“I know you like the back of my hand.” It had been Bart’s favorite saying, his way of letting Pete know who was boss.
He might as well have said, “I’m watching your every move.”
And that seemed fair enough — after all, cattle rustling was a dirty, cutthroat business. It had afforded Bart and Pete a good living, but any wrong step could be their last.
Between the Canyon County sheriff and posses of ranchers and other outlaws, neither Bart nor Pete could spit their chaw without hitting an enemy.
Heck, that’s why Bart had hit on the idea of building a ranch in the first place — they’d start with some cattle they bought legitimately, then steal some calves and blend them in with their own herd. Over time, they’d have enough heads to hide even rustled adults among their stock.
And all of them would be marked with the Cracked Cactus Ranch brand.
The plan had worked to perfection the first couple of years, until Luke Towson jumped Pete one day while he was working the ranch.
Luke laid out what he knew, which was plenty, and said he was going to the sheriff unless Pete took him to Bart. Seeing no other option, Pete led Luke out to Buzzard’s Gulch, where Bart had been holed up for months.
“Leave us be,” Luke had said.
Pete cast a sheepish glance at his partner, then turned and rode into the desert.
“You haven’t seen the last of me!” Bart called after him.
The first shot rang out before Pete had ridden a hundred yards. Next morning, that first blotch showed up on his hand.
And now, a week after Bart’s demise, it was fully developed — a cactus, with a big crack right down the middle.