STREETS OF LAREDO
by Larry McMurtry
Part I A Salaried Man
"Most train robbers ain't smart, which is a lucky thing for the railroads," Call said.
"Five smart train robbers could bust every railroad in this country." "This young Mexican is smart," Brookshire said, but before he could elaborate, the wind lifted his hat right off his head. He was forced to chase it--not the first time he had been forced to chase his hat since arriving in Amarillo. He had taken to ramming his hat down on his head nearly to his eyebrows, but the Texas winds were of a different order than the winds he had been accustomed to in Brooklyn, where he lived. Somehow, time after time, the Texas winds lifted his hat. Before he could even get a hand up to grab it, there it went.
It was just a common fedora; but on the other hand, it was his only hat, and it was not his custom to go through life bareheaded, at least not while he was conducting business for the railroad. Colonel Terry would not have approved. Brookshire was only a salaried man, and he could not afford to ignore Colonel Terry's preferences in such matters.
This time the hat rode the wind like a fat bird --it had a twenty-yard lead on its owner before it hit the ground, and when it did hit, it rolled rapidly along the gritty street.
Fortunately for Brookshire, a wagon was parked to the south of the station, and the hat eventually lodged against one of the wagon wheels. He strolled over and picked it up, trying to appear nonchalant, though in fact, he was more than a little out of sorts.
At the behest of his superiors--Colonel Terry in particular; Colonel Terry, the president of the railroad, was the only superior who counted--Brookshire had journeyed all the way from New York to hire a bandit killer.
Brookshire was an accountant. Hiring bandit killers wasn't his line of work, but the man who normally handled the task, Big Johnny Roberts, had accidentally swallowed a wine cork and choked to death, just as he was about to depart for Texas. From Colonel Terry's point of view, it was a nuisance; he took a look around the office and before Brookshire knew it, he was on a train going west, in Johnny Roberts's stead. In his years with the railroad, he had performed a number of services, but never in a place where his hat blew off every time he turned a corner. Having to chase his hat was an aggravation, but the real reason he was out of sorts was because he wasn't at all impressed with the killer he had been instructed to hire.
About the best thing Brookshire could find to say for the small, weary-looking man standing in front of the little shack of a depot, a saddle and a duffle roll stacked beside him, was that he had been punctual. He had ridden in at dawn, hitching his sorrel mare outside the hotel precisely at seven a.m., the time agreed upon. Still, Brookshire had barely been able to conceal his shock when he saw how old the man was. Of course, Brookshire was aware of his reputation: no one in the West had a reputation to equal Woodrow Call's. In Brookshire's view, reputation did not catch bandits--at least it didn't catch bandits who covered country as rapidly as young Joey Garza. The young Mexican was said to be only nineteen years old, whereas Captain Call, from the look of him, was edging seventy.
Nonetheless, Brookshire had been ordered to hire Woodrow Call and no one else. More than that, he had been entrusted with a fancy, engraved Colt revolver which Colonel Terry had sent along as a special gift.
To Brookshire's dismay, Captain Call scarcely glanced at the gun. He didn't even bother to lift it out of its rosewood box. He didn't twirl the chamber or admire the fine engraving.
"Thanks, but I'll pass," he said. He seemed more grateful for the coffee. Of course, it was wintry, and the old Ranger was only wearing a light coat.
"Good Lord, what will I tell Colonel Terry?" Brookshire asked. "This gun probably cost him five hundred dollars. This engraving is handwork. It don't come cheap." "Why, the Colonel can keep it himself, then," Call said. "I appreciate the thought, but I've no place to keep a fancy weapon.
I'd have to deposit it in a bank, and I prefer to avoid banks.
"I generally depend on the rifle, not the pistol," he added. "If you're close enough to a killer to be in reach of a pistol bullet, then generally you're too close." "Good Lord," Brookshire said, again. He knew Colonel Terry well enough to know that he wasn't going to be pleased when told that his gift had not been wanted. Colonel Terry hadn't been a colonel for nothing, either. Having such an expensive present rejected by a fellow who just looked like an old cowpoke would undoubtedly put him in a temper, in which case Brookshire and anyone else who happened to be in the office would have to scramble to keep their jobs.
Call saw that the man was upset--he supposed, really, that he ought to accept the gun.
That would be the polite thing. But in the past few years, governors and presidents of railroads and senators and rich men were always offering him fancy weapons, or expensive saddles, or the use of their railroad cars, or even fine horses--and always, something in him resisted.
For one thing, he despised fancy gear. He rode a plain saddle, and all that he required in a weapon was that it be reliable and accurate.
For another thing, he had never met a governor or a president of a railroad or a senator or a rich man that he liked or felt comfortable with. Why place himself in some arrogant fool's debt for the sake of a gun he'd never shoot nor probably even load?
Only a few days before, Call and Charles Goodnight had discussed the matter of gifts from the rich and powerful. It had been the day, in fact, that Goodnight had ridden out to the little line cabin he let Call use when he was between jobs, and handed Call the telegram asking him to meet a Mr. Ned Brookshire in Amarillo at seven a.m., in the lobby of the best hotel.
Goodnight himself was famous; probably as famous as a cattleman could get. He had also been offered twenty-five or thirty engraved Winchesters in recent years, but, like Call, he was skeptical of the rich and powerful and seldom felt comfortable in their company.
Throughout most of their lives, which had only occasionally intersected, Woodrow Call and Charles Goodnight had not exactly gotten along. Somehow in the old days, the Indian-fighting days, they had rubbed one another the wrong way almost every time they met. Even now, they did not exactly consider themselves friends. Once a week or so, when Goodnight was around his home ranch, he had formed the habit of riding out to the little line cabin to check on his guest, the famous Texas Ranger.
The shack sat not far from the north rim of the Palo Duro Canyon. Often the two men would sit, largely in silence, looking down into the canyon until dusk and then darkness filled it.
In the dusk and shadows they saw their history; in the fading afterlight they saw the fallen: the Rangers, the Indians, the cowboys.
"Let a man give you a fancy gun and he'll tell everybody in five counties that he's your friend, when in fact, you may despise him," Goodnight said, spitting. "I don't number too many rich fools among my friends--how about you?" "I have not had a friend for several years," Call said. Only after he said it did it occur to him that the remark might sound a little odd--as if he were asking for sympathy.
"Of course, there's Pea and there's Bol," he added, hastily. "Bol's out of his head, but I count him a friend." "Oh, your cook, I think he fed me once," Goodnight said. "If he's out of his head, how do you keep up with him?" "I left him with a family in San Antonio," Call said. "When I get a job down near the border I sometimes put him on his mule and take him with me. There's another family in Nuevo Laredo I can board him with when it comes time to do the work.
"He enjoys a little travel," Call added.
"He's still got his memories--he just can't put any two of them together." "Hell, I can barely sort out two memories myself," Goodnight said. "It's what I get for living too long. My head fills up and sloshes over, like a damn bucket.
Whatever sloshes out is lost. I doubt I still know half of what I knew when I was fifty years old." "You take too many train trips," Call observed, in a mild tone.
"I thought we were talking about my bad memory," Goodnight said, squinting at him. "What's train travel got to do with it?" "All this traveling by train weakens the memory --it's bound to," Call said. "A man that travels horseback needs to remember where the water holes are, but a man that rides in a train can forget about water holes, because trains don't drink." Goodnight let that observation soak in for a few minutes.
"I was never lost, night or day," he said finally. "How about you?" "I got turned around once, in Mexico," Call said. "It was a cloudy night. My horse fell and got up pointed in the wrong direction. I was yawny that night and didn't notice till morning." "Was you mad at the horse when you did notice?" Goodnight asked.
"I was mad at myself," Call said.
"Well, this is a pointless conversation," Goodnight said, turning abruptly toward his horse. Without another word, he mounted and rode away. He had always been abrupt, Call reflected. When Charles Goodnight concluded that a conversation had overrun its point, he was apt to make a swift departure.
While Mr. Brookshire was walking back across the street, trying to whack the dust out of his fedora by hitting it against his leg, the train he and Call had been waiting for came in sight. It was the train that would, in time, deliver them to San Antonio.
Call was trying to think of a polite way to inform Mr. Brookshire that the fedora wouldn't do in a windy place like Texas. A hat that kept blowing off could lead to no end of trouble when dealing with a bandit as advanced as Joey Garza.
Even more, Call wished Brookshire could be persuaded just to go on back to New York, leaving him to deal with the young Mexican bandit alone.
