My first shot at a western set in Colorado. I would appreciate any and all feedback!
|Blake Tyler stepped from the coach, his eyes adjusting to the bright Colorado sunshine. His gaze was drawn past the dozen or so unfamiliar faces to the town of Twin Owl Canyon. It was a small, dusty town. No different from a hundred others he had passed through during his thirty-six years. But like many of those, this town held trouble. Trouble, which had summoned him.
Why the town was called Twin Owl Canyon was plain enough. It was constructed in a bowl of peaks, a natural valley that shielded the town from the heaviest snowfall despite its altitude. The valley floor bloomed with vegetation and lodgepole pine. A winding river swept ice-cold currents from the mountains to the Gulf of Mexico.
At the end of the main street, a natural granite rock formation resembling a pair of owls stood silently watching the citizens like mother hens guarding their brood. But the rest of the town was as common as could be found anywhere along the frontier.
On the stage down Lodge Pole Road, Blake Tyler had scanned the rooftops and few smoking chimneys. He estimated the town proper at only four blocks square and surrounded by larger spreads. The main street was longer than most and split the town down the middle, drawing one’s attention to a burying ground set below the Twin Owls.
A small, square jail stood at the opposite end, like the burying ground set apart from the other buildings. The outer shell of the compound was smooth, red adobe, no doubt covering a thick foundation of solid stone. Its position offered a perfect view of any goings on that might transpire. It occurred to Blake that a lone man with a few rifles could pin down the entire street from within the thick walls.
The main thoroughfare contained all the staples of life on the frontier. Small stores separated the bank, the general store, two few saloons. The smell of bread floated from a whitewashed building. The freshly painted sign indicated it was the Red Dolly, offering home-cooked meals and desserts.
As he looked around, Blake could not help but notice how many signboards along that dusty street bore the name Petersen. So prolific was the term that Blake was mildly surprised the town itself was not called Petersen. Jake McGuire hadn't mentioned the name in his letters; perhaps it was of no importance. But whoever Petersen was, he was obviously a man to be dealt with in this mountain settlement.
Blake Tyler looked down at his black boots and worked his neck. The train ride from Boston had been long and cramped, and the dusty stage trip up from Boulder had not been much better. In need of a good bath and a fresh set of clothes, his eyes studied the snow-capped Rockies beckoning in the distance. A cooling breeze licked against the back of his damp gray shirt.
The friendly greeting startled Blake. He scolded himself for being so unprepared. He knew no one here as a friend. He spun toward the voice, finding a scrappy old codger in dusty jeans and a black hat to match.
"You Tyler?" the old man asked, an expression of surprised bewilderment etched on his sunburned face.
"I am," Blake replied coolly, sizing up the man. He was surely unknown here, but it always paid to be careful.
"I reckoned as much. Name's Albert MacGregor, but Mac's okay fer most folks 'round here. I work for the boss and poor Miss Kate. She sent me ta fetch ya back ta the Crooked Tree. I was hopin' it was you. Been checkin 'ever stage fer the last three days."
"Glad to know you, Mac." Blake used a Texas shift to move the heavy leather bag to his left hand, extending his right toward the old man. The man pumped his hand warmly and with a genuine quality, not just a formality, as was the custom for most back East.
"The Crooked Tree very far from here?" Blake asked.
"Straight back yonder," the old man replied, pointing west toward the base of the range. "Takes a bit ta get there, so we better hit the trail."
"Good. But I'd like to find a horse and saddle, first."
"No need fer that unless your mind’s set to it. There’s plenty 'a good horses at the Crooked Tree. Above average for these parts fer sure. And as many saddles as any outfit north of Denver. I’m sure Miss Kate will let you have yer pick of 'em.”
“Sides, we better git."
"What's the hurry, Mac? It will be good to see your boss. Haven’t laid eye on him in quite some time. But I’m sure he want me to lay in a few things along the way”
MacGregor stopped in his tracks and grasped Blake Tyler’s arm.
“Damned I’m right sorry, Tyler!” he exclaimed.
“What’s the matter?”
The old man looked around uncomfortably and leaned in close.
“I plumb forgot to tell you in all the excitement of the stage, but the boss has gone missin!” he whispered hoarsely.
“Missing?” Blake queried. “When in hell did that happen?”
“Three days back. He set out ridin’ after breakfast. Was goin’ ta check on the stock at the base of the ridge and never came back! We been searchin ever since, but no luck. Miss Kate is almighty worried.”
Blake Tyler was worried as well. He understood by the nature of the request that trouble was afoot. He has planned on it as was his nature. But now this news? The trouble was no doubt bigger and the stakes much higher. Was McQuire kidnapped or a casualty of the range?
"Plenty 'a odd things been happenin' in Twin Owl Canyon,” MacGregor continued. “One 'a the reasons yer here, I'd gather. Not good fer a man's health ta be ridin' the trail with the sun settin' in his eyes these days. We’d be smart to head back, ’specially with the boss gone. Team is over yonder."
With that, the old man turned and walked toward a perfectly painted green and yellow buckboard at the end of the block. Blake had no choice but to follow, and his long legs had him alongside MacGregor in a few easy strides.
Blake was the new man in town and as such could already feel the eyes of several townspeople upon him, man and woman alike. Most places, folks took an interest in a stranger with no horse and not much luggage. West of the Mississippi, The combination usually indicated either a carpetbagger or a hired gun. Mountain towns were remote, making a new man all the more an oddity.
Besides, at four inches past six feet, his well-muscled body did not appear to carry nearly two-sixty. The black jeans and gray shirt stretched over his muscled frame made him appear slim. He found people also generally paid attention to the pair of Walker .44's strapped to his thighs. They were clean, well oiled and tied down low, sending a silent message to all who understood.