Now, I’ve had guns pointed at me a few times in my life, but I never felt the elephant sittin on my chest quite so hard as I did right then.  To say this woman was ugly would be an insult to ugly, and she had a mean glint in her eyes that told me mercy was not in her vocabulary.
   “Don’t shoot him here, ma,? came a voice from behind her, “take him in the back room.?
  The voice was high pitched but gravelly, like he’d swallered a stick or something. ‘Ma’ turned her head and said “Don’t start tellin me what to do. I’ll shoot him anywhere I want.?
This wasn’t real encouraging for me.
  Right then there was a loud crash upstairs. ‘Ma’ said “Go check that out. I’ll take care of this.? ‘Voice’ took off up the stairs and as he did I heard the unmistakable sound of hooves on a hardwood floor.  Seems old Hammerhead had enough of the storm and waltzed right in out of the rain.  ‘Ma’ didn’t know that, though.
  “So, you brought a friend, eh??  She brought the pistol down on my head and the lights went out.

   Back at camp, Chip and Tennessee Jim were havin supper by the wagon, wonderin where I’d got to.
  “He’s probably following some track, or just day dreamin.? Jim said, “It aint like him to miss supper, though. If he don’t show up soon, we better ride a circle and see if we can find him.?
  The hairs on the back of Jims' neck had begun to tingle. They were bein watched. He moved slowly toward his saddlebag where his gun was.
   A voice, low and dangerous, seemed to come out of nowhere and say “Don’t touch that bag, cowboy.?
  Jim’s brow furrowed. He knew that voice. It was…it was…
  “Montana!? Chip hollered. “That’s Montana Slim! I’d know that voice anywhere.?
  Montana stepped out from behind the chuck box, smiling faintly.
  “Dang, Montana, you’re the only guy I know that could sneak up on us out here on the wide open prairie? Jim said. He was a little edgy at having been tricked.
  “I wasn’t sneakin,? Montana said, “you guys just weren’t payin attention.  I been here for five minutes, listenin to you palaver.  So where you reckon Cyclone’s got to??
  “Don’t know,? said Chip, “ he headed up North about three hours ago.?
   Jim and Chip both noticed that Montana Slim was goin mighty well heeled.  He had a .45 on one hip and another in a cross draw holster, and a rifle in his hand!  They both knew Montana well enough not to ask. He’d speak his mind in his own time.
  “Boys,? he said, “I think I’ll drift on up North a ways and see if I can scare up a sign of him.  You two better stay with the herd, but keep your eyes peeled.  I’m on the trail of something, and things might get rough.?
  Now, a warning like that from Montana Slim was something we’d all learned to take real serious.  He’d been a lawman too long to make jokes that kind of thing.
  “The rest of the boys ought to be getting back pretty soon, Slim.?  Chip was itching for action, as always. “You want us to follow you up, just to be safe??
  Slim said “The best thing you boys can do if stay with them cows ‘till I find out what’s goin on.  I’ll let you know.?  He was mounting up as he said this.  He headed North as the sun touched the western horizon.

   Montana Slim set his horse to a quick walk, hoping to follow my sign as far as he could before the light gave out.  The wind was pickin up pretty sharp and Slim could see cloud banks piled high against the prairie to the North.  There was that feeling in the air that you get in open country when a storm is about to pound you flat and blow you away.  He urged his horse into a lope, figgurin to keep on the way my tracks were goin.
  The ground up there kind of swells and rolls as the great Flint Hills get started.  A lot of people make the mistake of thinkin Kansas is fat as a pancake, but those of us who ride the country know better.  If a man knows the land well enough, he can stay plumb out of sight until you’re right up on him.  Slim was so intent on seein my tracks in the failin light, he didn’t see the smoke from the rifle that shot him ‘till the bullet slammed into his chest.  The impact knocked him backwards over his horse’s rump. He landed face down and lay without moving.
   About a hundred yards North, against a backdrop of orange lightning bolts flashing in fast moving clouds, a dark figure mounted up and rode straight toward the ghost town.

END OF CHAPTER TWO 
GHOST TOWN - CHAPTER TWO
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