Traveling across the West with errand boys such as Mr. Brookshire took considerably more energy than tracking the bandits themselves. Call had little to say to such men, but they invariably had much to say to him. Six hundred miles of Mr.
Brookshire's conversation was not something he looked forward to.
"This wind puts me in mind of Chicago," Brookshire said, when he returned to where Call was standing. He didn't bother putting his hat back on his head. Instead, he clutched it tightly in both hands.
"I've not visited Chicago," Call said, to be polite.
"The wind's not like this back home," Brookshire said. "Back home I can go for months without my hat blowing off my head a single time. I got off the train here yesterday, and I've been chasing my hat ever since." The train wheezed and screeched to a halt. When it had come to a full stop, Captain Call picked up his saddle and duffle roll.
Brookshire, to his surprise, suddenly found that he was feeling a little desperate--he felt that he didn't dare move. The wind had become even more severe, and he had the sickening sense that he, not his hat, was about to blow away. There wasn't a tree in sight that he could see: just endless plain. Unless he could roll up against a wagon wheel, as his hat had, there would be nothing to stop him for days, if he blew away. He knew it was an absurd feeling: grown men, especially heavy men such as himself, didn't just blow away. Yet the feeling persisted, and every time he happened to glance across the street and see nothing --nothing at all except grass and sky--the feeling got worse.
Call noticed that Brookshire had an odd look on his face. The man stood with his fedora clutched to his stomach, looking as if he were afraid to move, yet he was standing on perfectly level ground on a sunny winter day.
"Are you ill, Mr. Brookshire?" Call asked. After all, the man had been polite; he had agreed to Call's terms and had cheerfully paid for the coffee as well.
"I'd like to get on the train," Brookshire said. "I believe I'll soon perk up if I could just get on the train." "Why, here it is, right behind you," Call told him. "I assume you've got the tickets. We can step right on." "I'm afraid I've left my valise--you see, that's my problem," Brookshire admitted.
"Oh, at the hotel?" Call asked.
"Yes, it's right in the lobby," Brookshire said, looking at the ground. He did not feel it would be wise to look across the street again. It was when he looked across the street that the blowing-away sensation seized him the most fiercely.
"Well, the train just pulled in--it'll be here awhile, I expect," Call said. "You've got plenty of time to go get your valise." Then he looked again and realized that his traveling companion was having some sort of attack.
Brookshire was frozen, his eyes fixed on his feet. He didn't appear to be capable of moving--walking the hundred yards to the hotel was, for the moment, clearly beyond him.
"I can't do it," Brookshire muttered. "I can't do it. I'd just like to get on the train." He paused, his eyes still on his feet.
"What I'd like very much is to get on the train," he said, again.
Call immediately set down his saddle and duffle roll and took Mr. Brookshire's arm. The man was close to panic, and when a man was close to panic, discussion rarely helped.
"Here, I'll just escort you to your car," he said, holding Brookshire's arm. Brookshire took one small step, and then another. Soon Call had him situated in a railroad seat.
Brookshire's chest began to heave and the sweat poured off him, but at least, Call reckoned, the panic was broken.
"Just stay here and settle in," Call said.
"I'll stroll over to the hotel and pick up that valise." "Grateful," was all Brookshire could say.
What he really wanted to do was crawl under the seat, but of course, that would be impossible-- anyway, the railroad car had walls. He wasn't going to blow away.
A few minutes later, Captain Call came walking in with the valise and with his own saddle and duffle roll. He sat down across from Brookshire as if nothing untoward had happened.
But Brookshire knew that something had happened-- something very untoward. He was embarrassed and also deeply grateful to the Captain. Not only had he guided him onto the train and then walked two hundred yards out of his way to fetch the valise, but he had done both things politely. He hadn't asked Brookshire why he couldn't walk a hundred yards and tote his own baggage; he just accepted that it was an impossibility and put him on the train without a fuss.
Brookshire worked for people who never let him forget that he was an underling. Captain Call hadn't been especially friendly when they met that morning, but he hadn't treated Brookshire as an underling. When he noticed that a crisis was occurring, he had dealt with it efficiently and with no evident feelings of contempt for Brookshire's weakness.
It was exceptional behavior, in Brookshire's view. He had met with a good deal of exceptional behavior in his years with Colonel Terry, but most of it had been exceptionally bad. He was not used to decent treatment, but he had received it from Captain Call. When his heart finally stopped pounding, he took another look at the man who sat across the aisle from him.
Call was smoking. If he even remembered that something out of the ordinary had happened on the railroad platform, he gave no sign.
The train started and they were soon cutting a narrow furrow through the endless miles of prairie.
The stiff wind was still blowing, ruffling the surface of the sea of grass.
"Does your hat ever blow off, Captain?" Brookshire asked.
"Rarely," Call said.
"You see, I've got mine trained," he added, looking over at the man from Brooklyn.
"You're new to these parts--it takes you a while to get yours trained just right." "I doubt mine will ever be trained--I'll probably have to chase it all over Texas," Brookshire said.
Then, relaxing, he fell asleep. When he awoke and looked out the window, there was nothing to see but grass. Captain Call seemed not to have moved. He was still smoking. The stock of a rifle protruded from his duffle roll. Brookshire felt glad Call was there. It was a long way to San Antonio--if he had no one to share the ride with, he might get the blowing-away feeling again. Probably, after all, his superiors had been right in their choice of bandit killers. Most likely Captain Call could do the job.
"How long have you been a lawman, Captain?" he inquired, to be polite.
Call didn't turn his head.
"I ain't a lawman," he said. "I work for myself." After that, a silence grew.
Brookshire felt rather as he felt when he went to a dance. Somehow he had stepped off on the wrong foot.
"Well, you picked an exciting line of work, I'd have to say," he said.
Captain Call didn't answer.
Brookshire felt at a loss. He began to regret having made the remark--he began to regret having spoken at all. He sighed.
The Captain still said nothing. Brookshire realized he didn't know much about Texans.
Perhaps they just weren't inclined to conversation.
Certainly Captain Call didn't appear to be much inclined to it. He didn't appear to be excited about his line of work, either.
Brookshire began to miss Katie, his wife. Katie wasn't lavish with her conversation, either. A month might pass with the two of them scarcely exchanging more than three or four words.
But the plains outside the window were vast and empty. The wind was still blowing, rippling and sometimes flattening the top of the grass.
Brookshire began to wish, very much, that he could go home to Brooklyn. If only he were in Brooklyn and not in Texas, he might not feel so low. If he were in Brooklyn, he felt sure he would be sitting with Katie, in their cozy kitchen. Katie might not say much, but in their cozy kitchen, the wind never blew.
Lorena woke to the sound of the baby coughing.
Pea Eye was up walking her, trying to get her quiet. For a minute or two, Lorena let him: she felt too sad to move--sad, or mad, or a mixture; even without a sick child she was apt to feel that way on nights before Pea Eye had to leave.
"I guess she's croupy," Pea Eye said.
"Give her to me," Lorena said. Wearily, she propped up a little, took the baby, and gave her the breast.
"It's not the croup, it's that dry cough--you ought to recognize the difference by now," Lorena said.
"The boys all had the same cough--Clarie didn't have it." As she said it she heard Clarie go past their bedroom, on her way to milk. Clarie was the oldest; at fifteen she already had more energy than most grown men, and she didn't have to be told to do the chores. Even Pea Eye admitted that there were days when his Clarie could outwork him, and Pea Eye was neither lazy nor weak.
"I guess I'm just the worrying kind," Pea Eye said, relieved that the baby had stopped coughing, if only in order to nurse.
"There's other diseases children can have besides croup," Lorena reminded him.
"Seems like every time I have to leave, someone around here is sick," Pea Eye said. "I'll be dreary company for the Captain, worrying about you and the children." He would worry about them, Lorena felt sure, but right at the moment what he wanted was sympathy, and right at the moment, sympathy was the last thing she was in the mood to give him.
"You're the one going off to get shot at," she reminded him--there was anger in her voice; she couldn't suppress it.
"Clarie and I can take care of things here," she said. "If we have trouble the neighbors will help us--I'm their only schoolteacher. They'll fetch me a doctor if Laurie gets worse." When the little girl finished nursing, Lorena held her out to Pea Eye. He took her with him to the kitchen--he needed to get the coffee started.
It was a four-hour trot to the railroad where he was supposed to meet the Captain. He needed to be on his way soon. But when he tried to saucer his coffee--he had long ago formed the habit of drinking his coffee from a saucer-- Laurie wiggled, causing him to pour too hard.
