Chapter One

In the small town of Agua Fria, New Mexico, history wrote a new page and a legend was forged. Two of the fastest, most deadly, and most feared gunfighters alive, Texas Red and an Arizona Ranger, were pacing off the final steps that one of them would ever take. Within minutes, a fatal bullet would be—must be—fired. Only one will survive. There was eighty feet between them as they walked toward each other on the wooden boardwalk on either side of the street. They had not yet stepped out of the shade and onto the dirt street that would soon claim and absorb the blood of the second fastest.

As they paused for a moment to await the appointed time, both men tipped their hats ever so slightly to the other and nodded with the last remnants, the last vestiges, and last thoughts of friendship or respect. The past week of their lives must now be forgotten and pushed aside. It is time to kill.

They know each other’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. Both men know they have just cause to fear for their lives, and both know without question that the other man could win this gunfight. They know that they may well lose their life, and both gunfighters are too skilled to risk mercy and aim for an incapacitating wound. They must, and they will, aim for an instant kill.

One of them has a draw so blindingly fast that gun-fighting legends refer to it as an invisible draw—a draw so rare there has never been two such elite gunfighters alive at the same time.

However, this master gunfighter has attained such legendary speed at a potentially fatal price. An erstwhile secret injury, openly known since just last night, could render the fastest gun alive as helpless as a child. They resumed their slow but fatal walk to death. With sixty feet between them, they stepped out onto the dirt street, at the appointed time, to take those final steps that one of them would ever take. With fifty feet between them, they could no longer see the other as human, nor could they see anything except what was directly in front of them as both men were so intensely focused, their sight compressed into a tight scope of tunnel vision.

Texas Red chose the appointed day, and the ranger chose the appointed time. It was exactly 11:20 Saturday morning, and there was forty feet between them when they stopped to make their play. Both men reached for their guns at exactly the same instant. There were two gunfighters and two guns, but there was only one blast from a single gunshot, and there was only one tongue of flame, and there was but one cloud of blue-white smoke. The second fastest gunfighter now lay in the dirt street, dying by the second. He has perhaps two minutes to live, and he lives them with the ultimate humiliation feared by all gunfighters—the dying gunfighter never cleared leather.

An Arizona ranger named Kyle Lawton came to Agua Fria eight days ago to arrest, or kill, the outlaw called Texas Red, who has killed twenty men in fast-draw gunfights. In addition, he has robbed stagecoaches, banks, and even trains, resulting in a number of additional deaths. The ranger was packing a customized Big Iron that was one of a matched pair. The other Big Iron belonged to his brother, a Texas ranger who also faced Texas Red. The ranger’s brother was one of the twenty notches carved deep into Texas Red’s gun handle. Although Texas Red was barely twenty-four years old, he is already a vicious killer, and he was forced to flee El Paso and live in New Mexico territory because of the very first notch on the handle of his six-gun; the notch was for a deputy sheriff in El Paso.

Before he was Texas Red, the six-foot, two-inch, 240-pound outlaw was William, William Travis Jr. He has genius-level intellect and is an exemplary college graduate with a master’s degree. Moreover, he was a greatly feared member of his college boxing team, and he is every bit as tough and strong as he looks. Texas Red has flaming red hair, a soft voice, and a disarming baby face smile and equal charm. He is very charismatic, but the angelic face and boyish charm can turn into a raging demon from hell within a single heartbeat. Texas Red aches inside to become famous, more so to become legendary. Others can see this in part, but no more than a tenth of it. Like a dangerous iceberg, 90 percent of the danger remains hidden. It is a hunger and emotional starvation he has felt all of his life. It was relatively easy to hide while in college, but now his internal demon is too powerful to contain and has been unleashed. His hunger and ache to be legendary overwhelms all else, and when it comes to a final choice, even his beloved sister, Lynda, is second.

