

Weeks and Butler watched the deputy leave the hotel and hurry off down the street.

“Whataya think?” Butler asked.

“McCall just rode into town, right?” Weeks asked. “What’s he gonna want?”

“A drink?” Butler said. “A meal?”

“Both,” Weeks said, “and maybe a woman, too. Two of those three things he can get from the saloon.” “We just come from the
saloon.”

“I know,” Weeks said, “and we’re goin’ back there to wait for McCall to show up.”

“What if he don’t?”

“He will,” Weeks said. “He’s definitely gonna want adrink, and when he comes to get it, we’ll be waiting. Come on.”

McCall watched the two men from his window for a few moments after the deputy left. He wanted to know whether or not they’d
be there when he went back out.

He was about to leave when he saw them start to walk away. He kept an eye on them until they were out of sight.

Maybe they wouldn’t be right outside when he left the building, but he had a feeling he’d be seeing them again, very soon.

He left the room to arrange for a bath.

After Collins told the sheriff what McCall had told him, Keller left his office and went to find Wexler at the telegraph office
again.

“McCall’s in the hotel,” Keller said. The other choice for a place to stay might have been Mrs. McCavity’s rooming house,
at the other end of town. “Now that you know where he’s staying you can take him his message.”

“I can’t do it, Sheriff,” Wexler said, his voice shaking.

“That kind of news—you’re gonna have to take it to him.”

Keller frowned at the younger man, then admitted to himself that the other man was right. He was the sheriff and it was his
damned job to go and talk to McCall, no matter what the consequences might be.

It was the only time in nine years he didn’t relish being sheriff of Corozon.

“All right, Clyde,” he said, extending his hand, “give me the damned telegram.”

Keller stuffed the piece of paper into his breast pocket, the one nearest his badge. He wanted to make sure that McCall saw
the star when he took the telegram out again.

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