Most of the coffee splashed out. When Lorena came into the kitchen Pea Eye was looking for a rag. He needed to wipe up his spill.
"I wish you'd learn to drink coffee out of a cup, like the rest of us," Lorena said.
"It's just a habit I got into when I was rangering," Pea Eye said. "I didn't have no babies to hold in those days. I could concentrate better. I was just a bachelor most of my life --same as the Captain is." "You were never the same as the Captain is," Lorena informed him. She took the baby and scooted a chair well back from the table, so coffee wouldn't drip on her gown.
"I hadn't learned to be married yet, in those days," Pea Eye said, mildly.
Lorie seemed slightly out of temper--he thought it best to take a mild line at such times.
"No, you hadn't learned to be married--I had to teach you, and I'm still at it," Lorena said.
"We're both lucky. Clara got me started on my education and I got you started being a husband." "Both lucky, but I'm luckier," Pea Eye said. "I'd rather be married than do them fractions, or whatever they are that you teach the brats.
"At least I would if it's you that I'm married to," he said, reflecting.
"I don't like it that he keeps taking you away from us," Lorena said. She felt it was better to say it than to choke on it, and she had choked on it a good many times.
"Why can't he take someone younger, if he needs help with a bandit?" she asked. "Besides that, he don't even ask! He just sends those telegrams and orders you to come, as if he owned you." Though Pea Eye had not yet admitted it out loud to Lorie, he himself had begun to dread the arrival of the telegrams. The Captain dispatched them to the little office in Quitaque; they were delivered, within a week or two, by a cowboy or a mule skinner, any traveler who happened to be coming their way. They were short telegrams; even so, Lorena had to read them to him. She had learned to read years ago, and he hadn't. It was a little embarrassing, being the husband of a schoolteacher, while being unable to read. Clarie, of course, could read like a whiz--she had won the local spelling bee every year since she turned six. Pea Eye had always meant to learn, and he still meant to learn, but meanwhile, he had the farm to farm, and farming it generally kept him busy from sunup until sundown. In the harvesting season, it kept him busy from well before sunup until well after dark.
Usually the Captain's telegrams would consist of a single sentence informing him of a date, a time, and a place where the Captain wanted him to appear.
Short as they were, though, Lorena never failed to flush with anger while reading them to him. A deep flush would spread up her cheeks, nearly to her eyes; the vein on her forehead would stand out, and the little scar on her upper lip would seem whiter in contrast to her darkening face. She rarely said anything in words. Her blood said it for her.
Now, down on one knee in the kitchen, trying to wipe up the spilled coffee with a dishrag, Pea Eye felt such a heavy sadness descend on him that for a moment he would have liked just to lie down beneath it and let it crush him. Little Laurie was only three months old. Lorena had school to teach and the baby and the three boys to look after, and yet here he was, about to go away and leave them again, just because some railroad man wanted the Captain to run down a bandit.
Of course, Clarie was nearly grown and would be a big help to her mother, but knowing that wouldn't keep him from feeling low the whole trip--every night and morning he'd miss Lorie and the children; he would also worry constantly about the farm chores that weren't getting done. Even if little Laurie hadn't taken the croup--he considered her sickness the croup, though Lorie didn't--he wouldn't have wanted to go. It was beginning to bother Pea Eye a good deal that the Captain just couldn't seem to recognize that he was married. Not only was he married, but he was the father of five children. He had other things to do besides chase bandits. When he left he would be doing one duty, but at the same time he'd be neglecting others, and the ones he'd be neglecting were important. It meant feeling miserable and guilty for several weeks, and he didn't look forward to feeling that way. The truth was, half the time he felt miserable and guilty even when he wasn't neglecting his wife, or his children, or his chores.
"I've heard it's a young bandit, this time," Pea Eye said. "Maybe it won't take too long." "Why wouldn't it, if the man's young?" Lorena asked.
"The Captain's got too much experience," Pea Eye said. "The young ones seldom give him much trouble." "If it's going to be so easy, why does he need you?" she asked.
Pea Eye didn't answer because he didn't know. Twice he had gone to Wyoming with the Captain. Once they had gone to Yuma, Arizona, an exceptionally hot place in Pea Eye's view. Several times they'd gone to Oklahoma, and once or twice, into Old Mexico. But normally, they were able to corner their quarry somewhere in Texas. A few hard cases fought to the end, but the majority of the outlaws --bank robbers, mostly--realized once they were up against the famous Captain Call, it was time to surrender. As soon as they gave up, Pea Eye's duties really began. He was in charge of seeing they were handcuffed properly, or tied to their horses, or whatever the situation required.
Compared to Indian fighting, it was not particularly dangerous work. He rarely had to fire his gun or even draw it.
It hardly seemed important enough to leave home for; yet here he was, preparing to leave home and feeling blue all the way down to his bones as a result.
"I expect I'll worry the whole way," Pea Eye said. "But at least I'll be paid cash money." Lorena was silent. She hated the mornings when Pea Eye had to leave; hated the night before he left; just plain hated the whole period after one of the telegrams came. She knew Pea Eye no longer wanted to leave. Living with her, working the farm, helping her with the children, was what he wanted to do. She didn't doubt his love, or his devotion, or his loyalty, or his strength. All these were at her service, except when Captain Call needed some part of them to be at .his service.
Lorena had resolved, though, not to help Pea Eye leave. The fact that he had a loyalty to the Captain was part of the bargain she had made when she married him. Clara Allen--the woman Clarie was named for--had told her how it would be in that respect, and Clara had been right. were Pea Eye not loyal to the Captain, who had employed him most of his life, he wouldn't be likely to bring much loyalty to her, either. Clara pointed that out.
But she would not help Pea Eye leave. She wasn't going to pass a benediction on it.
As she was sitting in silence avoiding Pea Eye's miserable gaze, Clarie came in from the milking shed with a brimming pail of milk. It was a cold morning; the bucket steamed a little, and Clarie had color in her cheeks. Lorena couldn't help smiling. Even in unhappy moments, the sight of her beautiful young daughter was apt to make her smile. Clarie got a cheesecloth, spread it carefully over the old milk strainer, and slowly poured the hot, foamy milk through it.
"I'll help you, Ma, while Pa's gone," Clarie said.
"Why, yes, you'll help me, when you can spare the time from Roy Benson," Lorena said. Clarie was a young woman, and the cowboys were already coming around.
The gawky Benson boy was particularly attentive.
"Oh, Ma, don't talk about him," Clarie protested, embarrassed.
"Like I say, it's cash money," Pea Eye said, feeling that his problem had somehow been forgotten. It was often that way with women, it seemed. One minute Lorie would be drilling holes in him with her eyes, and the next minute she and Clarie would be combing one another's hair and singing tunes.
"We heard you," Lorena said. It was true that her wages for the schoolteaching were apt to be a side of beef or hand-me-down clothes for the children, or a horse that was getting along in years and might do to pull her buggy. Her wages were likely to be whatever folks could spare. It was a fair arrangement; indeed, the only possible arrangement in a place where there were still only a scattering of homesteads and not many settlements.
Pea Eye had only brought up the cash money in order to remind Lorena that the Captain didn't expect him to work for nothing. Having cash money never hurt.
Another bad aspect of the bandit-catching trips was that the very fact Lorena had secured enough education to become a schoolteacher, caused some tension between Pea Eye and the Captain. Lorena's educational accomplishments filled Pea Eye with pride, and he liked to talk about them. It was Clara Allen, the woman who sheltered Lorena in Nebraska, who had seen to it that Lorena learned to read and write and figure. Perhaps that was why the Captain got so stiff every time Pea Eye bragged about his smart wife. Clara and the Captain rubbed one another the wrong way. That was no reason, though, in Pea Eye's view, why he should be any less proud of Lorena's scholarly skills.
Clara had gone all the way to St. Louis to find acceptable teachers for Lorena, and of course, the teachers were expected to instruct Clara's two daughters as well. Clara boarded the teachers in her own home, often for months at a stretch. Betsey, her oldest daughter, had even married one of them.
Everyone agreed that Lorena was the sharpest pupil in that part of Nebraska. For a time, Clara ordered books for her, but soon Lorena was ordering them for herself. It was a proud day for all concerned when Lorena received her diploma from the correspondence college in Trenton, New Jersey.
Once they bought the farm in Texas the neighbors soon found out about Lorena's diploma, and they promptly persuaded her to teach their children. Her first classes were held in a barn.