The incident with the deputy in El Paso did not transform William Travis into Texas Red. The incident was the triggering mechanism that unleashed the outlaw that was already there, and Texas Red would have soon emerged in any event. Although killing the deputy in El Paso was arguably justified, it was the gateway for Texas Red to justify every act, crime, and murder for the rest of his short life. The incident gave Texas Red a guiltless excuse to commit the crimes he would have committed anyway. Eventually, William would have transformed into Texas Red under any circumstances. The incident with the deputy simply made it sooner rather than later.

Accepted by his college to begin studies on a new degree program called a PhD, which has only been available for fifteen years in the United States, William returned home to El Paso to tell everyone the good news and then quickly returned to college. Three months into his studies, William realized he had not received a letter from Lynda in over a month. He had many friends, and he mailed letters to several people he knew, and after yet another month, there was no response from anyone. Then William sent a telegram telling them he was on his way home, and he asked very pointedly and almost threateningly, “I strongly suggest a response. What is wrong?” The only response to his telegram was anonymous, short, cryptic, and worrisome.

Lynda will survive, but she is not well. We fear for your life if you take action.

Two weeks later, William burst into the house and shouted for Lynda. She was in a corner of her darkened bedroom crying and shivering and tightly grasping William’s eighteen-inch, hunting knife. Lynda was catatonic, and it was long and difficult for him to convince her that he was her brother William. Then she dropped the knife, grabbed William, and held him as tight as she possibly could. She cried uncontrollably and could not speak. Then William turned up the light, and he froze in horror and could not believe his own eyes.

It took long seconds of staring at Lynda for William to realize what had happened. He saw Lynda’s misshapen face, viciously and violently beaten and broken from more than one beating. William begrudgingly thought she was lucky to be alive as he looked at the fist and knuckle marks permanently indented into her face and skull. It was an hour before Lynda could tell the story.

It was the deputy. He made lewd advances toward her and demanded an enormous amount of money for his protection. When she refused, he broke into their home, late at night, and beat her senseless and raped her repeatedly as she lay unconscious. He also committed unspeakable acts. Although he returned time after time and despite being observed and followed, Lynda was able to hide and escape all but twice more. When he caught her those times, he now demanded the money and also threatened to kill William while she watched if she did not comply. However, Lynda staunchly refused and unwaveringly withstood the beatings, torment, threats, and rape. She would not give up one dime of their money, and she spat on him and cursed him. The third time was by far the worst beating of all but was fortunate in that this beating required hospitalization where she was out of the deputy’s powerful reach and out of his sphere of influence. The deputy had no concept of the enraged beast that would instantly ignite within William. Everyone thought of William as a…gentle giant. However, the deputy thought of William as a spineless, weak college boy with a soft voice. His misconception would be excruciatingly painful… and fatal.

William was enraged beyond the ability of words to convey. His rage went beyond the wild, screaming, loud rage of verbal threats and mindless actions. Outward, William seemed almost calm. His rage was the quiet, cold, unemotional, calculating rage that went to the marrow of his bones. Someone…was going to die. The deputy showed no mercy; now he would receive none. Not even a quick death.

Lynda mercifully went to sleep on the couch and enjoyed her first real sleep since the nightmare began. She knew in her heart that William would make everything all right. William went to his room and found the gun. It was a six-gun his mother bought for 5 dollars from a man named Reno when she ran away from home at seventeen. The six-gun was a .36 caliber Navy Colt with modifications Reno made for gun fighting, and the gun has a long, tragic history in William’s family. When he was about fifteen, William bought a black, leather holster custommade especially for this six-gun, and he became quite proficient at drawing it. William’s hand speed is so fast that in boxing, his hands always wore the blood of his opponents. This is how William actually got the nickname Texas Red, not because of his red hair. Ironically, he thought the source of the nickname was too violent and refused it. Now his extreme hand speed could easily mean the difference between life and death. However, William does not care about his own life, as long as he fires two bullets into the fat deputy’s belly before he dies.

