Chapter 5

Kilkenny and Nolan trailed Hale and his riders back to the Rocking H. Then they proceeded to tumble large rocks and logs into the trail leading out of the small hole the ranch house was in. They settled in to wait. Occasionally someone would come out the door and try to slip off into the darkness, but a few rifle shots quickly discouraged that idea. As sunup approached, three riders could be seen in the distance, riding hard for the Hale headquarters. Kilkenny moved down to meet them. He stood in the road, waiting. Reaching down, he slipped the thong off his guns as the riders approached. If there was to be shooting, he wanted to be able to shoot back. The riders drew up about fifty feet in front of him.

"That's far enough," Kilkenny ordered.

The one in the center, a dark-haired man with a medium build, replied. "Just who are you, stopping us like this?"

"My name's Trent," Kilkenny replied. "Nobody goes through. You'd best turn right around and go back to wherever you came from. Hale's finished here. He won't be paying any fighting wages to anybody, so if you're here for that, then get out."

The man chuckled at that. "Mister, my name is John Baker. I assume you've heard of me?"

Kilkenny had. The man had a reputation as a fast man with a gun who loved to be pointed out. If one believed all the stories that were told about him, Baker had ridden with Quantrill during the War, then afterwards had continued the same sort of thing, robbing and looting, and supposedly had killed thirty men. Kilkenny didn't believe the number was half that, but the man was fast and accurate, no doubt about that.

"I've heard of you, Baker, a tinhorn who preys on the weak and the helpless, but who'll run from a ten-year-old boy with a peashooter. You can get out now, or you can be carried out, belly-down on the back of a horse headed for the nearest undertaker."

Baker's face went livid. He started to speak, then swore and grabbed for his gun. Kilkenny's hands slapped the butts of his twin Colt revolvers, then brought them up in a lightning draw. Baker was fast, too fast, for as Kilkenny raised his right-hand gun, Baker fired, but he was too quick and he missed that shot and never got another. Kilkenny shot him twice with his right-hand gun, as fast as he could pull the trigger, while turning his left-hand gun on the other two riders, who had also drawn their pistols. In a few seconds, it was all over. Baker was down, dying, and Kilkenny walked over and knelt beside him, examining his wounds, but there was nothing he could do.

"I'm sorry, Baker. You could have left."

Up in the rocks, Nolan yelled. "Rider coming from the house, waving a white cloth. Looks like Hale, but he looks packed for a trip."

"All right," Kilkenny replied. "I'll go see what he wants."

Kilkenny gathered the reins of his buckskin, swung into the saddle, and rode to meet Hale. As they approached, Hale spoke.

"Kilkenny, I'm beat. I was a damn fool, and I guess you know it. All my riders are gone, left in the night. I guess you handled Baker?"

"Yes. He was just as fast as he was supposed to be, but he didn't make his first shot count."

"Kilkenny, I'm pulling up stakes and going to Wyoming. Tell Sackett that for me, will you? I've got everything I've got left here in my saddlebags. Times are changing, I guess, and I'll have to change with them. I don't know what I'll do with my place, I guess I'll sell it to somebody for enough of a stake to start over."

"I'll buy," Kilkenny told him. "Or Sackett will. He's got the money, he says. Quite a story, he says he found Nathan Hume's gold."

"Hume? That pack-train man who buried his gold shipment when the Comanches jumped him?"

"That's the one," Kilkenny confirmed.

Just then Nolan rode up. "Nobody at the ranch, Lance. What's the deal?"

"Nolan, you still got any of Hume's gold left?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Hale here is selling out, going to Montana. Figured you might want to buy his place."

Nolan turned to Hale. "How much will you take for it?"

Kilkenny left them to work out the details. It was a long ride back to San Francisco, and he wanted to get back to Nita.