Blood on the Range is the story of Nathan Todd, a tough, hard-working cowpuncher whose loyalty, quick temper and sense of fair play often get him into situations that test his mettle and his ability to survive. He’s always been content on his own, but that all changes when he meets Bridget O’Connell.
Set in the town of Santa Fuelo, the story follows Nate’s struggle to make a living and raise his standing in the community so that he can court the woman who has finally won his heart. The task at hand is hard enough, but the presence of murderous bandits in the area makes it that much harder.
Overnight, Nate is thrown headfirst into a range war against the cruel and cunning Tunnleys from the Striking S, and their deadly hired gunmen. With bandits on one side and the Striking S on the other, he’ll have to use every skill at his disposal and rely on new allies if he’s to survive and secure a future with Bridget.
“You calling me a liar?” yelled Shaw, pushing Frank aside so hard that he almost fell over and leaning down to thrust his face into the Segundo’s. The young Striking S hand and Chet Rogan leaned back against the bar, smirking at the plight of the two DDT hands and enjoying the show that Shaw was putting on. Nate noticed that they held their drinks in their left hands and that they’d slipped the thongs from their six shooters and had their free hands resting near the handles, ready for action. It seemed to Nate that the Tunnley faction were very keen to begin whittling down O’Connell’s numbers!
By now every eye in the bar was watching the scene and one or two of the more experienced customers, sensing gunplay at hand, had quickly headed for the doors while the getting was good.
Deciding that things had gone far enough, Nate uncurled his lanky frame from the barstool and rose to his feet.
“No he ain’t, Shaw, but I am!” he drawled. Every eye in the bar turned Nate’s way!
“And who the hell do you think you are?” said Shaw, shifting around to face this new annoyance. Chet and the young Striking S hand had turned with him and it was Chet who spoke first.
“Ah hell, Shaw, I know this fella. He’s a no account saddlebum, name of Todd. I reckon he’s just a’beggin’ for a whippin’, sticking his nose in where it don’t belong! What do you reckon, Curly?” he said to the young cowhand who was smirking at Nate.
“I know him, sure enough,” replied Curly with a short laugh, “Why just today I done put him on his ass in the street for all the town to see.” He glanced around the room, showboating like a peacock and was rewarded with a chuckle or two from Shaw and Rogan. “Why don’t you oblige him now and give him the whipping he’s a’hankerin’ for, Shaw!”
“I reckon I will, Curly. I’ll sit him on his ass right here in front of all these nice folks!”
“You may not find it that easy to do,” said Nate, moving away from the bar. “When your friend did it today he had to use a horse and a sidewalk to bring me down. When I put old Chet there down at the dance a while back, all I had to use was a little woman. She cleaned his clock for him good and proper and didn’t even break a sweat!” The crowded room hooted with laughter at the taunt and Chet’s face grew purple with rage.
“Why you…!” Chet snarled, stepping forward, his right hand clawing at his holstered gun.
Quick as a flash Nate stepped forward, his left hand clamping down hard on Chet’s right to prevent him drawing his pistol, while his bunched right fist came flying through the air in a blur and crashed into Chet’s jaw. It was a sickening thud that sounded like an axe handle knocking into a side of beef and Chet’s eyes glazed over immediately. Stepping back quickly, Nate watched as the unconscious Striking S hand crumpled to the floor in a limp heap at the feet of his astonished friends.
Seeing a chance to escape from the wrath of the burly Shaw, the two DDT hands had stepped back quickly and joined the crowd which had gathered around Nate, Shaw and Curly, waiting to see what would happen next.
“You’ll pay for that,” said Curly, his eyes glinting with an angry light. “Get ‘im, Shaw!” he yelled and both Striking S hands whipped their hands down towards their guns…and stopped halfway, their faces pale with fear and their eyes wide with amazement.
As if by magic, Nate’s six shooter had appeared in his hand and was covering them both…before they’d even touched their guns!
“Go on, boys! I’ve got witnesses that this is a fair fight so whichever one of you wants to open the ball, be my guest!”
Nervously they glanced at each other, doubt and fear plain to see in their eyes. Like all bullies, they hated to back down and lose face but this lanky stranger, with the cool, amused eyes, had them over a barrel and they knew it. Slowly they eased their hands away from their weapons.
“Nice and slow like, boys. That’s it. Now why don’t you shuck them gunbelts and take a few steps back. Slowly now…my trigger finger’s a mite itchy today.”
The two furious roughnecks did as they were told, their eyes full of silent fury. Unbuckling their gunbelts, they lowered them to the floor and backed up away from the bar. Still covering them, Nate stepped forward, collected their guns and handed them to Larry, the bartender, all the while keeping his gun covering them.
“See that these boys get their guns back later on, once I’ve sorted out my business with them.”
“Sure thing, Mr Todd, Sir.”
Turning back to the Striking S badmen, Nate eyed them cooly, a slight smile playing across his lips. “You boys are so all fired up for a fight, I reckon I’m going to give it to you. Which one of you wants to take a whuppin’ and which one of you wants to get to lead the other two sleeping beauties home once I’m done?” he asked. This brought a fresh round of laughter from the crowd and all eyes turned to the two men, eager to see what their response would be.