William went to a friend of his named Saul who owns a gun shop. Saul oiled the holster, cleaned the Navy Colt, and made a batch of carefully measured cartridges with close attention to detail. Saul then took William out back to practice and taught William everything he could in an hour. After an hour, Saul told William that he had the speed but wondered if William had the nerve to pull the trigger when facing a man rather than a target. Saul was amazed at William’s speed, and if William could pull the trigger knowing his bullet will kill a man, this gunfight was already over. Saul continued to shake his head at William’s speed, and William wanted more practice, but Saul knew William would soon become slower rather than faster because of fatigue. William had to go with what he had.

William made certain that Lynda was watching as he called the deputy out into the street. Surprising to some, he did not want to come out, and even from a distance, he could see the look of a killer in William’s eyes. The deputy immediately realized that William did not care about his own life, and William wanted only to avenge his sister, at any cost. The deputy called out that Lynda was a lying whore and he had nothing to do with her beatings. In fact, the deputy claimed he put a stop to them. The whole town then knew the deputy was a coward as well as a liar.

William asked him how he knew this was about Lynda. Then he called out that the deputy was indeed a champion among women and then challenged him to try his skills against a man. William said many things that drew a crowd and generated laughter. It got to the point where the deputy would be an ineffective laughing stock throughout the city if he did not come out and face William. Moreover, everyone knew what the deputy did to Lynda, and everyone knew he prevented her from leaving town.Then the deputy got an idea and finally opened his door and walked out onto the street.

The deputy drew first, long before either man was supposed to draw. Another deputy who was to count down to the draw had not even started. Even at that, the deputy barely touched his gun before two gunshots blasted two holes in his lower abdomen, and the bullets simultaneously bent him double and knocked him backwards. He screamed for mercy with a mouthful of dirt, but it was already too late. The only mercy available to him at this point was a gunshot to the head. He did not know that the teenage William had anticipated exactly what the deputy would do. The deputy was a lifelong bully and tyrant but never a skilled gunfighter. The deputy’s name remains unspoken in order to prevent the tainting of others with a name he made too evil to speak.

William started walking toward the slowly dying deputy, but by the time he got there, William was Texas Red. He then put a bullet through each of the deputy’s shoulders and each of his knees. Then Texas Red mocked the deputy and told him that it was going to be excruciatingly painful for anyone to carry him to the doctor’s office. Perhaps he should walk. The shooting was arguably justified, and the gunfight was more than fair considering the deputy’s early draw. However, such a deputy could not exist without equal corruption and support from higher-up. Not to mention that, corrupt or not, he was a legal deputy sheriff and therefore afforded a measure of latitude by law.

Warned by friends that the deputy was the sheriff ’s first cousin, William and Lynda knew they could not wait until the deputy died; they knew they had to leave El Paso now, and they had to leave El Paso forever. Fortunately, the hospital knew what had happened to Lynda, and they kept her as long as they could. The point being that Lynda’s face has healed more than enough for her to travel in a hurry.

As they feared, within an hour, friends warned them of their impending arrest and near-certain death from hanging or death from manufactured excuses, such as shot while trying to escape or while fighting law officials for a gun. William and Lynda had to leave El Paso, and they had to leave immediately. Since almost all of their money was outside of Texas, their immense wealth was safe and secure. Unfortunately, nothing within Texan borders was either safe or secure, especially their lives.

The doctor was able to slow the deputy’s internal bleeding but could not stop it. It would take two days for the deputy to die, and there was very little the doctor could do for the pain. From the instant William’s second bullet slammed into the deputy’s body, he was on the wrong side of a deathwatch.

Back in their El Paso home, William and Lynda quickly grabbed the things they needed most. William walked into her room, carrying a small travel bag containing not much more than his gun and holster, and he asked her where she wanted to go. Lynda told him they have much of their money in a Santa Fe bank. And since it is over three hundred miles from El Paso, Lynda suggested they return to their childhood home. William agreed and then told her from that moment forward, he is no longer William. He is now Texas Red. Lynda quickly informed Texas Red that he has been William all of her life, and he would continue to be William for the rest of her life. As they walked down the stairs to leave, she still fussed at him and informed him that he was her brother, William, and she would call him by no other name…not politely, anyway.