Charles Goodnight rode by one day, saw her teaching in the cold, drafty barn, and wrote a check on the spot sufficient to allow the community to construct a one-room schoolhouse on a bluff overlooking the Red River. The school was a five-mile buggy ride each way from their farm, but Lorena drove it without complaint. When their babies came she took them with her, lining an old cartridge case with quilts to make a crib.
To Pea Eye, and to many citizens of the plains, it was impressive that Lorena would care enough about her teaching to bounce her children ten miles over the prairie every day. She didn't want to disappoint her pupils, most of whom could only expect three or four years of schooling at best.
Once the boys got to be nine or ten, they would be needed for work. The Benson boy who liked Clarie so much was still in school at fourteen, but that was exceptional. Even the girls would be needed in the fields by the time they were eleven or twelve.
Lorena thought Captain Call resented the fact that his old partner, Gus McCrae, had left her his half of the proceeds from the herd the Hat Creek outfit had trailed from Texas to Montana. Lorena's half didn't amount to that much money--not enough to resent, in Pea Eye's view. The whole Montana scheme had collapsed in less than two years. Gus was killed before they even established the ranch. Dish Boggett, their top hand, quit the first winter. The Captain left that spring. Newt--the Captain's son, most people thought, although the Captain himself had never owned to it--had been killed late in the summer when the Hell Bitch, the mare the Captain gave him, reared and fell back on him. The saddle horn crushed his rib cage, and crushed his heart as well. It was the view of everyone who knew horses that, while an able ranch manager, Newt was much too inexperienced to trust with a horse as mean and as smart as the Hell Bitch. Still, the Captain had given Newt the horse, and Newt felt obliged to ride her. He rode her, and one day she killed him, just as Lippy and Jasper and one or two others had predicted she would.
After Newt's death the ranch soon fell inffdisorder; the Captain had to come back and sell it. Cattle prices were down, so he didn't get much, but Lorena's half enabled her and Pea Eye to buy the farm in Texas.
Lorena's view, expressed to Clara, not to Pea, was that the Captain wasn't prepared to forgive her hard past.
"He don't think whores should become schoolteachers," she said.
To Pea Eye, Lorena advanced a different theory.
"He didn't like it that Gus liked me," she said. "Now that you married me I've taken two men from him. I took Gus and then I took you.
He'll never forgive it, but I don't care." Pea Eye preferred to put such difficult questions out of his mind. With so much farm work to do and no one to do it but himself--none of the boys was old enough to plow--he had little time to spare for speculation.
If he had more time, he wouldn't have used it trying to figure out why the Captain did things the way he did, or why he liked people or didn't like people.
The Captain was as he was, and to Pea Eye, that was just life. Lorena and Clara could discuss it until they were blue in the face: no talk would change the Captain.
It bothered Pea Eye considerably that the Captain had never ridden over to see their farm or meet their children. His shack on the Goodnight place was not that far away. Pea Eye was proud of the farm and doubly proud of his children. He would have liked to introduce the Captain to his family and show him around the farm.
Instead, in only half an hour, he would have to leave his wife and children to go help a man who didn't like his wife and had never met his children. The thought made Pea Eye sick at heart.
Catching bandits was tricky work. There was no telling how long it might take. Little Laurie was tiny. She had come nearly a month early and was going to have to struggle through a bitter Panhandle winter. Pea Eye loved little Laurie with all his heart. He thought she looked just like her mother, and could not get enough of looking at her.
He had bought a rabbit fur robe from an old deaf Kiowa man who lived on the Quitaque.
The robe made a nice warm lining for the cartridge-box crib. Lorena kept assuring him that it was a snug enough crib now that it was lined with rabbit fur, but still Pea Eye worried. The cold was bitter. Winter never failed to carry off several little ones from neighboring farms and ranches.
Pea Eye had many dreams in which little Laurie died. It tormented him to think she might not be there to look at when he returned.
For days he had been choking his fear down--no need to burden Lorie with his worries--but suddenly, kneeling on the kitchen floor and trying unsuccessfully to wipe up the spilled coffee, fear and sadness came rushing up from inside him, too swiftly and too powerfully for him to control.
"I don't want to go, this time!" he said.
"What if Laurie dies while I'm gone?" He thought Lorena would be mighty surprised to hear him say that he didn't want to go with the Captain. Never before had he even suggested that he might not accompany Captain Call if the Captain needed him.
Lorena didn't seem surprised, though.
Perhaps she was too busy with Laurie. Because Laurie was so tiny, she was a fitful nurser, giving up sometimes before she had taken enough milk to satisfy her. Lorie had just given her the breast again, hoping she would take enough nourishment to keep her asleep for a while.
"What if we all died, while you was gone?" Lorena asked, calmly. She didn't want any agitated talk while the baby was at the breast. But her husband had to be very upset to say such a thing, and she didn't want to ignore his distress, either.
"Well, I'd never get over it, if any of you died," Pea Eye said.
"You would--people get over anything--I've got over worse than dying myself, and you know it," Lorena said. "But that's in the past. You don't need to worry so much. I'm not going to die, and I won't let this baby die, either. I won't let any of our children die." Pea Eye stood up, but despite Lorie's calm words, he felt trembly.
He felt he could trust Lorie--if she said she'd keep their family alive, he knew she would do her best. But people did their best and died anyway. Sometimes their children outlived them. That was the natural order; but sometimes, they didn't. He knew Lorie meant well when she told him not to worry, but he also knew that he would worry anyway.
The Captain would be unlikely to sympathize, because he didn't understand it. Captain Call had always been a single man. He had no one to miss, much less anyone to worry about.
"I never finished cleaning those guns," Pea Eye said distractedly, looking down at his wife. August, the youngest boy, not yet two, came wandering into the kitchen just then. He was rubbing his eyes with his fists.
"Hongry," he said, only half awake.
He began to crawl into his mother's lap.
"You cleaned them enough to smell like gun grease all night," Lorena said. August had a runny nose, and she held out her hand for Pea Eye's rag.
"This is a dishrag," he said, still distracted.
"It was--now it's a snot rag," Lorena said. August arched his back and tried to duck away--he hated having his nose wiped. But his mother was too skilled for him. She pinned him to her with an elbow and wiped it anyway.
"You should take care of your weapons, if you're going after a killer," she said. "I don't want you neglecting important things, even if I complain about you being smelly." "I don't want to go," Pea Eye said.
"I just don't want to go, this time." There was a silence, broken only by August's whimpering, and the soft sucking sound the baby made as she drew on the nipple. Pea Eye had just said the words Lorena had long hoped to hear, but the fact was, she hadn't gotten her sleep out--she was drowsy and would have liked to go back to bed.
It was a hopeless wish. August was up, and Ben and Georgie would be crawling out of bed any time.
Whether she liked it or not, the day had begun.
She had long resented Pea Eye's blind loyalty to the Captain but knew there was nothing she could do about it. Mainly, she just tried to shut her mind to it.
Clara had told her that was how it would be, but Clara had advised her to marry Pea Eye anyway.
"He's simple--sometimes that's good," Clara said. "He's gentle, too, but he's not weak.
His horses respect him. I tend to trust a horse's respect.
"He doesn't talk much, though," she added.
"I don't care whether he talks or not," Lorena said. "I wouldn't marry a man just for conversation. I'd rather read, now that I know how, than listen to any man talk." "You're going to have to propose to Pea Eye, you know," Clara said. "He has no inkling that you want him. I doubt it's ever crossed his mind, that he could aspire to a beauty like you." Pea Eye had been working for Clara about a year, at that time. July Johnson, the former sheriff from Arkansas who had loved Clara deeply but failed to win her, drowned trying to ford the Republican River with a herd of seventy young horses. July had no judgment about horses, or water, or women, as it turned out. His son, Martin, was going to know more, but that was because Martin had her to teach him, Clara reflected.
After Newt's death and the breakup of the Hat Creek outfit, Pea Eye had drifted south, meaning to descend the ladder of rivers until he got home to Texas. But, as luck would have it--the best piece of luck in his whole life, in his view--he showed up in Ogallala at a time when Clara was shorthanded, and she hired him on the spot.
Out her window, as she was advising Lorena to marry him, Clara could see Pea Eye in the lots, trying to halter-break a young sorrel colt. Of course, Pea Eye was older; too old, in a way, for Lorena. But people couldn't have everything. Clara herself would have liked a husband.
She considered herself to be reasonably good-looking, she attempted to be considerate, and thought she was tolerably easy to get along with. But she had no husband, and no prospects. Decent men were scarce, and she knew that Pea Eye was a decent man. Lorena had little to gain by waiting for someone better to come along, and Clara told her so.
