High Lonesome

After the moon lowered itself behind the serrated ridge of the Gunsight Hills, two riders walked their horses from the breaks along the river.

The night was still. Only the crickets made their small music, and down by the livery stable a bay horse stamped restlessly, lifting his head, ears pricked.

Another rider, a big man who sat easy in the saddle, rode up out of a draw and walked his horse along the alleyway leading to the town's main street. Only the blacksmith heard the walking horse.

His eyes opened, for he was a man who had known much of Indian fighting, and they remained open and aware during the slow seconds while the horse walked by. Casually, he wondered what rider would be on the street at that hour of the night, but sleep claimed him and the rider was forgotten.

This rider did not emerge upon the street, but drew rein in the deepest shadows beside the general store, hearing the approach of the two riders coming along the street.

There was no sign of Considine, but he expected none. Considine had a way of getting to where he wanted to be without being seen.

The two riders went by, turning at the last minute in a perfect column right to stop before the bank. Each dismounted at once, and each held a rifle. Only when they were in position did Dutch walk his mount across the street and swing down in the comparative shelter of the bank building.

As he dismounted he held one hand carefully about a fruit jar. It was a very small jar, but Dutch treated it with respect.

Considine opened the bank door from within as Dutch brought his jar around the corner.

"It's an old box . . . nothing to worry about."

Dutch moved past him in the darkness, walking with the cat-footedness given to some very heavy men, and squatted before the big iron safe.

Considine walked back to the door for one last look down the empty street to the door for one last look down the empty street. Behind him the pete man had gone to work.

Hardy lit a cigarette and glanced over his shoulder. He was younger than Considine, and just as tall, but thinner--a knife-edged young man with a face that showed reckless and tough in the faint glow of the cigarette.

The Kiowa neither moved nor spoke. A blocky, square-built young man, he was a half-breed known from Colorado to Sonora, wanted everywhere and nowhere.

Considine walked back to the where Dutch was working on the safe. Sweat beaded the big man's face as the steel drill bit into the softer iron of the safe. The first hole, at the top corner of the safe door, was well started.

"Spell you?"


Dutch was a craftsman and proud of his work. He had done time in the Texas pen for being caught with the wrong cattle, and while in prison he had learned from an old peterman how to crack a safe. Now there was no better man west of the Mississippi, but there was no hurry in him, not even under fire.

Minutes passed . . . up the street somewhere a door slammed, a moment of quiet followed, and then a pump complained wearily, and after an interval they could hear the water gushing into an empty tin bucket.

They waited, each man poised in position, Dutch resting the heavy drill on the floor. After a few minutes they heard a door close up the street, and then silence. Dutch replaced the drill in the hole and leaned into his job. Sweat trickled down his face, but he worked steadily, unhurried and confident.

Considine felt the pressure begin to mount. Every second they were here increased their danger. An insect droned by in the darkness, and somewhere a quail called. Considine leaned against the door jamb and waited, listening to the sound of the drill.

Four years of crime behind him, and he had made only a little more than he would have made working for wages on a cow outfit. With the difference that had he worked for wages, men would not be hunting him all over the country.

Dutch rested, mopping sweat from his forehead. The first hole was finished. Considine picked up a bar of home-made soap and began stopping up the crack around the safe door. Out in the street, one of the horses stamped and Dutch placed his drill in the new position and went to work. The iron showed white under the bite of the steel bit.

Hardy hissed suddenly and Considine touched Dutch on the shoulder. The drill ceased to move and there was silence, and in the stillness Considine could hear the slow ticking of the bank clock.

On the cross street a few doors away they could hear two horses walking, two sleepy riders on sleepy horses. They crossed Main Street and vanished in the darkness, with the muzzles of two rifles on them all the way. When they had been gone a full minute, Considine spoke with Dutch and the big man returned to work. He had not so much as turned his head to look.

Time dragged. Considine grew impatient. In the street a horse stamped again and Hardy lit another cigarette. Dutch was through with his drill job, and he finished soaping the crack around the door. Then he made a cup of soap around the lock. To this he attached a short fuse.

Considine picked up an old mattress he had brought through the back door, and placed it against the safe. He wrapped the safe carefully in ragged blankets taken from the stable out back, and then he and Dutch opened all the bank windows so the concussion would not break the glass. The fall of broken glass had been known to awaken people when the concussion itself had not.

Considine went to the door. He glanced from the Kiowa to Hardy. "Ready?"

Each lifted a hand in assent. The Kiowa stepped out to stand with the horses, holding the reins of them all.

Considine glanced over his shoulder. "All, right, Dutchman."

Outside, the watching men lifted their rifles, and the Kiowa murmured something to the horses. Dutch had lighted a cigarette, and now he touched it to the fuse. It hissed sharply and both men inside ducked out the door and crouched close against the wall, waiting.

The quail called, its cry lost in the muffled boom from within the bank.

Dutch and Considine rushed the safe. The acrid smell bit at their nostrils. The door, blasted open, was hanging by one hinge.

Considine raked the contents of the safe to the floor, then swore bitterly. The heavy sacks of gold were gone!

There was only a tray full of coins. He dumped them into the sack Dutch held, ransacked a drawer and found a small package of bills--only a few dollars.

Somewhere down the street a door slammed, and instantly Hardy fired. The report racketed against the false-fronted stores, slapping back and forth across the narrow street.

There was a shout, then the heavy bellow of a buffalo gun. The Kiowa replied with a shot from his Winchester.

Considine straightened to his feet. "Nothing! Lets get out of here!"

