This western double feature includes two complete novellas by author Lee Pierce. In Border Lords, when the Lucasville, Arizona, sheriff is gunned down by a ruthless gang of bandits, Deputy US Marshals Pharoah Smith (Bounty Hunter’s Moon) and Silverjack McDonald (Rough Justice) join forces to solve the murder of their former comrade. Pharaoh is a by-the-book lawman, while Silverjack will use any means possible to get the bad guys. All is not what it seems in this volatile border town, and it will take their combined skills to discover the real reason the town was raided.
In Armstrong’s War, Badger Armstrong (alias Quick Jim Butler) stormed out of the family ranch in the Texas panhandle after a fight with his father 15 years ago, swearing never to return. Now tired of a gunman’s life, he decides to ride back home, make peace with his father, and become part of his younger brother’s life. Instead, he rides straight into a hornet’s nest of hate and deceit. Mort Quarry has taken over most of the top grazing land in Deaf Smith County—except for the Armstrong ranch. Quarry is bound and determined to take over that ranch as well, and has lured Badger’s gullible brother to work for him against his own father. Badger’s pretty sure he can win the war against Mort Quarry—but first he’ll need to survive his father’s wrath while dodging bullets from his brother.
“Lee Pierce has a talent for creating suspenseful tales with believable, many-faceted characters. Readers are in for a great ride!” —Margaret Tessler, author, Black Widow, White Lies
Mose Kincaid sat in his rocking chair in front of the marshal’s office and looked to the south. Although there was little breeze blowing, a huge dust cloud was approaching from that direction. He reached down and scratched behind the ear of the cur lying at his feet. The old dog leaned into the scratching fingers.
“Looky yonder, General Lee,” Moss said to the dog. “I believe that’s about the biggest bunch of dirt I ever seen flyin’ through the air. I wonder what’s causing it?”
As the cloud got closer, the old, broken-down horse wrangler planted his callused hands on the arms of the rocker and slowly lifted his protesting body from the chair. Bones creaked and worn-out muscles screamed. With a tight grip on his cedar cane, he hobbled into the marshal’s office.
Marshal Dan Cable sat behind his desk drinking lukewarm coffee and going over wanted posters. He looked up as ol’ Mose toddled in. “Well, well, Mose,” he said, smiling, “must be something pretty big happening outside to get you out of your rocking chair before suppertime. What’s going on?”
Cable liked Mose Kincaid. The man had been the first person to introduce himself when the future marshal had arrived in town a little over a year ago. Dan Cable had been a burned-out lawman on the drift, and the small burg in the southwestern part of Arizona Territory seemed like as good a place as any to live out his last years in peace. Before he knew it, he was itching to get behind a badge again. The town council had been more than glad to appoint him marshal. Cable’s reputation had preceded him, and the few local rowdies and rounders quickly cleaned up their acts or left town. Lucasville, Arizona was a nice, quiet place, and Marshal Cable liked that just fine.
“Marshal,” said Mose, his brow furrowed, “there’s a suspicious lookin’ dust cloud headed this way from the south, and I thought you’d like to know about it.”
Dan Cable bit his tongue to suppress a smile. “Dust cloud, you say?”
“Yes, sir, marshal. It’s about the biggest one I’ve ever seen. I knowed you’d want me to tell you about it.”
“Well, well, Mose, I reckon I do need to know about it so I can close my door to keep the dirt out.”
Mose lowered his head like his feelings had been hurt. He was headed out the door when the marshal, realizing what he had done, spoke up. “It’s about time for me to make my rounds, Mose. Let me get my hat, and we’ll check out this great dust cloud. We can’t be too careful, living this close to Mexico and all. Shucks, it might be a gang of border raiders coming to rape and pillage our town. We couldn’t have that now, could we?”
The old man looked up, and the lights were bright again in his eyes. “No, sir, marshal,” he said with conviction. “We surely couldn’t have that.”
Marshal Cable spun the cylinder of his Colt .45 Peacemaker, and, satisfied, dropped it into his custom-made bullhide holster with “DC” hand carved into the side. It had been a present from his men in Company C of the Texas Rangers when he left Texas three years before. He reached into his gun cabinet and removed a sawed-off, ten-gauge Greener shotgun. He held the nasty little weapon out to the old wrangler. “Mose,” he said, “you’d be doing me a real favor if you’d back me up, just in case that dust cloud is bringing trouble with it.”