Looking at her husband, so shaky from the thought of leaving her that he could barely stand up, Lorena knew that Clara Allen had been right. He was loyal to her, and loyalty from men was a rarity in her life. Even Gus McCrae, her greatest love, had really been in love with Clara and would have left her to marry Clara, if he could have persuaded Clara to have him. Someday, Lorena imagined, some bandit would finally outshoot Captain Call, and she would finally have Pea Eye all to herself--if he could just stay alive, in the meantime.
Coffee was still dripping off the table--Pea Eye had made a poor job of wiping up his spill. He patted August on the head and left the room. In a few minutes he came back, wearing his hat and carrying his slicker. He didn't have his guns.
"Are your guns so dirty you're planning to leave them?" she asked, surprised. Never before had he left without his guns.
"I won't need them," Pea Eye said.
"I'm just going to the railroad, to tell the Captain I can't go on no more chases with him." Though it was exactly what she wanted to hear, Lorena felt a little frightened. Pea Eye had followed the Captain wherever the Captain went for many, many years, so many that she didn't know how many, and Pea Eye probably didn't know, either. Rangering with the Captain had been Pea Eye's life until she took him from it. For Pea Eye to end it now, just because the baby woke up coughing, represented a big change--indeed, a bigger change than she had anticipated having to face, on that particular day.
"Pea," she said, "you don't have to do this just because of me. You don't have to do it because of the children, either.
We aren't in any danger, and we'll all be here when you get back." Only lately had she been able to remember to say "aren't" rather than "ain't." She was proud of herself for remembering it so early in the morning, when she was sleepy.
"All I ever asked is that you be careful," she said. "Help this man if you want to. Just don't get killed for him." "I ain't going to get killed for him, because I ain't going," Pea Eye said. "I've got too many obligations here. This chasing bandits has got to end sometime." He walked out to the little smokehouse and got a slab of bacon. When he returned to the kitchen the three boys, Ben, Georgie, and August, were all propped up in their chairs, looking sleepy and eating bread soaked in the warm milk Clarie had brought in. It was their usual breakfast, although sometimes, if Lorena was up early, she made porridge. Clarie sat on a stool, churning--they had run out of butter the night before.
"You boys help your ma, while I'm gone," Pea Eye said, forgetting that he wasn't really going, this time.
Lorena turned to look at him, wondering if he had changed his mind. That would have been unlike him. It might take Pea Eye a while to make up his mind, but once he made it up, he rarely doubled back on himself.
"Oh," Pea Eye said, realizing from Lorie's look that he had made a slip of the tongue.
"Help your mother this morning," he said. "I'll be back this afternoon." "Daddy, buy me a gun," Ben said. Ben was nine, and fascinated with firearms.
"No, he's not buying you a gun," Lorena said. "You'd just shoot Georgie, and I can't spare Georgie." Georgie, seven, was straw-headed and buck-toothed, but he was Lorena's favorite, anyway. She couldn't help it. Every time she looked at Georgie, she felt her heart swell. He had a bit of a stammer, but he would grow out of it, probably.
"I'll shall-shall-shall-shoot have-have-him," Georgie countered.
Pea Eye picked up his slicker, and put on his hat. He looked at Lorena, who met his eye. She didn't say anything, but there was something disquieting in her look. Of course, that was nothing new. There was something disquieting in most of Lorena's looks.
Pea Eye tried to think of something more to say, but failed. He had never been a man of many words, and being married to a schoolteacher hadn't changed him much. Hundreds of Lorie's looks, like this one, left him baffled.
"See you for supper," he said, finally.
"If you don't show up, I'll know you changed your mind," Lorena said. "He might talk you into going yet." "No, he won't talk me into going," Pea Eye said.
All the same, loping across the plains, he dreaded the meeting he was riding to. It was a fine, crisp day, but Pea Eye didn't feel fine. He had never said no to the Captain, and now he would have to. The Captain wasn't going to like the news, either--the Captain definitely wasn't going to like the news.
When Captain Call saw Pea Eye standing by the railroad track, with no duffle and no firearms, he knew that the moment of change had come. It was an unpleasant shock, but it was not a surprise. Lorena had been tightening her hold on Pea Eye year by year. In the last two years, particularly, Pea Eye's reluctance to accompany him had been evident, and had even begun to affect his work. Half the time on their trips, he was too homesick, or woman-sick, to function as skillfully as he once had, and his skill had its limits, even when he was a young man.
"Well, I guess I've stopped this train for nothing, if you ain't getting on," Call said.
He was annoyed, and he knew Pea Eye knew it, but since Pea Eye had arrived without his equipment, he saw no profit in forcing the issue.
"I'd better just go," Call said. "Good luck with your farm." He shook Pea Eye's hand and got back on the train, which, in a moment, left. Soon even the caboose had vanished from Pea Eye's view, swallowed up by the sea of grass as surely as a boat would have been by the curving sea.
Pea Eye walked slowly over and caught his horse; it had grazed some distance away. He felt stunned: the Captain was gone. The Captain hadn't even argued with him, though he had looked a good deal put out. Of course, he noticed immediately that Pea hadn't brought his guns.
"Forget your arsenal?" the Captain asked, when he first stepped off the train.
"No, I didn't forget it, I just left it at home," Pea Eye said. A man in a fedora had been looking out the window of the train, at them. Pea Eye was uncomfortable anyway, and being stared at by a man in a fedora hat didn't help.
"Oh, that's Brookshire, he's with the railroad," the Captain said, glancing around at the man. "He'll have to replace that hat, if he expects to travel very far with me. A man who can't keep his hat on his head won't be much help, in Mexico." "I guess I won't be being no help in Mexico neither, Captain," Pea Eye said.
"I've got a wife and five children, and one's a baby. The time's come for me to stay home." Though Call had been expecting such a decision from Pea Eye for some time, hearing it was still a shock. He had paid Pea especially well on the last few trips, hoping to overcome his reluctance--it took money to farm, and what little Lorena had inherited from Gus must have been long gone by now.
But Call knew Pea Eye too well to suppose that money, or anything else, would prevail much longer. Pea Eye was through with rangering, and Call had to admit that what they were doing was only the shadow of rangering, anyway.
Call always felt angry when he anticipated Pea Eye's desertion--and, in his eyes, it was desertion--but, there by the train tracks, on the windy plain just north of Quanah, he swallowed the anger down, shook Pea Eye's hand, and got back on the train.
The woman had won. In the end, it seemed they always did.
Brookshire was startled when he saw the Captain come back alone. The man looked testy. Then the train pulled away, leaving the tall man and the grazing horses behind, on the prairie.
"What's wrong with your man?" Brookshire asked. "Was he sick?" "No, he's not sick, he's married," Call said. "Running down bandits don't tempt him no more." "But I thought it was arranged," Brookshire said, more than a little alarmed. His instructions from Colonel Terry had been to let Call bring his man. Pea Eye himself was a legend, in a small way--Brookshire had been looking forward to meeting him. It was said that he had escaped from the Cheyenne Indians and had walked over one hundred miles, naked, to bring help to the other famous ranger, Augustus McCrae. Not many men could have walked one hundred miles naked, in Cheyenne country, and survived. Brookshire doubted that he could walk one hundred miles naked across New Jersey, and yet New Jersey was settled country, and his home state to boot.
He had hoped to meet the man and hear about his adventures. So far, he was certainly not hearing about many of Captain Call's. It would have been entertaining to hear about the hundred-mile walk, but evidently, it was not to be.
"I apologize--he's always been a reliable man," Call said. "He served with me more than thirty years--he's the last man I would have thought likely to marry. He never sought women, when he rode with me." "Oh well, I married myself," Brookshire said, thinking of Katie's fat legs. Those legs had once had great appeal to him, but their appeal had diminished over the years. There were times when he missed Katie, and times when he didn't. When he wasn't missing her, he sometimes considered that he had been a fool, to tie himself down. Indeed, he was hoping that one bonus from his long train trip might be a Mexican girl. The popular view in Brooklyn was that Mexican girls were pretty, lively, and cheap.
"Who'll we get to replace him?" he asked, remembering that Colonel Terry expected results--and not next year, either.