“You’re mighty slick with that gun but if you didn’t have it on I’d break you in half!” growled Shaw, his eyes ugly with hate and his huge hands balled into wedgelike fists.
“Fair enough, let’s see what you can do with your fists, Shaw.” replied Nate, returning his gun to its holster, unbuckling his gunbelt and handing it and his Stetson across to Pete Willis. “I’d be mighty obliged, Pete, if you could hold onto these for me and keep young Curly from interfering while Shaw and I get acquainted.”
“Sure thing, Todd. It’d be my pleasure,” replied the older man, accepting the items from Nate. “Frank, cover that polecat. If he makes a move to interfere in the fight then shoot him. Just in the shoulder, mind, we don’t want no killing.”
“Gladly,” replied Frank, drawing his weapon and levelling it at Curly.
Curly smirked at this foolishness on Nate’s part. He’d seen Shaw in action and was confident in the big man’s ability to wipe the smile off this interfering stranger’s face!
“I’ll stay out of it, you son of a bitch! Shaw don’t need my help, he’s going to hurt you real good!!” he said with a mean smile. “You’re gonna be sorry that you messed with us!”
“We’ll see,” replied Nate with a lazy smile. “Let’s take this fight outside, I don’t want to get his blood all over these nice, wooden floors and I promised the owner that I wouldn’t bust his place up.” Turning on his heel he walked out of the saloon, followed by the crowd. Curly and Shaw trailed them out, grinning savagely at the thought of revenge. Rogan was left lying where he’d fallen, his presence forgotten in the excitement of the looming fight.
Turning in the dusty street, Nate faced Shaw, swinging his arms to loosen them up. A crowd of onlookers had gathered along the sidewalk to enjoy the show and he could hear excited murmurs as they discussed the looming fight and what had happened in the bar. News had spread quickly and more and more people gathered around, some on horseback in order to get a better view. Western folk loved a good fight and everybody had heard about Shaw and his fearsome reputation. There was no way that anybody was missing this spectacle!
Confident in his size, strength and experience, Shaw was showboating for the crowd again, strutting around the rough circle formed by their bodies. He reckoned himself to be more than a match for this interfering stranger now that guns were out of the equation and was looking forward to bloodying his handsome face and making him swallow a few of his even, white teeth! All the while, Nate stood quietly, legs spread slightly apart…watching and waiting.
“Are you going to stand around flapping your jaw all day or are we going to get this done?” asked Nate. “Guess it makes sense though.”
“What’s that?” said Shaw menacingly, turning to glare at him.
“Big fella like you having a big mouth,” replied Nate with a taunting grin and a fire in his brown eyes. The crowd laughed their approval and a scowl spread over Shaw’s face. The knuckles on his bunched fists whitened and Nate knew that he’d hit a nerve.
“Get him, Shaw! Make him pay for that!” yelled Curly angrily.
Shaw needed no encouragement. He hated to be made a fool of and, with a bellow of rage, he rushed in at Nate, fists clenched and murder on his mind. He came in low with arms swinging wildly and Nate met him with a stiff right to the gut which stopped him in his tracks and then a raised knee to the face as Shaw doubled over, pulping the bigger man’s lips and showering his shirt front with blood to an approving “ooooh” from the gathered crowd.
Startled, Shaw stepped back, wiping the blood from his face with the back of his hand. This fight was not going to be the quick and easy victory he’d anticipated, this man Nate could fight. He was going to have to use every dirty trick he’d learnt in his years of fighting.
“I’m gonna kill you for that!” he said, licking his smashed lips and giving a menacing smile.
Nate just smiled and saved his breath. He planned to end this fight quickly. He’d been in many fights over the years but this man was one of the biggest he’d faced, dwarfing his 6’2` frame by four inches and outweighing him by a good sixty pounds.
Closing in quickly, Nate feinted with his left and, as Shaw lifted his hand to block, stepped in and landed a hard right uppercut in his gut, causing the bigger man to grunt! Quickly he whipped in a jabbing left and followed it up with a wicked right cross to the head which knocked Shaw to his knees. This combination had ended many a fight quickly for him in the past but Shaw merely shook his head like a grizzly bear and lumbered back to his feet, circling Nate again and looking for an opening.
Closing in, the two large men stood toe to toe, hammering at each other with gusto while the crowd whooped and cheered. They slugged it out, each measuring up his opponent…each trying to finish the fight quickly!
Stepping in again, Nate tried the same combination he’d succeeded with earlier but this time Shaw was ready for him. He caught the right cross on his shoulder and smashed a ham-sized fist into Nate’s face, which smashed his nose and blurred his vision, and followed it up with a kick to the head as Nate fell to the ground. Dazed, Nate rolled sideways, his nose gushing blood and, more by luck than skill, managed to avoid most of Shaw’s kick, catching only a glancing blow to his back. Sensing an end to the fight and spurred on by Curly, Shaw gripped the front of Nate’s shirt and pulled him in hard to meet a massive right hook, his fist the size of a freight train, which sent Nate reeling into the crowd, a ringing, like the peal of a dozen Church bells, filling his ears.