Mose reached out a gnarled hand and accepted the prize. He cradled it to his chest like it was a newborn child. His eyes were misty when he looked up at the marshal. “Much obliged Dan’l,” he said, sounding like he had a frog in his throat.
Dan Cable stepped out onto the porch, Mose right on his heels. Outside, the yellow fleabag of a dog hadn’t moved since his master went inside. He slept, an occasional snore sputtering through his mangy jaw.
It was Sunday, and the street was empty. Folks were on picnics, enjoying the late spring weather that would soon make way for the dry Arizona summer. Summer brought the heat of Hell to Lucasville, and people relished the balmy April weather while they could. Dan trudged to the edge of the plank sidewalk and looked south. Mose had been right about one thing. The dust cloud was so enormous now it looked like a summer storm blowing in, except the skies were clear and cloudless. The smile left Cable’s face, and he rotated his head in a tight spiral, feeling the joints in his neck crackle and pop. Involuntarily, he flexed the fingers on his gun hand. Maybe Mose had reason to be concerned. A dust cloud as big as this one meant a whole lot of hoofed animals were barreling toward Lucasville. It was either a herd of cattle or, more likely, a bunch of riders. Either way, Marshal Cable didn’t like it.
* * *
Carlos Macias leaned so far forward in the saddle that the brim of his great sombrero touched the neck of his mustang stallion. He spoke to the big, black charger, urging the beast to gallop faster. He and his men rode hell-for-leather toward Lucasville. A single thought raged like wildfire through Carlos’s head: Revenge! Revenge on the gringo ranger who had shot his younger brothers to death five years before. He had barely escaped with his own life that day, but the gun battle that had taken his siblings’ lives cursed his dreams and haunted his waking hours. Now he would have his chance to take down that son-of-a-dog lawman. Carlos swore a bitter oath to his dead brothers.
“Enrique, Miguelito, blood of my blood, today I will avenge your deaths.”
Twenty of the worst cutthroats and gunmen from south of the border rode with Carlos Macias. They didn’t give a peso’s damn about Carlos and his vendetta against the gringo bastard. He had promised them an American town full of women, whiskey, and gold if they rode with him on his mission of death. The ex-ranger was the only law for fifty miles. When he was dead, the town would belong to them.
* * *
“Mose, you’d best go into my office,” said the marshal. “This don’t look right.” Keeping his eyes on the approaching cloud of dust, he stuck his hand out to the old cowboy. “Here, give me my Greener.”
Mose hesitated, then handed over the shotgun. “I’m here to help you, Dan’l. You might need me,” he said, stumbling over the words. “I can back you up. Let me stay with you, son.”
Still staring at the swirling, brown mass that was rushing their way, Dan spoke in a low voice. “I know, Mose. That’s why I want you inside the office. Pop my Sharps 50 out of the gun rack, and back me up from the window in the door.” Dan glanced at the old man, and then he looked down at the old, yellow dog, who now stood at his master’s side. “Take General Lee with you. I don’t want him taking a stray bullet. I’d never hear the end of it from you, you old hell-raiser.” The marshal scratched his chin. “Now do what I say, and get that Big Fifty.”
Mose snapped a brisk “yes, sir” and retreated into the office. After a moment, he was back at the door, holding the big buffalo gun with the long barrel sticking out a hole in the upper panel.
Marshal Cable heard the barrel scrape along the wood behind him and he grinned. “Mose, you’ll do to ride the river with.” He didn’t look back, but he knew the old-timer was smiling.
When the riders reached the edge of town, Carlos held up his hand, and the outlaw band drew their panting horses to a halt. Brown dirt and stifling dust swirled around them, caught in the dead air. Lathered and grimy from their long run, the horses blew and wheezed, trying to catch their breath. Carlos motioned for the men to stay put while he walked his black mustang toward the sheriff’s office. The big man on the black horse looked familiar to Marshal Cable, but he couldn’t quite place him. As the man rode closer, the marshal stepped off the porch into the street. He took a deep breath and tried to relax. The mustang stopped six feet away. It snorted and pawed the ground. “Buenas dias, jefe,” said Carlos. “How are you, Ranger Cable?”
“How is it you know my name?” said Dan, tensing up. He raised the Greener and laid it across his left arm. “I don’t seem to recollect you.”
