Henry King had been plenty of things in his life. He’d been a cowhand and a drifter. He’d seen more than a few fights and won his share of them. As a younger man, he’d gotten away with some rustling here and there, but to his knowledge he’d never done anyone a bad turn who didn’t deserve it. He was a decent man, or so he styled himself. An upstanding citizen, that’s what they called him in town.
King had performed a genuine act of heroism, even if maybe the law wouldn’t entirely see it that way. A law that didn’t do right by heroes, however, was pretty poor thinking on somebody’s part, and King had rarely been inclined to care much for the law in any case. He and his guns had done a fair amount of good the way he figured it, and a man who did good was entitled to certain rewards.
Rolled out on the table before him lay a map. Now and again, a brandy snifter made its home on the corner of the map closest to the old cattleman. King had always been partial to whiskey himself, having been raised on tougher liquors that were as homemade as fried steak and apple pie, but he felt that a more refined taste in alcohol better suited his new station. He poured himself another drink and let the aromatic liquid warm in the glass before he lifted it to his lips.
Setting the snifter back down on the corner of the map, he examined his spread of land as it lay before him. What interested him now more than his own stretch was the vast territory that lay beyond. They called it an Indian Reservation, but King called it a waste of prime cattle country. Besides, the Apaches were anything but reserved.
Story continues below…
You are reading
Episode 1 – “A Bad Turn Coming”
At first, King had regarded the Apaches as little more than a nuisance. He certainly did not underestimate their warriors in a fight, for he had narrowly survived more than a few close encounters in his time. He had exchanged plenty of lead with many a war party and had seen fast and salty gunfighters scalped or riddled with holes. The way he figured it, though, the Apaches weren’t much to be concerned with provided that they mostly kept to their own and didn’t bother the ranchers and teamsters about the country. There, of course, lay the problem.
More and more stories were drifting King’s way of Apache raiding parties attacking ranches and ambushing wagons. Good God-fearing men were being murdered by those savages; their decent, Christian wives gunned down or stolen away, and their children taken to be reared up without any knowledge of civilization, damnation, or Jesus Christ. The very thought of it made his stomach burn and his trigger finger itch. Such an itch could only be salved with blood, gunpowder, and another dose of heroism.
Henry King contemplated the map a while longer and quickly ran through a mental inventory of the cowhands that worked his outfit. The Star B brand wasn’t backed by any ordinary punchers. King hired on gunfighters and the toughest riders he could find. His newly renamed Bolingbroke Ranch was in the hands and holsters of a crew that now resembled a private army. It had finally come into King’s head to move that army against the Apaches. If the US Government wouldn’t do its share to keep the Indians in line, then he himself would ensure that the territory was safe. It was easier said than done, however, as King was discovering. In the year since he had acquired the ranch, he had made very little headway against the Indians, who were holding their own with galling persistence.
“Henry,” there came a knock at the door, interrupting King’s brooding and planning.
“Come on in, Earle,” King called back. “Can I fix you a drink?” he asked as the man entered. “I was just figurin’ on that pass down through Saracena Ridge, where Jerusalem Creek cuts that notch. The way I see it, we push down that pass and hold it, and maybe we finally get those Apache sons of bitches on the run for a change.”
“That sounds ’bout right,” said Earle, taking off his hat and holding it by the brim as he shut the door. He lingered at the far end of King’s office, seeming preoccupied as he slowly rotated the hat with his fingertips.
King studied his handyman for a moment. Earle Morland was on to his second wife and it was little wonder why. The man was not yet forty years old, but he had himself at least three or four sons and eight or nine daughters—and not one of them was half his age! Henry had given up on trying to keep count of the ever-expanding Morland clan. Earle cut the figure of a man who was perpetually beset by one exasperation or another, but tonight he seemed even more haggard than usual.
“You got a thorn stuck in your saddle, Earle?” said King, tipping his head.
“Bad news, Henry,” said Morland. “Real bad.”
King, who had just raised the snifter to his lips set it back down and eyed Morland. “What kinda bad news?”
“We got trouble,” Morland replied urgently. “It’s those boys from the Owen’s place, again. Mort Ulster took a couple of punchers from the Wye spread down there this morning to straighten things out.”
“I sent Mort to settle things with Glen Owen. What about it?” said King, taking a seat in the old wooden chair he kept at his desk. He had certainly achieved enough wealth to buy most any furniture he could want. He could purchase a throne for himself if that was his desire, but deep down in his heart Henry King was still working the trail. He was no longer to be found herding cattle, but he was still working the range as hard as ever, for King now drove men before him instead of steers. He had sacrificed his whiskey, he had even hung up his chaps for the most part, but he had fought hard for this seat behind old Richard Bordeaux’s desk and he wasn’t about to give it up.
“I got word that the Owen boys dry gulched the Wye crew on the way over. Henry, they got Mort holed up as a hostage!” Morland exclaimed. “I came straight over to tell you as soon as I heard it.”