Joey Garza had struck seven times, stopping trains in remote areas of the Southwest, where trains were rarely bothered. He had killed eleven men so far, seemingly selecting his victims at random. Seven of the dead had been passengers; the rest, crew. Four of the seven trains had been carrying military payrolls, and one of the seven had Leland Stanford aboard. At that time, Leland Stanford was thought to be the richest man in California. The boy had taken his rings, his watch, and the fine silk sheets off the bed in his private car. He also took his diamond cuff links. Leland Stanford was not a man who took kindly to having his sheets removed by a young Mexican not yet out of his teens. It was Stanford who stoked the fire under Colonel Terry, prompting him to hire expensive help such as Captain Woodrow Call.
It disturbed Brookshire that their plan had already gone awry, though they were still hundreds of miles from the border, and no doubt, many more hundreds of miles from where Joey Garza was to be found, if he was found.
One thing could be said with certainty about Colonel Terry: he did not like for plans to go awry. If some did go awry anyway, someone invariably got blamed, and most of the time that someone was Brookshire.
"I'll be lucky not to get fired," Brookshire said--he was mainly just thinking out loud.
"Why? Pea Eye was never your responsibility," Call said. "You never even met the man, and can't be blamed for the fact that he married and settled down." "I can be blamed for anything," Brookshire assured him. "I'm one of those people everybody blames, when there's a misfortune." For several minutes he sat with his head down, feeling sorry for himself. It seemed to him that life was nothing but one misfortune after another, and he got blamed for them all. He had been the seventh boy in a family of eight children. His mother had blamed him for not being the little girl she had hoped for; his father blamed him for not being able to go out in the world and get rich. His brothers blamed him for being a runt; and in the army, he was blamed for being a coward.
That one was fair, he had to admit. He was a coward, more or less. Fisticuffs appalled him, and gunfire alarmed him violently. He didn't like storms or lightning, and preferred to live on the first floor of apartment buildings, so escape would be easier in case of fire. He had been afraid that Katie wouldn't marry him, and once she did, he began to fear she would leave him, or else die.
But of all the things he had managed to be frightened of in his life, Colonel Terry's anger was unquestionably the most powerful.
Brookshire feared the Terry temper so much that he would rather bite his tongue off than give the Colonel even the smallest particle of bad news.
Call didn't doubt what Brookshire said.
A man who couldn't even control his hat was likely to attract a lot of blame. In that respect, Call reflected, Brookshire was not unlike Pea Eye himself. Pea had a strange tendency to assume that any bad turn of fortune was probably his fault. On the long cattle drive to Montana, various things happened that could not easily have been prevented.
One morning the little Texas bull that all the cowboys feared got into a fight with a grizzly.
The grizzly definitely didn't fear the bull; the fight was more or less a draw, though the bull got much of his hide ripped off, in the process of holding his own.
For reasons that no one could fathom, Pea Eye decided the encounter was his fault. He felt he should either have roped the bull, or shot the bear, though neither, in Call's view, would have been sensible procedure. If he had roped the bull, it might well have jerked Pea's horse down, in which case the bear would have got them both. If Pea had tried to kill the grizzly with a sidearm, the bear might have turned on the cowboys, instead of on the bull.
Five years and more later, Pea Eye was still worrying about his role in the encounter. What it showed was that people weren't sensible, when it came to assigning or assuming blame.
People were rarely sensible about anything, in Call's opinion. He had taken, he thought, a sensible approach to Pea Eye's desertion while he was actually in the man's presence--but now that he wasn't actually faced with his old corporal, Call found that his anger was rising. He had taken Pea Eye into his troop of Rangers when the latter was no more than a boy, too young to be an official member of any military organization.
But, because the boy looked honest, Call had bent the rules, which were more bendable then than they would become.
Now, it seemed, Pea Eye had deserted him in favor of matrimony, and the desertion left a bitter taste in his mouth. Call had supposed that if he could count on any of his old troop, he could count on Pea. Yet it turned out to be Lorena, once a whore, now a schoolteacher, who could count on Pea.
Call had no doubt that Clara Allen had been behind the match, and though fifteen years had passed, he still resented her interference. It was one thing to educate Lorena; whores had as much right to improve themselves as anybody else. But it was another thing to arrange matters so that the girl could take his most trusted helper.
Dish Boggett, the best of the Hat Creek cowboys and far better on horseback than Pea had ever been, had mooned over Lorena for years. Why couldn't Clara have nudged the girl into accepting Dish? Up to that time Pea had shown no great inclination to domesticity, though he briefly courted, or was courted by, a rather bossy widow in the village of Lonesome Dove.
The trail drive had ended that, if there'd been anything to end.
Because of Clara's meddling, or Lorena's boldness, or a combination of the two, Call was riding south with only a Yankee office worker, to go after the most enterprising young bandit to show up on the border in a decade or more.
It galled Call--when he next encountered Pea Eye, he intended to make that clear.
"I regret now that I didn't force him," Call said to Brookshire. "It leaves us shorthanded. It's just that I never expected to have to force Pea Eye. He's always followed me, before." Brookshire noticed that the Captain looked a little tight around the mouth.
"How long has your friend been married?" he asked.
"Fifteen years, I suppose. He had a number of children, though I have not met them," Call said.
"You have not married yourself, I take it?" Brookshire asked, cautiously. He did not want to annoy the man, as he clearly had earlier in the day by asking him how long he had been a lawman.
"Oh no," Call said. "It's one thing I never tried. But you're married, and you're here.
Your wife hasn't stopped you from doing your duty." "Why, Katie wouldn't care if I went to China," Brookshire said. "She's got her sewing, and then there's the cat. She's very fond of the cat." Call said nothing. He knew women were sometimes fond of cats, though the reason for the attraction escaped him.
"So what will we do for a second man, now that your deputy has declined?" Brookshire asked. "Know any good gun hands in San Antonio?" "Nobody reliable," Call said. "I don't know what a gun hand is, but if I ever happened to meet one I doubt I'd want to hire him." "No offense," Brookshire said. "That's just what we call them in New York." "I would rather do the job alone than to take someone unreliable, particularly if we have to go into Mexico," Call said.
"We might, I guess," Brookshire said.
"He did rob that train with the governor of Coahuila on it. That was his worst act, after robbing Mr. Stanford." "I doubt he knew the governor was on the train," Call said. "That was just luck. I doubt he ever heard of Mr. Stanford, either. I hadn't myself, until you mentioned him." "Maybe I ought to wire the Colonel," Brookshire suggested. "The Colonel could raise an army, if he wanted to. I'm sure he can find us one man." "No," Call said. "I'll do my own looking. Your Colonel might find the wrong fellow." "I leave it to you, Captain," Brookshire said.
Call didn't answer. The question of Pea Eye's replacement was not one he was ready to consider. He was still brooding about Pea Eye, the man who hadn't come. His temper kept rising, too. It rose so high that it took all his self-restraint to keep from stopping the train and going after Pea Eye. Part of his anger was directed at himself for having been so mild and meek in the face of plain desertion. Of course, in strict terms, it wasn't desertion; no war was on, he himself wasn't even a Ranger anymore, and neither was Pea. The man wasn't really in his employ, and they were just going to eliminate a bandit, no very glorious cause or glorious work, either.
But then, none of their work had been glorious.
It had all been bloody, hard, and tiring, from their first foray against the Kiowa until now. There were no bugles, no parades, and very few certainties, in the life they led as Rangers.
Call had killed several men, Indian, white, and Mexican, whose courage he admired; in some cases he had even admired their ideals. Many times, going into battle, a portion of his sympathies had been with the enemy. The Mexicans along the border had been robbed, by treaty, of country and cattle that had been their grandparents'; the Comanche and the Kiowa had to watch the settlement of hunting grounds that had been theirs for many generations.
Call didn't blame the Mexicans for fighting. He didn't blame the Comanche or the Kiowa, either. Had he been them, he would have fought just as hard. He was pledged to arrest them or remove them, not to judge them.
But he did blame Pea Eye for not coming with him on the trip. Of course, the reasons Pea gave were not empty excuses: he did have a wife to care for, children to raise, and a farm to work.
In Call's view, there was an obligation stronger than those, and that obligation was loyalty.
It seemed to him the highest principle, loyalty. He preferred it to honor. He had never been exactly sure what men meant when they spoke of their honor, though it had been a popular word during the time of the War. He was sure, though, what he meant when he spoke of loyalty. A man didn't desert his comrades, his troop, his leader. If he did he was, in Call's book, worthless.
Jake Spoon, a friend he had ended up having to hang--there was an example of a man without loyalty. Jake had rangered with Gus and Call. He was as pleasant and engaging a man as Call had ever known. But he had no loyalty, as he had proven in Kansas, when he ran off with a gang of thieving killers. When they caught him, Jake could scarcely believe that his old compa@neros would hang him--but they hung him.
