Until Morning Comes

By: Peggy Webb

(The Mississippi McGills, Book Two)

Chapter One

“Hold it right there.”

Colter Gray Wolf thought he was hearing things. Maybe he'd been in the desert too long. He shook his head to clear it and knelt closer to the stream.

“I'm talking to you, Indian.”

He felt something poke into his bare back. It was unmistakably the barrel of a gun. Automatically, he lifted his hands above his head in an act of surrender. The person speaking was obviously a maniac, and he wasn't going to take any chances.

“Don't shoot. You can have whatever you want.”

There was the unexpected sound of giggling behind him, then wheezing and snorting.

“I don't want anything you've got. I just want you.” Colter felt his hands being dragged down and lashed behind his back. Then the gun dug into his flesh again. “Now get up real slow and turn around.

Colter stood up and faced his captor. The person holding him captive was a bantam of a man, with a full head of curly gray hair and bright blue eyes staring out from a deeply tanned and wrinkled face. And he was holding a twelve-gauge, double-barrel shotgun. The man didn't look like a hardened criminal. Perhaps he was just frightened. Colter decided to try a friendly approach.

“I don't believe we've met. I'm Dr. Colter Gray from—”

“Quiet.” The gun stabbed toward his rib cage. “If you're a doctor, I'm the Queen of England.” The old man giggled again.

Colter's diagnosis was swift. Senile dementia. The old man was probably harmless, but he was holding a gun. Speaking slowly and clearly, as if he were talking to one of his patients, Colter tried to reason with the man.

“I mean you no harm. I'm camping two miles from here, and if you'll untie these ropes, I’ll leave and you'll never see me again.”

“Heck, what do you think I captured you for? I've been looking all over these parts for somebody just like you.”

“Why do you want someone like me?”

“The two of us are going to be a team. I'm the Lone Badger, and you'll be Toronto. We’ll make a fortune with our act.”

Colter stifled his chuckle, for he knew the man didn't consider his bizarre suggestion funny. And once again he marveled at the Father Creator's wisdom. Having a loved one become senile was a devastating blow for a family, but God had added the humor to compensate.

He decided to try one more tactic.

“That's a great idea. All we need now is a horse. Why don't you untie me so I can help you catch one?”

“And let you run away? Shoot, I wasn't born yesterday. Nor the day before, either.” The old man poked the gun into Colter's ribs. “March.”

Colter briefly considered kicking the old man's legs out from under him and trying to get away, but that posed too many problems. The gun could go off. Even if it didn't, even if he managed to kick the gun away, too, his captor might get to it quickly enough to shoot Colter in the back. And he hadn't come all the way to Tucson to get shot.

He did as he was told.

Jo Beth was feeling great. She'd had a successful outing with her camera—photographing the giant saguaro cactus—and her dog hadn't scared up a single rattlesnake. That was one of the things she'd been worried about when she'd taken this assignment in Arizona. Rattlesnakes. That and her parents. Sara and Silas McGill were getting old. And although her brother Rick had hired full-time help for them, she felt guilty leaving them with strangers so much. So when she'd left Tupelo, she'd brought them with her.

Her mother hated the desert, but she endured it with good grace, as she endured everything. It was her father Jo Beth worried most about. His mind was getting worse and worse. Lately he'd begun to think of himself as Rooster Cogburn. He'd even begun to talk like that crusty old outlaw.

She lengthened her stride when her borrowed cabin came into view. The Santa Catalina Mountains rose up behind it, and lights glowed in the window. It looked homey and cozy. But the lights reminded her that it would soon be dark. She hadn't meant to leave her parents alone for so long.

Her golden retriever ran ahead of her, waving his tail in the air and panting with happiness. Suddenly the dog stood still, the hackles rising on his back. Jo Beth caught up to him, bent down, and put her hand on his collar.