Song: Big Iron ~ Marty Robbins

The Black Wolf

Chapter 2:

The Bounty Hunter

The doors to a bright red barn burst open, knocking back two ranch hands. A white stallion raced out of the barn with his Apache rider trying to gain control of him. A woman with a mix of blonde and gray in her hair rushed for the horse and rider but stopped in her tracks when the stallion reared up and slammed its hooves in the dirt. Before she could call out to them, horse and rider had left her in the dust.

Summer Cloud looked over her shoulder, laughing as Miss Annie called out to her. The horse passed the gates and for the first time, Summer felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She'd worry about the repercussions later. Right now, she wanted to put enough distance between her and the Stoake's ranch. Oh, they come looking for her like always, but she didn't care.

As she rode passed Brimstone, she slowed the stallion to a lope and gave him a light pat on the neck. She whispered what a good boy he was and promised to feed him a treat once they stopped for camp.

It would've been easier to buy a train ticket to West Elizabeth, but where was the fun in that? She would always prefer traveling horseback over a train or car any day. She came to a ledge that overlooked the landscape and was in awe of the sight before her. Out there were the Grizzly Mountains and a sea of trees that someone could easily get lost in. Summer, however, was not afraid. Her father had taught her long ago that fear would be the only thing stopping her from what she truly wanted in life.

Smiling at the idea of a new adventure, she spurred the horse's side and continued onward.

As the wind grew colder and the days of summer drew to a close, Jack began to make a mental note on the things he had to do in preparation for the upcoming winter season. He wasn't looking forward to it though. It was the time when he spent less outside and more inside a big empty house. If he didn't have the animals to take care of, he'd spend winter in Mexico.

He pushed the thoughts aside and continued to browse the bookstore. He couldn't remember the last time he actually read a book or the desire to do so. However, when he rode into town for just a quick errand, he noticed the new bookstore in place.

Just a quick look… He told himself.

But that quick look turned into an hour as he found himself surrounded by titles and authors he'd never heard of. He finally decided on two Jack London books- Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf- and The History of Mr. Polly by H.G. Wells.

Behind the front desk was a short elderly woman with white frizzy hair pulled back into a tight bun. She smiled as Jack placed his books on the counter.

"That be all?" The woman asked.

"Yes, ma'am."

"A dollar and forty cents, please."

Jack handed her the money. As she handed him his change, she looked at him curiously.

"You don't look like someone who reads books. Are you getting them for a lady friend?"

He couldn't help but laugh at that. "No ma'am, I'm just catching up on some long overdue reading."

"Well, that's nice. Enjoy your books and come back again soon- eh what was your name?"

"Jack Marston."

"I'm Miranda Spencer. By the way, your name sounds familiar. Are you related to a John Marston?"

"Yes, ma'am. He was my father."

"I'm very sorry about what happened to him. You know he saved my life years ago? Some outlaws thought that it would be fun to hang me, but he came in time to stop it. Shot the rope!"

"I'm glad he saved you. Goodbye, Mrs. Spencer," Jack said while tipping his hat.

Outside he whistled for his horse. The white stallion rounded the corner and stopped in front of him. Jack had to admit, this was a fine horse Miss Harlow had given him. The previous summer John's Kentucky Saddler developed colic and to be put down, one of the hardest moments of his life. He missed that horse and when it died, it was like losing a piece of his father.

Jack wondered how Miss Harlow was getting along and if she decided to stay in Blackwater. It had been almost a month since she came walking up to his property.

As he led his horse off the brick covered street and on to the dirt road, a man on a russet colored horse raced passed him. Lost in thought, Jack barely noticed the rider until it was almost too late.

"Hey watch it, mister!" Jack called out to the man.

The rider, who had a hogtied bandit on the rump of his horse, pulled on the reins and came to a stop. He turned slightly to Jack's direction. He couldn't see the man's face very well, as it was partly covered by his hat.

"Sorry about that." The man said. Without another word, the stranger continued in the direction of the Blackwater Police Station.

Jack shrugged it off, thinking he probably wouldn't see that man again, anyway.

After the rest of his chores were finished and the sky turned purple and orange, Jack sat on the front porch and began reading The Sea Wolf. He thought he would read a couple of chapters, but he found the book too engaging to put down. He felt he could relate to the main character in a way. Quiet and domesticated at first, but over time learns to fend for himself. Then, of course, there was Wolf Larsen. Jack thought about the black wolf at that moment and looked to the woods. It was too dark to see, but he had a feeling that it was watching him all the same.