Pea Eye's case was far less extreme, of course. He hadn't thrown in with killers and thieves; he had merely married. Pea was not a man who could be said to be without loyalty. But he had changed loyalties, and what did that say?
The whole point of loyalty was not to change: stick with those who stuck with you. Pea Eye had proven his loyalty countless times, on the old trails. But then he had chosen a new trail.
Thinking about the matter caused Call to alternate between anger and sorrow. One minute he wanted to ride over to the Quitaque and order Pea Eye to get his rifle and saddle and come; but the next moment, he felt he ought to respect Pea Eye's choice and leave him in peace with his wife, his children, and his farm. He himself would have enjoyed the trip south a great deal more if Pea had been along, but then, he was not in the business for enjoyment, he guessed. He was in the business to make a living. Once, there had been more to it than that, or at least, he had convinced himself that there was more to it. The politicians said that the killing he had done was necessary. Call was no longer so sure it had been necessary. But even if it had always been, in the main, a way to make a living, loyalty to one's own was still the first duty, and he felt a painful pressure in his breast when he thought of Pea Eye's defection.
Brookshire looked at the long plain outside the train window and sighed. The train seemed to creep. There was nothing but the horizon to measure its progress by, and the horizon was just an endless line. He remembered that he had some books in his valise--dime novels he had provided himself with in Kansas City, in case he came down with the doldrums during his travels.
There was also a pack of cards in his valise.
On the whole, he preferred card playing to reading. Card playing didn't wear the mind down so.
"Captain, are you a card-playing man?" he asked, hopefully. A good game of cards would go a long way toward relieving the tedium of train travel.
"No," Call said.
"Well, I didn't really think you were," Brookshire said. He sighed, and rummaged in his valise until he found the dime novels. He pulled them out, glanced at them, and put them back where he found them. After a little more rummaging, he located the pack of cards.
"I reckon it'll be solitaire, then," he said, with another hopeful glance at the Captain.
Captain Woodrow Call didn't say a word.
On his way home, Pea Eye made a detour in order to ride by the schoolhouse. The little building was perched on a low bluff overlooking the Red River. He could see it, in spots, from fifteen miles away.
Pea rarely went to the school. On the few occasions when he did show up there, Lorena made it plain that he should state his business and then go on about it. The school was her place. On an active day, she had as many as thirty children to manage, and she needed to pay attention. Clarie was so good with spelling, and also with arithmetic, that Lorena sometimes let her daughter help her with the little kids. But she was the schoolmistress, and most of what had to be done, she did.
Still, Pea Eye felt an urgent need to see his wife, even though he knew she would not be at her most welcoming. At first, when Captain Call politely shook his hand and got back on the train, Pea felt relieved. The Captain didn't seem quite himself, but at least he hadn't been angry, and he had not attempted to insist that Pea Eye go with him.
But Pea Eye's relief scarcely lasted until he was out of sight of the train. He felt good for a few minutes, but then he began to feel strange. It was as if he were leaking--emptying out, like a bucket that had bullet holes in it. He began to feel sad--the same sadness he had felt in bed the night before. He had lain beside Lorena then, warmed by her body, wishing he didn't have to go anywhere. Now, it was clear that he wouldn't have to go. He could be with his wife and children, and get on with his many chores. The spring winds had blown a corner off the roof of the barn. All summer and fall he had meant to get it mended, but he hadn't. Now, he could attend to it, and to other much needed repairs as well. He could do whatever he wanted to, around the place.
Yet he felt so sad he could hardly keep from crying. His memories were getting mixed up with his feelings. Thinking of the barn with the leaky roof reminded him of the barn that had belonged to the Hat Creek outfit, way south in Lonesome Dove.
That barn had no roof at all, for years. Of course, it seldom rained in Lonesome Dove, so the stock didn't suffer much, as it would have if that barn had been in the Panhandle. But the stock wasn't really what was on Pea Eye's mind, or in his memory. What was on his mind was the old Hat Creek outfit itself--his old compa@neros, the men he had ridden withfor years.
Captain Call, of course, and Gus McCrae and Deets and Newt and Dish Boggett, old Bol the cook, and Jake Spoon; Soupy and Jasper Fant and all the rest. Now they were scattered, not merely all over the cattle country, but between life and death as well. Gus had died in Miles City, Montana, of gangrene in his leg. Deets was killed by an Indian boy in Wyoming; Jake, they had to hang in Kansas. Then the boy Newt, a good boy whom Pea had always liked and respected, had the life crushed out of him by the Hell Bitch, way up on the Milk River.
Pea loved his wife and children, and he couldn't imagine life without them. He hadn't wanted to go with the Captain, and he still didn't. But, despite that, he missed his old partners of the trail. The boys would never ride out together again; they would never be an outfit again. It was sad, but it was life.
He knew, too, that the Captain must have had a hard time holding his temper, when he discovered that he would have to go after Joey Garza alone. The matter of the bandit didn't worry Pea Eye, though. He couldn't imagine a bandit that the Captain couldn't subdue. That was just the order of things. It was Lorena, though, who kept pointing out that the order of things could change.
"Nothing's permanent," she insisted. "We'll get old, and the children will grow up." "I'll get old first--I guess I'm old now," Pea Eye answered. "You won't get old for a long time." "I don't know about that," Lorena said.
"I've borne five children. It don't make you younger." Now, riding beside the pale river with its wide sandy bed, occasionally catching a glimpse of the schoolhouse where his wife spent her days, Pea Eye had to admit that the order of things had changed. This was one of the days when it changed.
Lorena saw Pea Eye coming, through the glass window of the school room. The glass had to be ordered from Fort Worth, and the whole of the Quitaque community was proud of it. Few were the settlers who could afford glass windows for themselves.
"Here comes your pa," she said to Clarie. "I wonder if Captain Call lit into him?" "He better not have. He don't own my pa," Clarie said. She deeply resented the Captain, a man she had never met. He had never even come to meet her and the other children, yet he loomed in her life because of the power he had to take her father away. She knew her father felt obligated to the Captain, but she didn't know why. It wasn't the Captain who had given her mother the money to buy the farm. Her mother resented the old man, too. Clarie knew that, from eavesdropping on her parents. Half the arguments she had overheard as she was growing up had to do with Captain Call. They were not arguments, really. Her father didn't know how to argue, or didn't want to, but her mother certainly knew how to argue. Her mother said many ugly things when she was mad. Mostly, her father just quietly obeyed her mother. He tried his best to do what she wanted him to do. The only times he didn't was when the Captain needed him. Then, he just saddled up and left.
"I thought he went with the Captain," Clarie said, surprised to see her father coming.
"No, he didn't go," Lorena said. "He finally stood up to the man." "Goodness!" Clarie said. It was a big shock, a big change. "Are you glad, Ma?" "I will be when I know I can trust it," Lorena said.
She had been about to test some of the older children in multiplication, but she closed her arithmetic book and went to the back door of the school. Pea Eye rode up, looking a little hangdog. He knew she didn't really like for him to show up at the school. She didn't like to see him looking hangdog, either, though--it made her feel that she must have been mean to him. She didn't want to feel that she had been mean to Pea. In the years of their marriage he had never raised his voice, much less his hand, to her in anger. He knew she wasn't an angel, and yet, year in and year out, Pea treated her like one. A man that steady was rare, and she knew it.
Still, the fact was, she was busy. She had an arithmetic class to teach, and few of her pupils were adept at arithmetic.
"Well, the Captain left without me," Pea Eye said quietly. He felt out of place; he always did, when he visited Lorie at the schoolhouse. He wasn't really even sure why he had come. He felt sad inside, and just wanted to be with his wife for a few minutes.
"Did he fuss at you?" Lorena asked.
She was touched, that Pea had come. She lived with many doubts, but she never had to doubt that Pea Eye needed her. If he needed anything, he needed her. At the moment he looked gloomy and pale; lately he had been waking up with bad headaches.
"Are you sick, honey?" She asked, softening suddenly. Why was she so stiff with him, so often? He just seemed to bring it out in her, for no better reason than that he loved her to distraction.
She liked it that he loved her, but she wished, sometimes, that he wouldn't be so obvious about it.
"No, he just shook my hand and left," Pea Eye said.
"Have you got one of those headaches?" she asked.
"It's pounding," Pea admitted. "This horse has got a stiff trot." It isn't the stiff trot, it's the stiff wife, Lorena thought to herself--no point in saying it to Pea. He usually didn't know he was being punished, even when he was being punished severely.