Dutch crossed the floor in three great strides and ducked swiftly around the corner to his horse. Considine went out the back door, almost tripping over the crowbar with which he had sprung the door lock to gain entrance. From the street there was now a steady sound of firing.

Hardy was already in the saddle when Considine rounded the building, and the Kiowa had his bridle looped over his arm and was firing methodically up the street.

"All right!" said Considine.

The Indian stepped into the leather and the four riders wheeled into the deeper shadows of an alley.

The four riders scattered through the willows, splashed across the stream, then turned south and away. They did not ride fast, holding their horses for the necessary drive of speed should pursuit be organized in time to worry them.

Behind them in the town a few wild shots sounded, but by vanishing into the willows and crossing the stream they had taken themselves out of sight and out of range.

Considine held the steady pace for about two miles. Then he turned at right angles and rode into the stream, with the others following. They crossed to a ledge of rock, then turned back into the stream and rode downstream for a quarter of a mile, and came out on the far side and into the mouth of a sandy draw.

"How'd we do?"

Hardy was the youngest, and he was eager. He still believed that every score was going to be a big one.

"The gold was gone, all of it. There's maybe a couple hundred in change and small bills."


The opinion was scarcely open to debate, and nobody felt like talking.

Considine led the way up the canyon as if it were broad daylight. When he felt the sudden added coolness in the air he knew they were at the seep, and turned sharply left. When he saw the notch in the skyline above them, he started his horse up the steep slide of talus.

It was a hard scramble for the horses, but it left no tracks, and at the top of the mesa they drew up to let the horses catch their wind. Pursuit would be relatively impossible until daylight, a good four hours off.

They rode until the sky was turning gray, and then Considine led them into a narrow draw, and up to a pole corral containing four horses. There was a shack with the roof and one wall caved in.

While Dutch made coffee and started breakfast, the Kiowa stripped the saddles from the horses they had ridden and turned the animals loose with a slap on the rump. They had been borrowed without permission and would return to their home range. He saddled the horses waiting in the corral.

Over the small fire they smoked and drank their coffee. Nobody felt like talking. The job had promised well and had failed, and now they were broke.

They finished their coffee and got up. Dutch dumped out the coffee grounds and kicked dirt over the fire. They took a last careful look around to be sure nothing had been forgotten, and then mounted their own horses and rode out of the draw.

Considine was tired. His muscles ached with weariness and he desperately wanted to lie down somewhere under a tree and catch up on his sleep. When a man took the outlaw trail he only thought of whooping it up and spending his time in the cantinas. He never thought of the long rides without sleep, of the scarce food, and the fact that he was a preferred target for any man's gun.

There had been a time . . . and it was then he thought of Obaro.

Considine never was far from thoughts of Obaro. The town was west and south, and was named for the ranch on whose range the town had begun--the O Bar O. It was a ranch that became a stage stop, then a supply point, and finally a town.

Considine had been a puncher on that ranch, and in the years there he had a friend, a girl, and a dream.

Pete Runyon had been his friend, a top hand on any man's outfit; and together, full of hell, they had ridden range, working hard, playing hard, occasionally getting into brawls, sometimes with others, often with each other.

In those days there had been a lot of unbranded stock on the range, and occasionally when they wanted a night on the town they rounded up a few head of mavericks and drove them into town to sell. The trouble was that the big ranchers believed all the stuff, unbranded or not, belonged to them.

Considine and Runyon were fired for selling stock, and warned off the range.

During the winter that followed the two lived on rustled stock. They rounded up unbranded stock, but now they were no longer too particular, and occasionally they caught up a few wearing brands.

Then Pete Runyon filed for the sheriff's office and was elected . . . and he married the girl.

Two night later, Considine was waiting at a water tower for the Denver & Rio Grande train. He swung aboard, walked through the two passenger cars collecting from the passengers, and dropped off the train where a horse was waiting. A week later he got the same train on the way back.

South of the border he killed a man in a fight over a poker game and joined the Kiowa and Dutch. Four months later, Hardy joined them.

There was a bank in the town of Obaro that was usually well supplied with gold, and it was the boast of the townspeople that it had never been robbed. Robbery had been attempted on three different occasions, and they had created a special Boot Hill graveyard for the robbers. Seven men were buried there, and Considine knew all about the Boot Hill, for he had helped to bury the first man himself.

Every store and office in the town had its rifle or shotgun at hand, and any stranger was under suspicion if he approached the bank. It was the town's bank, and the people of the town intended to protect it. Anyone attempting to rob the Bank of Obaro must run the gauntlet of rifle fire . . . in a town notorious for its marksmanship.

The four rode steadily. Dutch was doing his own thinking. There was one thing in particular he like about working with Considine. You always make a smooth getaway. No breakneck rides. Somehow he always managed to outguess the pursuit, and most of it was due to careful preparation beforehand.

"Where to now?" Hardy asked.

"Honey's," Considine answered.

The Kiowa tilted his hat brim lower. Honey's place was not far from Obaro, and the Kiowa did not like Obaro. It was Pet Runyon's town, and Pete was a smart, tough sheriff. All the tougher because he had been an outlaw himself, and the all the town knew it.

"Are you thinking of Obaro?" Hardy asked.

"Why not?"

Hardy grinned at the thought. "`Never was a horse that couldn't be rode, an' there never was a rider who couldn't be throwed.'"

Dutch squinted his eyes into the heat waves. The horse that couldn't be ridden might throw a lot of riders before the last one rode it. The trick was to be the one who made the ride . . . only how did a man know?

At the town of Obaro, with Runyon for sheriff . . . it was a tough horse for any rider to top off.