I know you're out there and I know you're watching me. From now on I'm calling you Larsen, but don't think it means that I like you.

It was midnight by the time he forced himself to stop reading and retire for the night. As he fell into his bed and pulled the blankets over himself, Jack, for the first time in years, felt that everything was going to be okay.

Eight Hours Earlier….

Aurora Basin

Jacob Jamison bolted from the run down cabin he'd been hiding into one of the horses posted not far. He stumbled over the bullet-riddled bodies of his men and quickly mounted the horse. He spurred its sides, making the beast rear up and take off with lightning speed. He didn't make it very far from the cabin when a lasso draped around him and constricted. With a sudden tug, he was pulled from his horse. Jacob hit the ground with a loud thud, knocking the wind out of him.

Jacob rolled his head to the right and watched as The Bounty Hunter made his way to the outlaw. Too dazed to move, he made little resistance as he was being hogtied and thrown on to the back of a horse. He groaned as he slowly began to realize what was happening.

"H-h-hey mister, let's work out some kind of deal, shall we?" Jamison pleaded.

The Bounty Hunter said nothing.

Jamison managed to catch a glimpse of his captor and realized instantly who he was.

"I know you!" Jamison said. "You're that bounty hunter that was lookin' for the man who killed your squaw years ago, but he got away didn't he?"

The Bounty Hunter was about to climb onto his horse when he stopped midway.

"That got yer attention, didn't it? If ya let me go, I'll tell you where to find him."

The Bounty Hunter pulled out his revolver and pointed it at the outlaw's head.

"You'll tell me now or I'll put a bullet in you."

Jamison only laughed. "Go ahead, cowboy! I'm dead anyway."

"Have it your way," The Bounty Hunter said.

He holstered his weapon before mounting his horse. They rode down to the old and decaying Steamboat just outside of Blackwater. There the Bounty Hunter threw Jamison over his shoulder and awkwardly carried him down the pier that led to the boat. Inside he dropped the outlaw on the moldy floor and pulled out his knife.

"What the hell are ya doin'?" Jamison asked.

"I'm going to make you talk."

"I told ya, ya cain't scare me, Bounty Hunter, I'm already dead!"

"I'll make you wish you were."

The screams of Jacob Jamison traveled outside of the boat, but most folks who rode by were too scared to investigate. After an hour, The Bounty Hunter emerged dragging the battered and bruised Jamison. He hauled the outlaw onto the back of his horse once more and traveled to Blackwater.

The Bounty Hunter knew that Jacob could be lying, but after all this time searching, he figured what did he have to lose? For a while, he didn't hear any news about Joe Cottonwood and assumed he died. Now that he knew he was still alive, he had to find Cottonwood.

I thought you said you were done? A voice in his head spoke.

I just need to find this man… for you.

You've been saying that for the last sixteen years… but at what cost?

This is for her too!

She needs you more than you need revenge!

She's well cared for. You know I made sure of that.

It should have been you. She's here, you know.

He blocked out the voice that was ranting inside his mind. For sixteen years that voice haunted him. He knew he was just imaging it, but sometimes the guilt was too overwhelming. I promise you that this will be over soon.

On his way to the police station, he almost trampled some daydreaming kid who couldn't pay attention to where he was going. He wanted to tell him off when he yelled at him, but instead, he apologized and continued on his way. The youngster wasn't worth it. Besides, he had a bounty to collect.

He threw Jamison at the sheriff's feet and collected his money from one of the deputies. With guns pointed at the outlaw, he limped his way into the police station.

"Well you've just about cleaned up Blackwater, but did you have to be so rough with the man? He's gonna get blood all over the jail." The sheriff said.

"He'll live, now tell me about Joe Cottonwood." The Bounty Hunter said.

"Joe Cottonwood? Why do you want him for?"

"Just tell me where he is." He was beginning to grow impatient.

"He's not around here if that's what you're thinking. That man is dangerous and even someone with a reputation like your's will most likely find himself at the wrong end of a barrel."

"Where is he?!" The Bounty Hunter demanded.

The sheriff sighed. "Somewhere in Tall Trees, but he could be dead for all I know. If you can bring him back here alive then I'll give you a large amount of money."

"It's not about the money." And with that, The Bounty Hunter walked away.