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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| January 1, 2019 Views: 164|
Chapter 5 of the book Gun For Hire
Where did the killers go?
"Searching for tracks"
by Catherin Elizabet Belle
Come morning the sky is heavy with storm clouds a north breeze whistles through the clearing. Old grey weather beaten timbers of what was the station still smolder. Cal takes the shovel spreading the live embers with dirt smothering the fire. Jeb joins him working together until the last ember is out.
The sheriff saunters toward the boys as they lean on the handles of the shoves. "Cal, you got injun smarts look for sign that might tell me who or at least what direction the varmints lit out."
Cal picks up the shovel leans it against sagebrush. Jeb follows. "Cal you better get with it before that squall gets here."
Nodding, Cal moves toward the section of the corral trampled but not charred. It's been almost four days since the raid he doesn't expect to find anything. He takes his time slowly moving in ever widening circles. About three hundred yards from the corral he picks up hoof prints, among them is one that has a gouge that leaves a vee shaped mark in the soil. He hollers, "Sheriff over here."
When the sheriff arrives he says, "See this flaw in the horseshoe? Some hoof prints are of shod ponies with a few unshod, but it's hard to tell."
Further out where the land has not been trampled Cal sees the tracks of six or seven horses. "Sheriff looks like their heading south."
The sheriff gazes toward the south as drops of rain pelt the dry thirsty soil. The lawmen walk back to the horses pulling out their slickers from behind saddles. "Well, boys, I'll be heading back to Santa Fe."
Jeb looks up at the sky. "Stay the night?"
"Naw! Storm won't last long. I'll be takin' the stage road." Stepping into the saddle he offers his hand to Cal. "Deputy, You'll do to ride the trail with." Taking Jeb's hand, "Marshal, glad I knowed you."
Cal and Jeb tip their hats as the sheriff turns and lifts his hand in farewell. The compadres watch as he disappears around the bend dust flying out behind the fast trotting hoofs.
Turning Cal walks to where their horses are tethered. "Let's move back into the trees away from the station, set up camp and leave early in the morning."
Jeb nods picking up the reins of his mount following Cal into a clump of juniper. "Let's set up camp at the edge of the juniper, Cal. You think those hombres will come back?"
"Jeb, you're thinking good. Nah, but it don't hurt to keep watch." Taking the canteens and saddle bags Cal moves a few feet into the clearing while Jeb gathers kindling to start a fire. While the rain turns to drizzle, across the clearing high on the mountains the western horizon blazes with the brilliant reds and yellows of the setting sun. The two lawmen sit cross legged around the blaze as the wood turns to red hot embers. Cal places the pot on the edge of the coals to boil coffee.
A buzzard soars over the decimation of the way station cawing disgust his free meal disappeared. Jeb takes a piece of jerky passing one to Cal as he pours two cups of coffee. Sipping the brew and gnawing on the jerky gazing into dying embers they listen to the night sounds at home in the wide-open spaces. The prairie turns to ebony as the final rays of the setting sun fade beneath the western hills. Filling the cups again with the brown elixir they move into the grove with the horses and spread their bedrolls.
The weathered lawmen stretch out, heads on their saddles guns resting near their gun hand, hats pulled low over their eyes. Silent, they listen to the flap of the owl's wings in his nocturnal flight, a rodent scampering across the pine needles on the forest floor. The lonesome howl of a coyote somewhere high on the mountain echoes through the night.
The whinny of the ponies puts the lawmen on alert. Cal slips from his bedroll moving deeper in the shadows as Jeb wraps his fingers around his hog leg. A few minutes elapse 'til Cal returns to his bedroll. "A bobcat on the prowl, he moved off into the forest."
The rest of the night passes undisturbed. With a faint glow of pale-yellow shimmering above the eastern hills the friends saddle their mounts. "Cal, whatcha say we ride in the cool morning and rest as the sun moves higher heating the land."
Pulling the cinch tighter, "Sounds good. Jeb, you ever trail this part of New Mexico Territory?"
"Nope. Whatcha thinking?"
"The Apache say one can follow the Pecos into Texas. Reckon we'd be right nigh the Bar C when we hit the border." Mounting he rides up beside Jeb who sits tall in the saddle watching the aspen sway in the breeze wafting down from the north.
Touching the horses flank with his spurs. "Let's ride." Cal moves out behind Jeb their horses ready. The roadrunner sitting under the sagebrush watching with interest as the riders make their way toward the river. Good riddance. Rodents you're mine.
Palavering is not their style spending most of their life on the prairie only their horse for company. These two are like-minded; lawmen, survivors, loners. They trail the Pecos resting the horses every couple of hours. Gazing at the burning sun high overhead Jeb turns his horse toward the sound of water flowing down the Pecos. Cal grins. It's time to rest and water the horses. Riding out of the trees to the edge of the river the horses drink their fill while the lawmen fill their canteens. Leading the horses into the trees they sit in the cool shade. "Cal, you gonna keep deputing?"
