“Cold Blood in a Dead Heat”
©Cold Blood in a Dead Heat
A novel by James Gilbreath
It was July 4, 1882 and, while the rest of the country was celebrating Independence Day, R.L. Hadley’s Protective Agency had a job to do. Avery Willon had hired Hadley to ride guard over Willon’s twenty mule team freighter wagons loaded with oil drilling equipment from Port Arthur on the Texas coast to Nacogdoches, over a hundred miles away.
was an important job and Hadley had nine of his best men on it. His head man was
Mack McKenzy, who had been a policeman in
Mack McKenzy had red hair and freckles and looked like a kid, even though he was thirty-one years old. He did not look tough, which was a major deception. In fact, all the men working for Hadley Protective Agency were tough men who knew how to use their fists, their guns and their brains.
The agency had done work for Avery Willon before, but this was the most valuable cargo they had ever transported, for him or anyone else. It was also going to pay more than any other job.
Willon had been in the port town picking up a
shipment of equipment, but he also met a friend of his from
was why Hadley had his best men. They had to get their cargo through the most
overgrown thicket of land in
Hadley trusted all the men he hired, but he figured the fewer who knew about the diamond, the better. That’s why only he and Mack McKenzy knew about the precious cargo. Of course his men would figure something was up, having that tight of security on a bunch of freight wagons. But they did their job without question.
It was early morning and the sky was just starting to lighten to a purple, gray in the east. The men were hitching the teams of mules and saddling horses. Everything appeared normal.
R.L. Hadley and Mack McKenzy were in Avery Willon’s hotel room for the last time. Willon was short and fat, with a big cigar sticking out of his fat cheeks. It did not matter that he was ugly, because he was rich. That was his philosophy. And he had a young, beautiful wife to prove it.
He stood across the table from Hadley and McKenzy and laid a beautiful, hand carved, oak box in front of them. He opened the box and exposed the greed and beauty of generations of royalty and wealth. It was breathtaking, lying in a state of black velvet. Nobody said anything. They just stared at the diamond. Throughout history, how many people had died over such as that? Willon closed the box and the trance was broken.
Willon picked up the box and handed it to Hadley who immediately wrapped it in an inconspicuous cloth and dropped in one of the saddlebags he had hanging over his left shoulder. Willon then handed Hadley a leather envelope containing $25,000.00, half payment for the job.
other $25,000.00 will be waiting for you in
Hadley reached across the table and shook Avery Willon’s hand then the two agents left the hotel and joined the others at the stables. Everything was ready to go. Hadley threw his saddle bags across his horse’s back and buckled it under the brown gelding’s belly.
sun was just barely in the cloudless sky as they headed north out of
Graylee Creadeaux had twenty men strategically placed to bottle up the caravan and make the job complete. He had an inside man, so he knew where they would be and what they were carrying. His twenty men could get the job done, but not without great losses. That was part of his plan, too, because he was a selfish man. We was an only child and he just never learned to share.
Graylee Creadeaux was a big man with a thin beard and sharp, well defined eyes, and he was always well dressed. Even out here with his men, ready for battle, he wore a tailored suit with a vest. A gold chain was draped across his abdomen. Around his hips, in a hand-tooled holster, was a pearl handled forty-four colt. The silver plated barrel had etched scrollwork from cartridge to sight. He had a fancy derringer he kept under his belt, and a silver knife he kept in a boot scabbard. He had another pistol hidden in a special made holster under his left arm. He knew how to use each weapon, including his Henry rifle, with precision accuracy.
heart was cold and hard as stone. Only one person mattered, Graylee Creadeaux. Everyone
else was expendable. That was his philosophy taught to him by his daddy, who
once owned and operated most of the gambling casinos in
His mother was a black prostitute who had worked for his daddy. She had died of a drug overdose when Graylee was a young boy.
