6 minute read

Lone Star Hate

THE CABIN WAS ONCE some homesteader’s attempt at building a dream. Now, the porch was half-collapsed, and the moss-covered roof wasn’t far behind. Smoke curled from the tin chimney, though, and a horse with a distinctive star-shape on its flank sheltered beneath an eave. The tip was good. Ned Lukas was back in Texas.

“Think it’s him, Sarge?”

“Hush,” I snapped. Stinton’s cheeks colored, but he kept quiet. He took orders and was a fair shot. He’d be a good ranger someday. I still had no use for him. Captain Miller ordered Stinton along for the experience, though, and if it wasn’t for Miller, I wouldn’t be there at all. He was new to the post and didn’t know I shared history with Ned Lukas, didn’t know Lukas killed my sister.

Lukas was a gunman and worse, but his smile could charm rattlers. I only learned Cora knew Lukas from the letter she left, the day they disappeared below the border. His gang pulling a bank hold up that same morning wasn’t coincidence.

It was two years before I had news of Cora, and then it was too late. She died in childbirth, abandoned by a man she loved in a country whose language she couldn’t speak. The thought still ripped my guts like bullets. It was time to return the favor.

“Sit tight.” I rose from a crouch, slipping the thong from my revolver.

The recruit looked closely at me. “Sir?”

“I’ll handle this alone.”

There was an odd light in Stinton’s eyes. “Captain Miller ordered me along with you, Sergeant Herndon.” His fingers toyed with the butt of his own gun.

White-hot fury flared inside me. I had waited so damned long. Who was this snot-nosed kid to take my moment away?

“Miller’s not here,” I said tightly.

Stinton shook his head. “Sorry, sir, but I’m coming.”

“Fine, then.” I couldn’t hide my anger, but every moment wasted was another Lukas might slip away or get the drop on us. I’d just have to deal with Stinton, too.

Quietly, we approached the shack. At the crumbling porch, Stinton turned. I mouthed, “Easy now,” gesturing for him to take the lead. Stinton nodded and lifted his .45 from its holster. Before he could take another step, I brought my Colt smashing down behind the rookie’s ear. He moaned softly and collapsed.

“Sorry, kid, but this is my showdown,” I whispered.

I waited, chest tight and palms sweating, listening for signs Lukas heard. Satisfied he was still unaware, I moved onto the porch, wary of the slightest creak. Please let this be the end, I prayed.

My heel snapped the half-rotted door right off the hinges. A flurry of motion erupted as Ned Lukas sprang from a bunk built into the wall and toward a gun-belt hanging nearby.

“Hold it!”

The outlaw froze. Recognition came into his face.

“That’s right, Ned. It’s Mike Herndon–Cora’s brother. I finally found you.”

Lukas was stricken. “Now, just wait—”

“Shut up. Coming back here is the last mistake you’ll make,” I told him, my thoughts racing so fast I was dizzy. After imagining this moment a million times, now I couldn’t remember how it was supposed to go.

Lukas’s Adam’s apple bobbed, and his eyes flicked to his holstered revolver. “About Cora—”

"Don't say her name, bastard, and don't you worry about that gun. It'll be in your hand shortly."

Lukas didn't need an explanation. "That's murder!"

I tried to smile cold and cruel like in my daydreams, but I just felt sick. 

"You're a lawman! You can't," Lukas croaked. 

I raised my revolver. "Tell it to the devil." 

Something changed in Lukas's face then. The mask of fear slipped, showing his anger. Then he did the last thing I expected. He roared like an animal and charged. 

His weight hit me like a steam-engine, tumbling us both, breaking my grip on the Colt. It clattered to the floor and skittered across the room.

The impact emptied my lungs, and Lukas’s pounding fists kept me from refilling them. His knee found my groin, and nausea rocked me. Then his weight disappeared. He was going for my gun.

I rolled, and my fingers found Lukas’s ankle as his found my gun. I yanked him back to the floor and slammed a fist into his head. Lukas thrashed, flipping onto his back, then somehow, his hands were around my throat.

Already winded, my lungs burned, and my vision went red. Lukas gasped something, but I only heard my heartbeat against my eardrums. I threw a punch that Lukas shrugged off, but his grip loosened. I managed to tear his hands away, and cursing, he broke free to try again for the fallen revolver.

Lukas lost the gamble. I found my feet, then bulled him against the wall, driving my fists into his kidneys until he crumpled and lay still.

Chest heaving, the room spinning, I wiped sweat from my eyes. I took up my six-gun and aimed squarely at Lukas’s face.

Despite the heat of exertion, I felt cold. I tried to speak, but only a sobbing sound came out. I’d waited long years for this moment only to find I couldn’t squeeze the trigger. What Lukas said—“lawman”— rattled around inside my head.

“Let’s take him in, Sarge.”

Stinton stood in the doorway, hat in hand, massaging his head. “What was the story gonna be, sir? Lukas jumped me, and you shot him?”

“How long have you—”

“Since he tackled you. Some of the fellas told me why you want him so bad, so I didn’t interfere.” Gravely, Stinton added, “I would have, though, if you needed help, sir—or if your trigger-finger tightened much more. Ready to do our duty now?”

I was wrong. Stinton was already a good ranger. And as I realized it, the coldness slowly disappeared. “Let’s get our man into a cell, huh?”

The rookie offered me handcuffs. “Honor’s all yours, sir.”

“Thanks, Stinton… for everything.”