“Ranger Cable, it has been too long since we last met. My name is Carlos Macias. It hurts me that you do not remember our time together. Five years ago you put a bullet into my left shoulder. I almost bled to death. Do you remember me now, Señor?”
Memory of the long-ago gunfight sprang into Dan Cable’s consciousness. He shifted the shotgun, raising the barrels. He wouldn’t be able to make a straight shot, because the horse’s head partially shielded Macias. Dan thumbed back the hammers on both barrels on the Greener.
“I remember you now, Macias. You and your two brothers were wanted for crimes against Texas. We tried to bring you in peaceable, but you and your kin had other ideas. I recollect your brothers didn’t make it that day.”
“I knew it would come to you, Ranger Cable.” Carlos smiled, revealing yellow, dirt- stained teeth. “On that day, you and your compadres killed my brothers, Enrique and Miguel. Today it is your turn to die.”
Even before he finished talking, Carlos flipped open his folded arms, revealing the two Colt .45s in his hands. Sticking both arms straight out, he fired the pistols as fast as he could at the moving target of the marshal.
Dan jumped to his right and threw the shotgun up to his shoulder. When the first bullet hit him, he was pulling both triggers. The lead slug twisted him to the right, and the double aught buckshot flew into the air, missing Macias by two feet. Dan dropped the shotgun and pawed for his .45. He cleared leather and tried to raise the pistol to fire, but his arm wouldn’t respond. Bullets screamed into his flesh. Dan Cable dropped to his knees, still trying to raise his six-gun. By sheer will, he managed to lift the heavy pistol. As he looked up to sight his target, a bullet hit him between the eyes. He blinked once and toppled onto the sidewalk.
Carlos knew his adversary was dead, yet he kept pumping lead into the twitching body until his pistols ceased to fire. Acrid smoke swirled above the outlaw’s head like strings of wispy clouds.
Carlos sat his saddle and eyed the marshal. He spit in the direction of the dead man and motioned for his men to ride in. He started to turn his horse when thunder cracked from the door of the marshal’s office. The black stallion screamed, stumbled sideways, and fell over into the dirt. Carlos dived off, rolled, and came up running for the side of the nearest building. “You son-of-a-bitch!” screamed Mose. “You killed the marshal. I’ll shoot your greaser ass to pieces.”
Mose reloaded the buffalo gun and peeked out the door hole, trying to spy the killer. General Lee began to howl like he sensed what was going on.
Carlos flattened against the building. A half-dozen of his men drew greasewood torches from the backs of their saddles and fired them up. Carlos directed them toward the marshal’s office. Before they could get there, a fat rider on a paint horse rode up, unlimbered a long-barreled, twelve-gauge shotgun, and fired both barrels into the front window of the office. The glass erupted, shards shooting in every direction. Mose ducked at the sound of the shotgun blast and covered his head. After the glass storm settled, Mose’s eyes darted all around, searching for General Lee. He spied the yellow mutt lying in a corner, whimpering in pain. Blood had begun to flow from a dozen glass-filled wounds in the dog’s body. Dirty tears rolled down Mose’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, General Lee,” he hollered, “but I can’t help you now. Hell, I can’t help myself.” The old man looked up to see a rider throw a flaming torch through the shattered window. Papers on the desk burst into flame, and the desk and surrounding furniture began to catch fire. Mose crawled over next to the dying dog.
The fat rider with the big shotgun dismounted and fired two rounds point-blank into the office door. The door splintered apart, the pieces falling inward. He reloaded and stepped through the opening into the burning office. Reacting more than thinking, Mose raised the Sharps to his shoulder and fired. The round caught the fat outlaw chest high, sending him flailing back outside.
“Gotcha,” Mose whispered. He smiled.
A handful of bad men converged outside the office and fired a hail of bullets through the open window and busted-in door. Lead chunks slammed into Mose, ripping him apart. His body jerked like a string puppet, falling on top of the dying dog.
Carlos ran to the hole where the front door had been. Holding up his hand to shield his face from the growing flames, he peered into the office. He could barely see the crumpled up body lying in a back corner. The rifleman was dead. A hard-edged smile split Carlos’s face. Stepping outside, Carlos waved to his men. “Amigos, the devil ranger is dead!” he yelled. “The town is yours.”