Scarcely concealing the fury rising within him, King leaned back in his chair and slammed back the brandy, working his jaw as he contemplated this turn of events. “I knew that Glen was a loose cannon, but he’s really gone off the rails this time. Dammit, Earle!” he brought the snifter back down with a loud smack that made Morland jump. “You realize what this means?”
“Henry?” said Morland uncertainly.
“That ain’t the only bad news I got today. We’re about to have a full scale range war on our hands,” King shook his head, the side of mouth curled with bitter disdain. “Apache’s are just gonna have to wait, that’s all there is to it.”
“A range war?” Morland asked in surprise. “What are you talkin’ about, a range war? What happened?”
“Walt’s in the kitchen. I told my cook to throw him some grub on the griddle for supper,” King jabbed his thumb at the door that lead out of the office and into his palatial ranch house. “He rode all the way over from the Lazy N ranch to tell me they surprised a pack of rustlers working for Douglas. If that Percy kid—what is it that they’re calling him…?”
“’Hotspur,’ I think,” Morland offered.
“That’s it,” King nodded. “If that Hotspur hadn’t been there, they would’ve cleaned up the Lazy N, the Tyne spread, and Harley Gate’s place. Instead, that kid sent the whole pack of ’em running back to that little tavern of Douglas’s with their tails between their legs. He chased them right to the door, and after he had made sure they were all buttoned up in there too afraid to come out, he drove two hundred head of Douglas’s own cattle back to the Lazy N.”
“Bet that made his daddy proud,” said Morland before he could stop himself. “A man could do pretty good with a son like him.”
King paused, staring at Morland intently as his expression grew stormy and dark. “Earle,” he said smoothly. “Why don’t you have a seat and take me up on that drink.”
Morland swallowed and nodded, pulling a chair up to King’s desk and planting himself in it. “I’m sorry, Henry. Honest, I just wasn’t thinking. You know I didn’t mean nothing by it.”
“Don’t apologize when you’re right,” said King, pulling two proper shot glasses and a bottle of Indian whiskey from the desk drawer. “You know I try to be a good Christian man. I try to live by those Ten Commandments, but Earle, I’ll be damned if I’m not coveting my neighbor’s house. How is it that a worthless upstart like Chester Percy managed to beget himself a son called ‘Hotspur?’ Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, Earle, how do you like the sound of that?”
Morland took the shot glass he was offered, but kept his silence and only opened his mouth to slam back the burning liquid, which ran down his throat like hot embers. King paused a moment and contemplated the aching fire that settled into his belly.
“What’ve I got to show for my Harry, lemme ask you!” he grumbled finally. “I planted a good seed and got myself a bad apple with that kid. All he does is hang around in town drinking, whoring, and raising hell. What kind of son is that, huh?” King poured himself another whiskey and shot it back without offering Morland any.
“No son of mine, that’s for sure! You know, I got myself a theory.” he added jokingly, though his tone was gruff and mirthless. “I think my Harry got switched with Chester’s Harry at birth, that’s what I think. I’ve been raising Chester’s good for nothing lump of a son this whole time, while my own kid runs around fighting off rustlers and bringing home the beef for that wannabe dude. That’s gotta be it; somebody switched out our kids. How else do you explain it?!”
Unsure what he was expected to say, Morland did the only smart thing he could and said nothing. Following King’s lead, he stood as Henry pushed himself up from his chair. “Well, anyway,” he sighed, taking the shot glass from Morland and stowing the whiskey back in its drawer. “That’s enough about my rotten kid. Hotspur did good today, but he’s getting mighty full of himself. He took two hundred steers off that gudfernuthin Douglas, and do you know how many he sent me? One. Not one hundred, just one. He keeps one hundred and ninety-nine of them, and he gives me one. There wouldn’t even be a Lazy N Ranch if it weren’t for me, and this is the thanks I get from that Percy boy?”
“That’ll be Chester’s doing, I ‘spect,” said Morland sagely, following King toward the door leading into the house. “If he owes a man somethin’, he’ll hold a grudge against him instead of doing him right, and repay him with back-bitin’ and treachery. That’s the sort he is, and that son of his is too proud to see his father for the rat he is.”
“That’s Glen Owen, Arch Douglas, and Chester Percy starting up trouble all in one day,” King growled. “That ain’t no coincidence, Earle; somebody’s lookin’ for a range war.” Henry King slammed the door with Morland’s heels barely across the threshold. He had never done anyone a bad turn who didn’t deserve it, but the West was full of men who had a bad turn coming their way.
Lookin’ for more?
We hope you enjoyed the first episode of our new webseries, The Rise of Hal King. This is just the beginning! New installments will be published every first and third Tuesday. Want to follow along? Click here to read the next episode!
(Featured Image: “Old Western Gun Wide Desktop Background Wallpaper” by Desktopnexus)
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)