Now he was a man and he lived to conquer and add to his wealth. So, with all his men in place, he was ready to do just that. He had himself positioned where he could see the, soon to be, combat zone through the trees. His men were ready, and so was he, ready for anything, and everything. No matter what else happened, he planned to leave there alive and free.
afternoon was hot and humid as Hadley and his men trudged their way along the
narrow road that had been cut through the overgrown bottomland of southeast
The man next to Hadley turned to say something, but only a gasp came from his open mouth. The man’s body was falling before the sound of the rifle shot finally reached them. Before the body hit the ground bullets were buzzing like bees from a stirred up hive.
As chaos erupted, with men shouting and falling, Hadley jumped from his horse, not worrying or even thinking about the diamond packed in his saddle bag. He had to stay alive. That was his first concern.
He ran to the lead mules and got down between them to work his way back to the wagon they had been pulling. The animal were jumping and kicking, trying to get away, but there was nowhere to go with the brake on. The legs of the mule beside Hadley buckled and the animal fell. This turned the other mules into wild creatures. Hadley was kicked so many times he stopped noticing. He was almost crushed between the animals several times.
The other men were returning fire as they searched for cover, of which there was little to be found. The hostile fire was coming from every direction.
Hadley finally made it to the front of the wagon where he was partially covered by a dead mule that was being held up by the wagon tongue. He also found cover behind one of Willon’s drivers, whose body hung from the wagon seat.
Hadley saw some of the attackers, as well as his own men, fall. He knew he had dropped four, maybe five, of the opposition, himself. He knew the numbers had been cut drastically on both sides. As best he could tell he still had at least six men who were not dead or wounded.
Through the trees, on a rise about four hundred yards away, he kept getting glimpses of a man in a suit on horseback. In all this bedlam, Hadley’s mind considered it odd for a man to be wearing a suit out here. Just as quickly his mind snapped back to the job at hand as he fired and hit a man who was running from one tree to another.
Hadley watched as another of his men fell. He also didn’t have to worry about his horse running away with its valuable cargo. The once beautiful animal was lying in a heap, blood trickling from behind its ear. A brand new rage welled up in R.L. Hadley, a primeval thing, which drove him to survive only to kill. Nothing else entered his mind.
Hadley was sure the man in the suit wasn’t an innocent bystander. In fact, he was probably in charge of this slaughter. He looked like the generals in the war, staying back away from the main fighting while others died. Hadley looked around to figure out a way he could get to that man. As his eyes carefully scanned the landscape, he found a place which seemed to be void of the enemy. It would be about a thirty yard run in the open, but he had to try.
He shot out from under the wagon and, with a zigzagging motion, made his way to the trees. Bullets were whistling past him, but he managed to stay between them.
As he ran into the woods, he surprised a man, who turned to fire, but Hadley had the advantage. He didn’t have to turn. The enemy was short one more man.
At the sound of running, Hadley spun to see four of his men running to join him. One dropped in the open, but three made it to his side. They were the last of his men and they would never give up. He knew them. They would all go down fighting.
The shooting had stopped, except for random gunfire, which confused Hadley if, indeed, all his men were dead, except those with him. That thought faded as Hadley quickly told his men the plan to get the man in the suit. They quickly went into action without a second thought. All of them had fought in the war and were experts in guerilla warfare. What they didn’t realize was, the men they were fighting were veterans, too.
Graylee Creadeaux had dismounted and was standing behind a huge pine tree, about four hundred yards from the wagons dead-in-the-road, with his Henry in his hands. He began to fire and each time he did, a man went down with a bullet in his back, because most of his men had their backs to him.
He had watched the four men run into the trees and knew that’s all that was left of the opposition. He wasn’t worried about them, but he still had six men of his own to get rid of. He grinned a demonic grin as he shot another one of his men in the back. They were so spread out they didn’t realize what was happening.
Hadley’s men split up and started through the woods. Each man moved quietly, step by step. One man stopped under a pine tree and looked around. Some needles fell on his shoulder and arm causing him to immediately throw his body away from the trunk as he twirled around to land on his back. Before he hit the ground he was firing up into the tree at the same instant the would-be ambusher fired. The man fell through the pine branches, dead before he hit the ground. Hadley’s man lay on the ground, mortally wounded.