Their presence was his saving grace as they kept him on his feet and instinct allowed him to duck Shaw’s next wild swing, which floored one of the unwary spectators, and he staggered across the circle formed by the onlookers. Shaw rushed at him but the momentary respite had allowed him to clear his head a little and he desperately smashed a work-toughened right hand into Shaw’s jaw which sent the roughneck staggering backwards and brought him to his knees. Nate backed away, breathing hard, as Shaw got slowly to his feet, blood trickling down his face.
Warily, the two combatants circled each other, both bleeding now from numerous cuts, their breath rasping in their throats. The crowd cheered them on as each probed for an opening, feinting and jabbing. Seeing an opportunity, Nate stepped in, throwing out lefts and rights, each blow whipping Shaw’s head back and bloodying his face further. With a bull-like bellow, the big man stepped in closer, ignoring the blows raining down on his head, gripped Nate around the waist and threw him two metres across the circle, fetching him up against the planking of the sidewalk as the crowd scattered out of the way. It was an amazing display of brute strength and the crowd roared their approval, especially Curly!
Winded, Nate struggled to his feet and faced his opponent who was breathing heavily and glaring at him with hate-filled eyes, one of which was puffy and black. Shaw could fight and he could take a beating, he had to give him credit for that! If he was going to win this fight he’d have to rely on his superior speed to tire Shaw out and, at all costs, he must avoid letting him get a hold of him again! There was no way that he could match the bigger man for power and another grappling match like that could be the end of him! Shaw would have no mercy if he won the fight and would be out to kill or maim him!
If I can get him riled, maybe I can cause him to be reckless and tire himself out, he thought to himself. I’m in better shape than he is so I’ll recover faster…I need to keep him unbalanced and keep him moving!
Moving in close he jabbed quickly with his left, dancing back out of reach when Shaw countered with a wild haymaker. He kept dancing around the bigger man, jabbing and moving quickly out of reach like a mosquito harassing a big bull buffalo. Infuriated, his opponent lumbered around the circle after him, desperately throwing wild punches which kept connecting with nothing but air. The older heads in the crowd nodded their approval; they understood what Nate was up to. A punch that misses uses up more energy than a punch that connects…they were witnessing a boxing masterclass.
“Stand still, damn you!” roared Shaw in frustration, panting heavily as another punch missed its mark! “Quit moving around and fight me like a man!”
Nate had learnt his lesson and had no intention of standing still for another pummelling. Instead he continued with his strategy of wearing down his heavier opponent until Shaw’s lumbering had slowed to a tired shuffle. He was breathing heavily now and Nate sensed that it was time to end the fight!
“Time’s up Shaw,” he said, almost casually, out of puffy lips, the gleam of battle in his eye. “You did well but you’re a bully and size never makes up for skill!”
Stepping in close, he feinted with his left and, as Shaw raised heavy arms to block, changed the position of his feet and unleashed a powerful blow into the bigger man’s belly! Winded, Shaw bent over, gasping for breath and Nate hit him two swift blows to the jaw…right and left crosses, coming from the hips, that made even the more hardened members of the crowd flinch in sympathy! The large brawler fell to his knees, tottered there for a few seconds and then, like a big pine felled by an axe, keeled face first into the dusty street and lay there unmoving.
Nate, stumbling now with exhaustion, watched warily for Shaw to get up but after a while it was clear that he was unconscious. Most of the crowd, after making sure that Shaw wasn’t going to get back up and carry on with the brawl, wandered off chuckling and discussing the fight and he turned to Curly who was standing with his mouth hanging open in amazement.
“I didn’t look for a fight but I reckon you boys will think twice next time you go picking on folks and shooting your mouths off! Load your boys up and get them back to the ranch. I reckon they’ll be abed for a day or two.”
Two members of the crowd stepped forward and helped Curly drag Shaw to his feet and over to his horse while another two fetched Chet Rogan from the bar. The unconscious troublemakers were then hoisted over their saddles and lashed securely into place.
“You done bought yourself a whole lotta trouble, Todd! Jim and Ben won’t let this matter rest and I reckon’ Lolly Tunnley’s gonna skin yer hide for ye!” snarled Curly.
“I don’t want no trouble but I ain’t gonna buck it if it comes along. Shaw had his chance and he lost fair ‘n square. They know where to find me if they want a word.”
Wheeling his horse, Curly left town at a trot, leading the other two horses and ignoring the amused chuckles of the townspeople. There’d be hell to pay when he got back to the Striking S!
Thank you, Christopher Smith
About the author
I’m from Durban, South Africa and I’m a Financial Adviser working for Liberty. I’m 35 years old and I started writing my novel about 4 years ago. I always loved Louis L’Amour novels (as well as Robert Ludlum, Dick Francis and Agatha Christie) and that’s why my first novel is a Western. I’m a rugby fan, a keen fly fisherman and I have an identical twin brother.