A hanging party rules the badlands and a lone rider races for his life. Falsely accused of back-shooting a man as he stood sipping whiskey in a saloon, Matt Keelock takes on a posse of angry men with no more backup than his smoking Colt and a sure-footed horse. It's one against many--but there's a hundred twists to every trail as the posse suddenly finds the hunters have tumed into the hunted.
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December 31, 1971
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Excerpt from The Key-Lock Man by Louis L'Amour
The man called Key-Lock was a man alone, and before him lay wilderness. Behind him were searching men, and each was armed, each carried a rope. Each rope was noosed for hanging, and each man was intent on the purpose of the chase.
The solitary rider did not fear his aloneness, for he had the companionship of the mind. He had strength also, patience beyond that of most men, and some knowledge of the wild lands into which he rode. If the men who pursued knew nothing of him, he at least knew their kind, and was stronger because of this.
They were men shaped and tempered to the harsh ways of a harsh land, strong in their sense of justice, ruthless in their demand for punishment, relentless in pursuit. In the desert and the wilderness they had built their homes, and from the desert and the wilderness they drew their courage and their code. And the desert knows no mercy, the wilderness shows no kindness.
Before the man called Key-Lock lay a land fragmented and torn, a magnificent land, gnarled and ancient. It was a land of shattered battlements, broken towers, and the headless figures of vast and shapeless gods. An empty land, yet crowded with epics in stone, harried by wind and thunderstorm, ripped by flash floods, blistered by summer's heat, frozen by winter's cold.
He rode now in Arizona, but beyond the horizon to the north lay Utah, and between himself and the border, a desert. Between himself and escape--if he chose to escape--lay an almost waterless waste in which he must trust to his ingenuity to keep him free.
The border lay ahead, but the border was merely a line on a map, and did not exist in the minds of the men who pursued him. If they knew of this border, it would have no place in their thinking, for to them he had already crossed another border, a border between the law and the lawless, between the right and the wrong, between what was done and what was not done.
To kill a man who faced you with a gun was in their minds no crime, nor was it a crime in the customs of their period. In the East and in Europe men settled affairs of honor with pistols, but according to plan and ritual. In the West, in what was a new world, where men were often strangers to each other, the settling of such an affair was immediate, and without ritual.
To shoot a man in the back, however, was a crime, and this they believed he had done, and for this he must be hung.
But it was not enough for the man called Key-Lock to understand the philosophy of the hunters; the important thing for him was to escape them.
Though he knew none of the men back there personally, he knew there must be good men among them, and on a different occasion he might have been riding as one of them, the pursuer instead of the pursued. For he had worked beside such men, fought beside them, and he knew that they were hardworking men, stern but just, according to their code. When such men come to a new land the law comes with them, for they are builders of homes, builders of towns, layers of foundations.