Two of the dry-gulchers stood with their back to each other, looking around before they walked on. Just as they turned and started forward, one of Hadley’s men came from the brush behind them and shot them both in the back. As they were falling another bushwhacker shot Hadley’s man in the back. The murderer grinned and turned. When he did, he looked right down the barrel of R.L. Hadley’s six shooter. That was the last thing the man saw.
Hadley crouched down low, his eyes darting. He was having flashbacks of the war. That was the last time he had seen fighting like this. His last man was sneaking through the woods looking for the enemy to kill. He did not see the man in the suit, but Graylee Creadeaux saw him through the sights of his Henry rifle. He squeezed the trigger. The rifle jumped and Hadley’s man was slammed against a tree.
As Graylee cocked his rifle and stared down the sights, one of his own men stepped into view. The man smiled and made a motion to his boss, letting him know he had made the hit. Graylee was incensed. He didn’t need an insubordinate telling him something he already knew.
As he looked at the man smiling up at him, he smiled back and squeezed the trigger. The man died with a strange look on his face. His body fell beside Hadley’s man. Graylee Creadeaux was quite pleased with himself.
A deadly sound made the blood freeze in his veins. He had been so intent on his killing he had let a man get behind him. R.L.Hadley cocked his gun to shoot the cold-blooded killer in the back. He heard the shot, but he did not remember pulling the trigger. He heard another shot, but his gun still had not been fired. Something was burning inside. His hand tightened around his gun and it fired into the dirt. Then he fell. His face hit the ground and blackness engulfed him. The Hadley Protective Agency was dead.
Graylee Creadeaux had spun at the sound of the man behind him, ready to kill before he died. He was not one to just let death happen to him without a toll to pay. When it came to dying, he planned to do it killing. Killing Graylee Creadeaux would have a heavy cost.
He turned to see Mack McKenzy with a gun in his hand standing behind the body of R.L. Hadley. Mack had saved Graylee’s life. Mack had also given Graylee the information needed to pull off this job. Mack McKenzy had been on Graylee Creadeaux’s payroll for over ten years.
Without a word of gratitude, Graylee said, “Let’s go down and get our just rewards.” The two men smiled then started laughing. They had done it. And it looked like they were the only two left alive to split the booty.
Mack followed as Graylee mounted up and rode his horse down to the road and over to Hadley’s dead horse. He had personally shot the animal to insure it didn’t run away with the very thing that had brought them all together in the first place. Graylee dismounted as Mack trotted up behind him. He literally ripped the saddle bags from under the heavy animal. The man’s strength and power made Mack gasp for a breath of the hot, heavy air.
Graylee reached a big hand into the pouch and pulled out the cloth with the box wrapped in it. He unwrapped the box and opened it. The sight was blinding in the sunlight. He squinted his eyes and watched the light play on each facet. Finally he closed the box to break the spell cast by the diamond’s brilliance.
He looked at Mack and pitched the saddle bags to him. Mack reached in and took out the leather envelope. He opened it up and looked greedily at the $25,000.00 inside.
“The money’s yours.” Graylee said. “I keep this.” He patted the box.
“That was our deal.” Mack smiled. “And I can live with that.”
Graylee took a casual look around at the death and destruction he had caused then he walked over to his horse and put the diamond into his own saddlebag.
This is where we part company, my friend. You saved my life and I won’t ever forget it.” Because he resented the fact that he felt indebted to the man.
“I was glad to do it, Mr. Creadeaux. I’m sure you would have done the same for me.” Graylee smiled that evil smile, knowing he would not have done the same. Mack mounted his horse and looked down at the big man. “I’ll be seeing you.”
“Yeah, I’ll be seeing you.” He replied as Mack turned his horse and started it walking away from the death scene. Graylee pulled his pearl handled forty-four and added, “In hell.” Before Mack could turn around the big man fired two shots into his former employee’s back. The body fell forward against the horse’s neck and fell off into the road. The horse took a couple of steps and stopped.
led his own horse over to Mack’s and pulled the leather envelope from the
saddlebag. He pulled out the money and threw the envelope in the dirt beside
Mack’s body. He opened his jacket and slipped the money into his already fat
billfold, then he mounted up and headed his horse a little farther north then