"Shucks, Jeb, thought I reetired. Reckon I better think on it a spell." Cal leans against the trunk of an oak asks, "You?"
"Reckon I feel about the same. Don't know if I could settle down to ranching." Jeb squats down near Cal. "Riding line suited me."
Cal's hat pulled low over his eyes voice a whisper. "Catherin Cahill died eight year ago." In the silence the screech of a buzzard wafts on the breeze as it wraps around the trees filling the forest with eeriness at his haunting words.
Not sure he understands, Jeb waits but Cal says nothing more.
In a short time, Cal rises takes the reins of his mustang. "You ready to ride?"
"Reckon so." They hit the trail kicking the horses to a steady trot wandering through the trees never moving to far from the flowing waters. Through the day they come across no other hoof tracks but notice deer trails leading to the river and bobcat tracks in the soft mud at the river's edge. The days on the trail are pleasant as the two lawmen ride south.
Signs of spring herald the time of new growth and rebirth, as they watch the desert come to life, refreshing to the solitary figures seeking shelter for the night. Close to the border they come upon a grove of soft cedar near Eddy but stay near the Pecos rather than seek lodging in the town.
Setting up camp, Cal and Jeb relax in the cool shade as the sun dips below the western horizon. After a cool drink of fresh running water at the Pecos the horses graze nearby. Coffee boils on the glowing embers as a pan of beans simmers. "Jeb, how far you reckon it is to Pecos?"
"Five days should put us there." The lawmen sit chowing down on the beans and bacon sipping the steaming coffee. In the quiet darkness the sizzle of the fire, the running water, and the grazing horses are soothing sounds echoing on the air. Leaving the fire stoked with a log or two, they move back into the shadow of the trees. Heads resting on their saddles, eyes covered with their sombreros, guns at their fingertips the pards catch a few winks of sleep always alert to sounds around them.
In that solemn time before dawn Cal hears Jeb come to a sitting position across the small stretch of ground between the trees. He waits until he sees his dark shadow move toward the clearing where a wisp of gray smoke glides skyward from the coals.
Jeb fans the coals into glowing embers adding small sticks to get the blaze going then adding a couple of small logs. He strides down to the river returning with the coffee pot full of fresh water. As he nears the fire he sees Cal sitting cross legged eyes gazing into the blazing fire. "Didn't mean to wake you, Cal."
"You didn't, checking on the horses." Watching the expression or lack of one as Jeb approaches the fire, Cal ponders the sadness emitting from the depth of his eyes.
Jeb puts the pot at the edge of the embers and sits on the other side. Pounding hoofs alert them to someone approaching from the west, "Rider coming." They wait to see if he passes on by or hails them. The clop clop ceases just beyond the fire light.
"Hello in the camp."
Cal slips into the shade of the pinon and disappears. Jeb says. "Ride in."
A lone rider enters the camp riding a roan sits his saddle waiting for an invitation. "Howdy. Saw the glow of your fire."
"Step down. Pour yourself a cup." Jeb eyeballs the rider, "Names Jeb. What's your handle?"
The stranger sips from the tin cup. "Ride for the Lazy D. Thought I'd ride into Eddy for a night of who shot john; maybe sit in for a few hands of stud." Squatting on his haunches he says, "Bill. Bill Cane." Being from one of the ranches nearby his question is expected, "Jeb, where you headed?"
Jeb allows a slow grin to creep across his face. "Been up north, Colorado," is all he says. Stars dot the ebony sky as Cal remains in the shadows gun drawn listening. Off in the distance the howl of a coyote drifts on the night air.
Bill sips the coffee as the spring night turns cool. "You looking for work? The Lazy D could use a good man."
Aware that Cal has a bead drawn on the hombre sitting across the fire he tips his hat back off his brow the glow from the fire highlighting his features. "Nah, Gotta job."
Sure the rider is alone Cal strides out of the darkness letting the rider see him holster his six shooter then says, "Howdy Marshal."
The cowboy looks up as he hears Cal but stays squatted across the fire. The calmness of the rider eases Cal's mind. He's either one cool hombre, or he's a harmless ranch hand. He approaches the man. "Howdy names Cal." Turning to Jeb, "He's alone."
"Bill's the name, Taking Cal's hand. Howdy." He tips his cup and drains the contents. "Thanks for the coffee; gotta a poker game itching for my pay and a pretty little filly aching for my company." He mounts and rides out toward Eddy.
The lawmen see the Lazy D brand on the rump of the horse as he rides out of camp. Jeb remarks, "Yup, he's a drover. He didn't flicker when you called me Marshal." Picking up the pot, "Wanta cup?"
"Thought you'd never ask," Cal sips the brown elixir. As the embers fade to gray ash the hoot of the owl touts his nocturnal wanderings. In the ebony dome stars twinkle in the pale glow of the full moon rising above the eastern hills casting shadows in its brightness.
A sigh of contentment escapes as Cal settles down his saddle for a pillow and a blanket to ward off the chill as Jeb begins to tell his story.
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