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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| December 30, 2018 Views: 110|
Chapter 2 of the book Gun For Hire
A runaway team endangers two.
by Catherin Elizabet Belle
The pale yellow of the dawn creeps above the mountains into the Hotel room the bed squeaking every time Jeb breathes. He has been silent for a time. Cal lies on the floor head resting on his boots wondering if Jeb will go on with his story.
The rooster's crow echoes through the atmosphere as Jeb speaks. "We had a small ranch near the border. The Indians called it Burned Valley because of the black lava flows. Pa and Ma moved there from Virginie in the forties; they started out with one bull and two cows. No sign of any white man living there, a few Mexican's near the border towns ten-twelve miles south. It wasn't unusual to see Apache riding in the distance, most times they didn't stop. Pa laid claim to a thousand acres of open range. There's good grazing, but tough going. He had a few drovers. Pedro from Mexico had the most experience. Rio was a drifter when he hired on, didn't know whether he was Mexican or Apache, didn't matter he was a good drover. Pa was never sure whether he'd stay or not. One day while out on the range Pa found Dan near death with an arrow in his back. He was ten miles from the cabin; no horse, no saddle, no water. Pa packed him home and Ma nursed him back to health. One morning Pa went out to the barn to find Dan and one of his best horses gone."
A few days later Dan rode back into the corral with his saddle and a big buck. He put his saddle in the barn, presented the buck to Ma and went back to work. According to Ma, Pa never said a word.
After the first year or two they traded in the border towns for coffee, sugar, salt, beans, and flour; things scarce on the prairie. Times were hard. Ma traded with the Apache; she even saved a young Indian boy with a high fever. No one thought things could get much worse, then war came to the valley.
With the annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845 a boundary dispute resulted in the Mexican American War. Hostilities on both sides of the Rio Grande brought constant raids. Rustlers or the Apache stole the cattle. When the war ended my folks were worse off than when they first settled in Burned Valley with the bull and one cow. The war ended a year after I came into this world. Ma used to bring the cow in to the cabin, laughing, "Well, that's what Pa always said."
After the war Pa rebuilt; Rio, Dan, and Pedro stayed with the ranch. They rounded up stray longhorns as they had done when they first arrived; tweren't many of the ornery critters but enough to increase the herd. Pa sure kept that old bull busy, tweren't long afore we had a slew of calves, heifers, and steers running the range.
Jeb pauses with his story. As he shifts his weight the rickety bed screeches. The sun peeks through the window brightening the gray of the room. He notices that Cal is sitting up leaning against the wall. Reaching for his gun belt he says, "How about getting breakfast, Cal."
Cal is disappointed that Jeb doesn't continue his story. The lawmen pull on their boots. "Sounds good Jeb, here or at the Cantina?"
Standing to the side he glances out the window as he hears riders passing. They are moving toward the outskirts of town where a rooster struts his stuff, Jeb smiles remembering the old rooster back home that always attacked him when he left the barn.
"Jeb, why're you grinning?"
He turns from the window with a wide ass grin. "Just sumthing I was remembering back when I was a boy on the ranch."
When he says no more Cal picks up his hat and heads for the door. "Well, let's get them vittles." Jeb follows him down the stairs where Cal veers from the dining room and steps out on the porch. Without a word the lawmen walk to the cantina. It's quiet this time of morning with one or two patrons. Over in the corner the Sheriff sits. "Howdy boys, sit a spell." He hollers, "Carmelita, steak and eggs, dos; and coffee, muy pronto."
Carmelita sets the steaming plates in front of the lawmen, refilling the coffee. As they finish chowing down the sheriff sits back and rolls a smoke asking, "You boys hanging here a while?"
The lawmen eyeball each other across the table. With a slight nod from Cal, Jeb says. "Nah, Sheriff we'll be moseying on down the trail."
As he stands he sticks out his hand to the two. "Well, boys, if you're ever up this way stop in, I'll buy you a beer." The sheriff steps out on the stoop in time to see the stage pull into the station. His horses are lathered having been run full out. Well, Damn! Pete's real early. He's not due till four o'clock.
He ambles toward the station as the driver steps off the box. "Howdy, Sheriff, just the man I wanta see."
"Pete, whatcha got?"
Pete is assisting the passengers from the coach. "Sheriff, the Winter's relay station back down the trail burned to the ground. Ma & Pa Winter are dead. Dust raised from horses was off to the west couldn't tell where they were hightailing it. Didn't stay to bury them, had to get my passengers here."
"Apache or renegades?"
"Don't know for sure, could be renegades. Saw arrows sticking in the charred wood." Shaking the dust off his hat and clothes he continues, "Damn shame. Good folks! Sheriff what you gonna do?"
