Kraemer Diggs sat at his corner table and splashed whisky down his throat as he considered the spectacle of what he’d just seen. A boy, actually a man probably close to twenty, had just walked into the bar and picked a fight with the toughest group of men in the room. The men took his challenge willingly. When they drew first, the boy jumped in the midst of it, guns blazing. When his bullets were done he’d used his fists. Now men lay scattered in all directions. The boy had walked to the bar and ordered a drink as if nothing happened.
Kraemer watched the man-boy intently. Gradually Kraemer noticed the man stiffening. Kraemer was sure the boy had just realized he was being watched. When the stranger at the bar turned to face him, Kraemer met his gaze head on. Those dark eyes held pain and anger, things Kraemer easily identified with. The boy man moved forward carefully with a smooth catlike grace.
Kraemer studied him as he came closer. His broad shoulders were muscular as if he’d been no stranger to hard work. His stomach was lean, almost too lean as if he’d spent too much time on the run. His face was weary and haggard, but he carried such innocence. Men grew up hard and young. At his age he should be considered a man, yet the innocent look on his face made him appear that much younger. Not to be ignored was the almost animalist aura of rage around him.
The boy stopped in front of him. “Mind if I sit down?” he asked in a soft rasp.
“No, but just so you know I don’t want any trouble.” Kraemer replied evenly and locked eyes with the boy. The boy met his gaze and then finally dropped his head.
“I wasn’t offering any.” He sat down opposite Kraemer.
Roche Barret wasn’t stupid. He had beat down everyone in the bar, but one look at the man in the corner easily told him he didn’t want a fight with him. The man had startling blue eyes and a classically formed tan face. He was a big man, probably as tall as Roche himself. And he was a gunslinger. He was dressed in black pants, a spotless white shirt, and a black coat. His had sat on the table next to his elbow. Two white handled guns were tied down to his thighs.
Normally Roche wouldn’t have let the man’s appearance bother him. He’d encountered a lot of gunslingers that dressed fancy. They’d been easy enough to handle. Roche, however, took one look at the totally shuttered expression of the man in front of him and knew this man was a professional. Roche wasn’t about to try his hand with him.
“If you’re not offering trouble, son, what are you offering?”
“I’m not offering anything. Actually I’m looking for someone.”
One light eyebrow flashed up in surprise. “And why might you be looking for him?”
“My father told me to find him.”
“Well, in that case you’ve found him. No who is your father?”
“Kells Barret. My father was Kells Barret.”
“And he isn’t anymore?”
“He isn’t anything anymore. My father requested on his death bed that I search you out.”
Kraemer stared intently at the boy. No wonder he looked familiar. The boy’s smooth movements were obviously inherited from his father. But Kells Barret dead? Kraemer couldn’t believe it. He and Kells had been boyhood playmates, teenage rivals, and adult friends.
“Why were you to seek me?”
“He thought perhaps you could stop me.”
“Stop you from what?”
“Stop me from chasing down his killers.”
Kraemer thought about this for a moment. Kells had been murdered, and he had sent Kraemer this boy on his deathbed. Kraemer laughed. He saw a deep anger light the boys eyes, and he knew there was going to be trouble. They boy wanted to take offense at everything. “Did your father tell you he wanted me to stop you?”
“No, but my father was a peaceful man. I can think of no other reason why he’d want me to see you.”
Kraemer, awestruck, stared at the boy. “How well did you know your father?” Kraemer couldn’t imagine anyone describing Kells Barret as a peaceful man.
“Well, I knew him occasionally off and on for the first 15 years of my life, and then he was with us for the last 5 years.”
“And you say he was peaceful? He never carried a gun?”
“No. I never saw him carry one in the past 5 years. By the time I was 15, I had developed a tolerable interest in them, but he caught me practicing one day and tanned my hide. He said he hated guns.”
So Kells had hung up his guns, but why did Kells send the boy to him? “He told you nothing about guns? I find that hard to believe. You handled them well in here.”
“My father said the same thing. What child who practiced day and night wouldn’t be? He said I wasn’t to touch a gun, but by the time he stayed around long enough my habits were well formed. As you can see I didn’t give them up. After all, what did he know about guns? I think he knew the way I felt, but he said nothing.”
Didn’t this kid know who his father was? Kells Barret was the best bounty hunger and gunfighter that ever walked the face of the earth. “What’d he say to do once you found me?”
“He gave me a box to give to you.”
“A box? What kind of box?” Kraemer asked sharply.
“A wooden one with two intertwined rams locking horns on the front. There are two weird stones for the eyes and…it’s locked.”
Kraemer sucked in his breath. “Your father didn’t want me to stop you. He wanted me to help you.” Kraemer studied the boy’s big frame. “Well, are you hungry? My ranch is just outside of town. Personally I don’t want to be here when the Sheriff comes crawling in either.”
They both exited the saloon. Kramer stared at the bay horse that stood at the railing. Two diamonds were branded on its hindquarters. “He’s a sorry looking animal because I’ve ridden him so hard. He’ll be glad of the rest. He’s the only one the men didn’t kill.”
Kraemer swore under his breath. Whoever had killed Kells Barret knew him well. They knew Kraemer too well also. The horse proved it. The old bay gelding was well into his twenties. He was the horse that Kells had ridden during his years as a bounty hunter. Kraemer was amazed that the horse was still alive, but he knew Kells had loved that horse. Someone remembered that horse besides Kraemer and was making sure it made it back to Kraemer, but who?
They rode out of town together careful of anyone following them. No one did. Kraemer seriously doubted that anyone would.
Roche stared at the sign above the ranch gate. It held two connecting diamonds that looked exactly like the brand on his horse’s hip. “This is your ranch?” Roche questioned.
Kraemer read the uncertainty in the boy’s face. Someone was going to have to teach him to hide those emotions especially if he was going after Kells’ killers. He would need lots of help. Kraemer reminded himself to have the boy give him the details. If Kells sent the boy to him Kells had to have known the killers were professionals.