Chet Matthers sat astride his chestnut mare, his faded tan Stetson shading his blue eyes from the morning sun. The skin on his craggy face was like dark, cracked leather. He wore a long-sleeved shirt and trousers, his feet encased in worn riding boots. A tarnished star was pinned to his chest. His gloved hands held the reins loosely, as he surveyed the land.
The Sonoran desert stretched around him. Prickly pear cacti, mesquite trees, creosote bushes, cholla cacti, and saguaro cacti gave life to the sandy landscape. Red-rock mountains rose in the distance. Even in the mid-morning hours, the heat of summer caused a shimmer in the sand, the shadows making it appear as if a river wove through the desert.
Chet knew better. Out in the Tucson valley, water was a scarce commodity. He carried four water skeins attached to his saddle, along with a rifle and a handgun. Dehydration and the Apache were the most dangerous aspects of the unforgiving environment. He'd ridden out from the town of Tucson at first light to check a portion of the trail that connected Tucson to Phoenix. There had been rumors of Apache in the area, and with the Butterfield Overland Mail carrier coming through that day, one of Chet's duties as a Deputy Sheriff was to scout for trouble ahead of time.
Chet's gaze searched along the ridgeline and behind the vegetation. He looked for fresh horse tracks in the orange-red sand. Clouds drifted overhead, changing the shadows. A pinyon jay laughed at him from the branch of a cholla. He combed the area for over an hour before being satisfied there were currently no threats. With a click of his tongue, he urged his mare to head back toward town.
An Apache scout rose from the tear-drop shade of a prickly pear cactus and jogged the opposite way.