Death doesn't wait for Preston Diamond in Way-cross, it rides out to meet him. And when the "Presidents' man" arrives in town, Death is not long in catching up.
Way-cross is the hub of an illicit finance and real estate game that has turned sour. High stakes and rampant lawlessness have attracted the attention of the Whitehouse; Diamond has been sent to investigate. Staying alive is a full time job for the emissary though he occasionally allows romantic diversions. Will the most beautiful lady Preston has ever seen be the one to capture his heart? Or will she put a bullet through it?
“What I really need is a different horse. When we reach that settlement yonder, I fully intend to trade you off for a mount with manners.” The bay gelding flicked a could-care-less ear and snorted in response. Preston Diamond had been remonstrating the animal ever since a rather rough landing in the sage had followed an unsolicited fit of bucking. What Preston disliked the most about this particular horse was the streak of meanness or maybe devilry that caused the animal to pitch, or at least try to pitch his rider at the least opportune and most unexpected moments. Diamond had applied the spurs, whacked hell out of him with the reins and rode the horse to a lather but in a day or two the beast seemed driven to pull the stunt again. In other aspects the seven or eight year old gelding possessed the attributes any cowboy could ask for: Tough, cattle wise, a fellow could rope and shoot off him, he worked hard and took it all in stride. The horse could keep up a steady pace all day long and still had the energy to throw his rider at dusk. The winning feature which kept Diamond from actually carrying out his threat of selling the bay was the smooth, ground-eating stride. No matter what gait you coaxed out of him the ride was always the same. “You can drink whiskey from a cup at full gallop and never spill a drop,” had been the promise of the horse-trader who had taken Diamond's money. Well, Preston Diamond didn't often drink and ride and only occasionally did he pose as a cowboy, but the horse was smooth.
The pair —horse and rider— were passing through low scrub brush, sage interspersed with silver berry and the odd patch of aspen poplars. The fading, dual rutted wagon track had wound down from heavy timber higher up on the slope; probably a firewood trail. Before leaving the upper elevation Preston Diamond had glimpsed a town site in the far distance. Features were obscure but he espied a water tower confirming the settlement as a rail-road whistle-stop; a cluster of ubiquitous, inevitably clapboard-sided buildings stood amid tall, probably cottonwood trees, growing along a watercourse. Now, though the town lay obfuscated by the undulating swells of grassland, he could make out a well used trail perhaps a mile and a half or two across the prairie. He presumed that the wagon track would intercept this route sooner or later. No tell-tale dust cloud indicated traffic anywhere.
As the trail passed near a dense clump of buffalo berry the bay suddenly snorted in alarm. This was the second trait Diamond appreciated in the horse. Always on the alert, he had keen senses of hearing and smell as well as incredible eye-sight. Preston slept well in his lonely camp-sites since coming into possession of this equine guard dog. Unfortunately, today's circumstances did not allow sufficient forewarning.
“Hold it right there mister!” a gruff voice rasped as a rather rough looking stranger stepped onto the trail not fifteen feet ahead. The fellow hadn't been in presence of a mirror for quite some time. A week's growth of whiskers going gray along the cheeks suggested he wasn't a kid anymore. Unkempt hair and ragged clothing made a statement of a hurting economy. Wild, crazy eyes gave Diamond no reason to believe the hold-up was a bluff. Furthermore, the authoritative double barrels on the Greener clutched in shaking hands indicated that the man was currently in charge of this little gathering even though he may not be totally in control of his own mental faculties. From the corner of his eye Preston detected a flash of blue colour, a slight movement back in the brush. There were more than one in this party.
“Damn it.” Preston Diamond cursed under his breath as he drew rein.