As they got into their buggy to leave, they heard the last voice on earth they wanted to hear. It was the sheriff. “Hold up a minute. We need to talk here.”

The sheriff walked up to the horse and laid his hand on the back of the horse, and then he pets the horse. He took a deep breath and looked long at Lynda’s face and then looked at Texas Red. “I’m not doubting what your sister claims. I know what he can be, but he is my cousin. At least he is for the next day or two. The doctor says my cousin doesn’t have a chance. If you had killed him quick, I could wrestle with this thing a lot better. But you shot him twice with no intentions of him dying right off, but you made sure he would die. I look at your sister, and I can see some of that, but he’s still my blood, and she is still alive. Why does he have to die while she still lives? That’s the hardest part of what I’m wrestling with. I am really wrestling with this thing, young man. I’m wrestling hard with it, and a lot of it won’t go down. You gut-shot him, and then shot him in each knee and shoulder. That’s vicious, young man, pure vicious. You knew the man was going to die, and you knew your sister was going to live. But you still turned as vicious as a meat ax. This is some powerful poison that you want me to swallow.”

Then he looked at Lynda and nodded. “It’s a sure thing that you have suffered enough, and there will be no more on you. But I do ask that you stay out of the way if the fighting starts.

But to tell you right, I am split right down the middle on this thing.” Then he looked back at William. “So what I am going to do is split your chances of getting out of here alive right down the middle. I will give you what I think is a fifty-fifty chance to survive. That way, we are leaving this thing in the hands of higher powers to decide who lives and who dies. Here’s the deal… I am coming after you with full intentions of killing you. I am going to give you a two-hour head start, and then me and two other cousins are coming after you. You can go in any direction and use any means of travel.” Then he glared at Texas Red with the coldness of death. “Don’t let me catch you, boy. If we catch you, your sister is going to see things she ain’t ever going to forget.”

Texas Red nodded. “Are you saying that if I had shot your cousin between the eyes, it would have watered down and diluted the poison we’re passing around here?”

The sheriff nodded, “Oh yeah. It would have made a huge difference.”

Texas Red pulled his gun out of the travel bag with blinding speed and shot him right between the eyes. “You mean like that?” He grabbed the sheriff and put him in the buggy and positioned his arms like he had been shot in the shoulder. They took off in the buggy and yelled at everyone to get out of the way. When they got to the doctor’s office, Texas Red put the sheriff over his shoulder and easily carried him into the doctor’s office and put him down on an operating table. The doctor looked at the sheriff and quickly looked at Texas Red. “What the…”

Texas Red pressed his gun against the doctor’s body as hard as he could to muffle the gunshot and pulled the trigger. Lynda was in the buggy and never heard the gunshot. Texas Red put the doctor in his chair at his desk and even put a book in his hands. Then he got in the buggy and simply rode out of town like nothing had happened. Lynda never knew that William killed the doctor. As his father had done before him, William, who has now transformed into Texas Red, had to flee El Paso for his life, perhaps Lynda’s as well.

They would soon settle back in the small town they grew up in on the outskirts of Santa Fe. A small town named Agua Fria. Arizona commissioned a ranger, who had been a US Marshal for ten years, to extract an outlaw in New Mexico Territory. Texas Red settled down too close to Santa Fe, therefore territorial officials requested help from the newly organized second formation of the Arizona rangers in 1882. This request was not surprising because New Mexico and Arizona were the same undivided territory less than twenty years ago, and they were still accustomed to being citizens of the same territory.

