"Rider Comin'!" Lou called as a cloud of dust billowed in the distance.
"Finally!" Cody ran for his horse.
"Thought you might be doomed to finish your chores today, eh Cody?" Noah smirked.
"Very funny," Cody scowled.
Teaspoon squinted down at his pocket watch. "I always thought McMasters was as slow as a two-legged turtle, but he's exactly one hour and seventeen minutes late according to my calculations. It's a new record—even for him."
"Wait a minute," Kid called out from over by the barn as the brown mare galloped into the station rider-less. "It's a runaway!"
Though the horse was clearly spooked, she was even more worn out, and Kid was able to calm her down and take the reigns.
"Maybe I spoke too soon," Noah said as a dejected Cody descended from his mount.
Teaspoon stepped forward and began stroking the horse's flanks. She was bathed in sweat. Down her left side dripped a crimson streak of blood.
"Is she hurt bad?" Lou questioned.
"This isn't her blood," Kid replied.
"Looks like we got ourselves a bit of trouble," Teaspoon said as he turned to eye his charges.
Hickock caught the Marshal's gaze. "You think McMasters was ambushed like Martin and Saunders?"
A heavy silence enveloped the group. Over the last ten days, two other riders had been murdered in cold blood—one near Big Sandy and the other just outside Pacific Springs. Each man's body was found riddled with arrows and bullet holes. The mail had been stolen in both cases. Most certainly, Indians were on the attack—ready to terrorize the white men who desecrated their lands into submission.
Teaspoon hesitated a moment before he answered, "I don't know, Jimmy. But it don't look good."
"Them Indians is always causin' trouble," Cody grumbled. "We ain't hurtin' them none. And they turn around and kill innocent men. We're just deliverin' the mail. Since when was that a crime?"
Noah stole a glance at Buck who stood a step behind the rest of them. His face was gray and solemn—his dark eyes, eerily calm. Noah knew from experience that that was not a good sign. It was time to diffuse the situation. "We ain't even sure it is Indians," he said. "Heck, we can't be sure McMasters is dead till someone finds him. He mighta just been thrown. You oughta know about that, Cody."
"I ain't never seen a man bloody his horse like that from a fall," Cody retorted.
"All right!" Teaspoon ordered. "We ain't got time to argue. We still got to get the mail through. And it looks like in order to do that, we need to find the mail and hopefully the man who was deliverin' it." He eyed them all in turn. They knew what was coming.
"I'll go look for him!" Cody volunteered.
"I don't think so." Teaspoon's gaze fell on Buck. "If this is Indian work, Buck'd know who mighta done it. 'Sides, he's the best tracker we got. Well, Buck?"
From the metallic glint in Teaspoon's eye, Buck knew he had little choice. "All right, I'll go."
"Teaspoon, you ain't gonna send Buck out there alone are you?" Noah asked.
"Of course not. You're goin' with him." The Marshal turned to the others. "Jimmy, Kid, I want you to head out to the army's camp outside Dry Sandy. Captain Jacobs has been expectin' some of that mail that didn't arrive today and we'll have to admit there's been a delay. And while you're there, see if you can't find out if they've had any more trouble than usual with the Natives lately. The minute any of you find anything out, come find me at the jailhouse."
"Wait a minute! What do I get to do, Teaspoon?" Cody whined. "I'm as good as Jimmy or Kid at deliverin' a message."
Noah lifted himself gracefully onto his horse and laughed. "Seems to me like there's plenty of manure to spread. You always been good at doin' that!"
Buck smiled to himself as he saw Cody's face burst like a Chinese firecracker. Noah always knew just what to say.