Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

Author:Paul Howarth
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2018-02-06T05:00:00+00:00


20

They led the horses around the waterhole and out through the last of the trees, then mounted up and rode west through the same terrain of stone-riddled soil, those uncanny rock mounds, a sparse smattering of bushes and scrub. Pope leading them, reading the trail, but even Tommy could make out the markings in the soil. Only faint, but there was no question: a series of human footprints, heel, arch, and toe; a scattering of paw tracks from the dogs. Tommy couldn’t look at them, kept his eyes on the back of Billy’s shirt. Someone had made those footprints. Someone with feet, legs, arms, heart. One looked as small as Mary’s, just about. He exhaled shakily. He hadn’t been expecting it, this sudden call to arms. And now there were footprints. These people they chased were real. Somehow being out here, surviving each day, had become an end in itself. Easy to forget it had only ever been the means.

Out of the trees meant out of the shade, into the blazing sun. It seared the ground before them and raised a haze upon the empty plains, no sign of the natives out there, they were beyond the horizon at least. In the distance the ranges loomed more clearly than Tommy had ever seen them, within reach by nightfall maybe. Not quite mountains, more substantial than hills, with rounded peaks and smooth hollows like something molded from a vast putty of dirty red clay. The base was fringed with trees and brush and the downslopes were scarred by a network of what looked to be canyons and caves. Plenty of places to hide in, plenty of routes to take. A slim hope sprang in him: if the natives reached the ranges, they might yet manage to escape.

It could never have been so simple: within two hours they had run them down, tiny ant-like shadows appearing on the trembling plain. Noone gave a cry and all spurred their horses and drove them mercilessly across that broken ground, riding high in the saddle and keen with the whip, Billy waving his revolver above his head while Tommy struggled to keep pace with the stampede, clinging to the reins and to Beau’s body with his knees, eyes blurring, gasping at the air, a confusion of wind and glare and dust. He dipped his head against it and saw Billy’s face peeled open in a joyful howl. Billy shouted something, whooped, pumped his revolver in the air, as all the while the figures grew closer on the plain. Their arms flailing, heads twisting, glancing behind them as they fled: five desperate natives and a scattered pack of dogs. The posse roared in unison and sent their calling on the wind. A calling of hatred and of bloodlust, and of thirty-six hooves pounding the red earth, which shook like the skin of a drum.

They overtook the natives and corralled them by circling the horses head to tail. Three men, two women, one of them very young, cowering together in a melee of wild dogs.



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