"I'll take a ride out and bury the folks." Seeing Cal and Jeb leave the cantina he hails them, "Boys, how about doing me a favor."
Jeb asks. "Whatcha got in mind?"
"The Winter's way station 50 miles east of here was burned out; the Hostler and his wife killed. Need to bury the folks and see if we can find who done it; Apache or border renegades." Looking toward the edge of town where the heat waves obscure the scrubs. "Ride out with me. I could use help, Marshal."
Jeb and Cal agree. "We'll pick up our gear and meet you at the sheriff's office."
As they head for the hotel. "Jeb, guess you're marshaling again."
As they reach the porch. "Cal, I'll get the horses and meet you." Cal bounds up the stairs two at a time, grabs their bedrolls and returns to the desk. He hands the key to the clerk, tips his hat to the old timers in the dining hall; and walks out into the bright sun parching the dry dusty ground.
Reaching the livery Cal goes back to the stall where the mustang is standing. The smell of hay tickles his nostril, a pleasant and familiar smell. Jeb's mount is saddled, and he is just tightening the cinch on Cal's mustang. Cal ties the bedrolls behind the saddles and the two are ready to ride.
Reins in hand they walk their horses toward the sheriff's office; they aren't surprised when he meets them in the middle of the dusty street. "Boys, you got plenty of lead? Don't know what's out thar."
"Sheriff, we'll stop by the mercantile. Where'll you be?"
Looking off down the street toward the livery he says, "I need to see Bill at the mercantile; then saddle Old Paint, say 20 minutes."
As the three lawmen step into the store, the sheriff says. "Bill I need grub for two weeks on the trail, two boxes of cartridges." He sets the items on the counter for the sheriff who places them in the saddlebags he's toting.
Turning to the other two lawmen he asks, "You boys with the sheriff?" Looking up from the counter, "What can I do for you?"
Cal steps forward, "Same as the sheriff there." Grinning, "And a piece of that licorice stick candy." Hearing a ruckus in the street the sheriff starts toward the door with the two men right behind him. A runaway team is barreling down on a small child crossing the street. Cal is the closest and dashes in to the street grabbing the boy. He drops to the ground covering the boy, and rolls to safety. As the team races past Jeb leaps to his horse chasing hell bent for leather after the buggy.
Cal lifts the little boy from the swirling dust as a young frantic mother dashes out grabbing him from his arms. She hugs him tight to her breast. Wiping the tears and dirt from his little face she turns. "Thank you, Mister. Thank you for saving my boy." As she starts back to the walk she is berating the little one for not staying where he was told.
Cal tips his hat to her and looks to the edge of town where he sees Jeb driving the team and carriage back into town with a very frightened young lady sitting beside him. The sheriff walks out to meet the wagon. "Miss Julie what spooked the team."
Her bonnet is trailing down her back, her ebony hair flying loose. Dust smeared on the tear stained face as she tries to straighten her pale blue dress covered with a heavy layer of dust after the wild ride. "Oh, Seenor Sheriff, Don't tell Pa he will have a fit."
The sheriff looks down the street smiling. "Miss Julie, I won't tell him. But you better think of something fast he jist left the bank."
Jeb steps from the wagon offering to help Julie, but she refuses. "I'm okay Senor."
The sheriff laughs. "Yup, Miss Julie, till your Pa gets here." Stepping back from the wagon, "Boys, it's time to mosey."
Cal and Jeb follow the sheriff back into the mercantile. Cal asks. "Sheriff, what's that you said out there. Is the little lady in trouble?"
"Boys, that little gal is not supposed drive the team. She returned from Mexico City where she has been living a genteel sort of life with an aunt. She knows nothing of the life out here. Her Pa is gonna be real mad. He lives for that gal."
Turning back to gathering their supplies from Bill, "You boys ready?" Picking up the saddle bags the lawmen mount and turn east out of town. Before they get ten paces Miss Julie's pa, the banker, hails the three. "Senor Calder. My daughter tells me you saved a small boy."
Cal grins sticking out his hand. "Senior Chaves, a pleasure to see you."
Taking Cal's outstretched hand he asks, "Sheriff, who ees the boy?"
From the saddle the sheriff answers. "The boy is the blacksmith's grandson. He's not hurt, just shook up. His ma was chiding him sumthing fierce."
Senor Chavez offers his hand to Jeb. "My daughter tells me you stopped the team and drove the rig back to town. You have my gratitude, Senor Smith." As the three lawmen ride off Senor Chavez is spewing Spanish at a rapid staccato. His daughter's head is bowed in contrition.
Chuckling, the sheriff leads the trio out east of town toward the open prairie. He sets a steady pace across the valley and into the foothills of the Mountains.
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