The US marshal was Kyle Lawton, who for ten years extracted outlaws so dangerous that no one else could face them and take then down. No one else could work alone and do what he did. He was now an Arizona ranger and proud of it. In fact, he prefers the title ranger to his own name. Strangely, he had never felt that way about his title of marshal. At thirty-one years old, the ranger is tired of the ceaseless traveling to Godforsaken places and dangerous little towns. He mocked himself within his own mind that he could call more rattlesnakes by name than he could people. Although proud of his ten years of service as a US marshal, and proud to be a ranger, he is beginning to have fleeting thoughts of settling down and having a family. However, for now he can still brush such thoughts aside, albeit with increasing difficulty. He could have easily gone after Texas Red as a US marshal, but he resigned to become a ranger, and for now he cannot figure out why. The ranger did not yet realize that by resigning as a US marshal and becoming an Arizona ranger, he has taken a very large step toward abandoning his fraternity of rattlesnakes and living among people.

The ranger stands about five feet, ten inches tall and weighs perhaps 180 pounds, but he is a pure gunfighter. Gun fighting was all he did, all he thought about, and all he had ever known. He was the best of the best and well known among outlaws as the fastest gun alive. No man he ever faced so much as cleared leather, and most never got a firm grip on the gun handle. Moreover, Kyle’s reputation as a US marshal was such that many outlaws, who faced criminal charges they could hang for, declined to draw against him. They figured it was better to die later rather than sooner, and they figured they had a much better chance of escaping from jail than escaping from the feared marshal. In addition, he could almost smell an ambush, and in ten years, he was never wounded or so much as marked by a bullet.

With all of that, the ranger is indeed the best. However, he has a fatal secret—a secret injury that is not fatal to his opponents but fatal to himself. An injury that is getting worse and will not heal, and it is an injury that he carries with him to face Texas Red. This injury destroys his ability to defend himself and is an injury that awakes and sleeps according to its own timetable and strikes without warning. In less than a heartbeat, the ranger can plummet from the best gunfighter to the most helpless gunfighter. Most of all, there are no warning signs whatsoever.

He was not exceptionally close to his brother, named Henry, who faced Texas Red and lost. Nevertheless, Henry was his brother, and Kyle swore on Henry’s grave to avenge him and kill Texas Red. That is when Kyle resigned as a US marshal and became an Arizona Ranger. His timing was such that he had a unique choice to either fight Apaches or to accept a commission to New Mexico territory as an Arizona ranger to extract an outlaw. An outlaw called Texas Red. He could have easily become a Texas ranger, like his brother, but Texas rangers do not go into New Mexico territory and, as a rule, neither did Arizona rangers. The ranger could have gone after Texas Red on his own as a civilian, but after being a US marshal for so many years, he was not comfortable with that in the least, because it was too close to being a vigilante. He has seen far too many innocent men at the end of a vigilante rope. He also had too many powerful ingrained memories that generate and create nightmares that he aches inside to erase.

The second formation of Arizona rangers was formed exclusively to fight Apache’s within Arizona Territory. However, Kyle was the best man to send to Santa Fe to help them with a dangerous and feared outlaw. He was the right man, at the right time, for the right job. When presented with his options and choices, Kyle wondered if he was dreaming. However, one thing is now certain, and that is, he will never again go out on the trail as a US marshal. He is done with it.

Kyle Lawton is the Arizona ranger whose gunfight with Texas Red became a timeless legend. Texas Red forced the ranger to wait over a week before they drew leather, which gave Texas Red time to build the gunfight into legendary status. When the week was over, the ranger’s life had changed in ways that he never dreamed possible when he first rode into Agua Fria looking for Texas Red. A lesson the ranger thought he thoroughly learned years ago was etched further into his mind, and this time, it etched deep into his soul—the good guys are not always good, and the bad guys are not always bad. Nevertheless, with all said and done, that’s the way the cards will fall.

The ranger never met an outlaw like Texas Red, and Texas Red has never met anyone like the ranger. The ranger never met an outlaw as intelligent, as wealthy, as educated, or as helpful. Yet when talk ends and actions begin, Texas Red is a vicious killer who must be extracted.

All of this, and Texas Red is but a youth of twenty-four.

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