"Wait a minute," she said, turning back into the schoolhouse. Clarie was comforting a little boy who had wet his pants. The child's mother had gone berserk that winter and had to be sent away. Two days out of three, the little boy wet his pants in the schoolroom. He missed his mother badly.
"Clarie, you better go home with your pa," Lorena said. "He's feeling poorly." "But Ma, Roy and I were going to study together," Clarie protested, looking across the room at Roy Benson. Roy was the tallest boy in the school, by several inches, and he was also the nicest.
He was nearly as tall as her pa--maybe that was why she liked him so.
"You can study with Roy tomorrow--your pa needs you today," Lorena said.
"But who'll help you with Laurie and the boys, on the way home?" Clarie asked, trying hard to come up with a good reason why she should stay.
Roy's folks were thinking of taking him out of school, since he couldn't be spared from the ranch work much longer. She hated to miss even one day with Roy. The Benson ranch was fifteen miles from their farm. Clarie felt she would never get to see him, once he left school.
"Since when have I not been able to get home with my own children?" Lorena asked, a little impatiently. She was anxious to get Clarie and Pea Eye gone. The children were beginning to act up, as they always did when her attention wavered for more than a minute or two. Roy Benson was usually the instigator, too. He was a bright boy, but full of the devil.
"Well, you can take care of them, but Laurie is my sister and I like to help with her," Clarie said.
"You do help, but now I need you to help your father," Lorena said. "I wouldn't ask it, if I didn't need it." Clarie gave up. The look in her mother's eye was a look you didn't argue with, if you were smart.
"Can I just go tell Roy I can't study with him today?" she asked.
"I'll tell him," Lorena said. "He ain't made of air, Clarie. He'll be here tomorrow." "Ma, you said "ain't,"" Clarie told her, startled. Her mother's grammar only slipped when she was angry, or in a hurry.
"Yes, because you're vexing me," Lorena said.
"You know I slip up, when you vex me." "Roy might not be here tomorrow," Clarie said, returning to the original point at issue.
"His folks might make him work, and then I'll never get to see him." She felt bitter. Roy was the only nice boy she knew, and now his folks might make him leave her, in order to help with the cow work.
But, bitter or not, she knew it was unwise to provoke her mother past a certain point, and that point was not far away. With another futile glance at Roy--he was teasing a little kid and did not see her--she went outside and obediently climbed up behind her father. Windmill, her father's big gray horse, grunted, but at least didn't break wind. For some reason, hearing horses break wind embarrassed her keenly; at least it did when there was a man around, even if the man was her father.
"Pa, do you like Roy Benson?" she asked, as they were trotting homeward.
"Roy? He's gangly, but then so am I," Pea Eye said.
Billy Williams had to walk the last five miles into Ojinaga because he lost his horse. It was a ridiculous accident. It was sure to hurt his reputation as the last of the great scouts, and his reputation had been slipping badly, anyway.
The horse became misplaced as a result of the fact that Billy had to answer a call of nature. He had been riding at a sharp clip, all the way from Piedras Negras--the news he had was so urgent that it prompted him to neglect the call until disgrace was at hand.
Then, he failed to tether his mount properly and the horse wandered off. Perhaps because of the sharp clip he had maintained, or the tequila he had drunk while maintaining it, Billy relaxed so much in the course of his call of nature that he dozed off for a few minutes, still squatting. That in itself was nothing new, since he often nodded off for a few minutes while squatting in response to nature's call. Squatting was a position he found completely comfortable; in fact, it was one of the few that he did find comfortable. When he stood up straight, he coughed too much. His diagnosis was that a couple of his ribs were poking into a lung, the result of an encounter a few years back with a buffalo cow that looked dead but wasn't.
Lying flat on his back was not a good position, either. A headache usually accompanied that position, probably because Billy never lay flat on his back unless he was dead drunk.
The fact was, his horse wasn't very far away; Billy just couldn't see him. His vision had once been so sharp that he could see a small green worm on a small green leaf, at a distance of thirty yards. Now, he couldn't even see his own horse if the horse was thirty yards away. It was a sad state for a great scout to have come to.
"Willie, you best retire," his friend Roy Bean told him the last time the two of them visited. "A man as blind as you are ought not to be riding this river. You could fall in a hole and be swallowed up and that would be that." Roy Bean didn't deliver that opinion with much concern in his voice. Like most of Roy Bean's pronouncements, this one got said mainly because the man was vain and arrogant. He had never been able to get enough of the sound of his own voice, though it held no particular charm for anyone but himself.
"You're blind drunk nine days out of ten--what keeps you from falling in a hole and being swallowed up?" Billy asked.
"The fact is, I sit here in this chair in this saloon, not nine days out of ten but ten days out of ten," Roy Bean said. "If I could sit here in this chair eleven days out of ten, I would. I don't go wandering off where there might be a hole that could swallow me up." That point was hard to dispute. Roy Bean seldom left his chair; even seldomer did he leave his saloon; and never, so far as anyone living knew, had he been outside the town of Langtry, Texas, a town that consisted mainly of Roy Bean's saloon.
"But then I ain't the last of the great scouts," Roy Bean said. "I don't have to go traipsing through the gullies. I got no reputation to maintain." "I won't fall in no hole," Billy assured him. "I won't get swallowed up, neither.
"I would have to be a lot blinder than this, before I quit tracking," Billy added, though that claim was bravado. Traveling was becoming more and more worrisome, and as for tracking, he probably could track an elephant if he could stay in hearing distance of it. But tracking anything smaller, including his own horse, was a hopeless matter.
"Well, if you do avoid holes, there's the problem of killers," Roy Bean reminded him.
"You can't see in front of you, or behind you, or to the side. The dumbest killer in the West could sneak up on you and cut your throat." Billy refrained from comment. The two of them were sitting in Roy's dirty, flyblown saloon while they were having the discussion. The saloon was hot as well as filthy, and the liquor cost too much, but it was the only saloon around and contained the only liquor to be had along that stretch of the border.
Roy Bean, out of a combination of boredom, greed, and vanity, had recently appointed himself judge of a vast jurisdiction--the trans-Pecos West--and nowadays hung people freely, often over differences amounting to no more than fifty cents. It was an ominous practice, in Billy's view; he had often found himself having differences with Roy Bean amounting to considerably more than fifty cents. Roy had been told by many of his constituents that he shouldn't hang people over such paltry sums, and of course, he had a ready reply.
"A man that will steal fifty cents would just as soon steal a million dollars, and he would, if the opportunity presented itself," Roy said.
"Roy, the opportunity ain't going to present itself, not around here," Billy pointed out.
"Nobody around here has a million dollars to steal. Not many of them has fifty cents, not in cash money." "Well, I have fifty cents," Roy said.
"I mean to keep it, too." "If I was to steal it, would you hang me?" Billy asked. He didn't suppose Roy to be a man of much tolerance, but he thought he'd ask the question anyway.
"I'd hang you as soon as I could find my rope," Roy said amiably.
"We've known one another a long time," Billy reminded him. "I've nursed you through several fevers and I once killed a Mexican who had it in for you. I expect he would have cut your throat, later in life, if I hadn't laid him out." "What'd you shoot this Mexican fellow with?" Roy asked. He was a master of the diversionary question.
Billy had to stop and think. Several years had passed since the encounter, and his memory had grown almost as cloudy as his eyesight.
"It wasn't no Colt," he said, finally.
"I don't remember what it was. A gun of some kind. What difference does it make? He's dead, which is one reason you're alive. Now you're telling me you'd hang me for fifty cents. I consider that harsh." "Well, I don't know that I could put my hands on my hanging rope, in a hurry," Roy said. "You might escape, if you were agile." "Who said you could be a judge, anyway?" Billy inquired. "I'd want to see some papers on it, before I let you hang me." "Since when can you read law papers?" Roy asked. "I've known you for too long and I've never seen you read anything, unless you count a pack of cards." "I could read if it was that or be hung," Billy said. "You can't just say you're a judge and have it be true. There has to be some papers on it, somewhere." "Out here west of the Pecos you can be a judge if you want to bad enough," Roy said. "I want to bad enough." "Suppose I only stole a dime?" Billy asked. "What would happen then?" "Same sentence, if you stole it from me," Roy said. "I need my dimes. If you stole ten cents from a Mexican I might let you off.
"The loss of any sum is more than I can tolerate, officially," he added.
"I can't tell that you've ever amounted to much, Roy," Billy informed him. "It's irritating that you set up to be a judge of your fellowman, so late in life. It's all because of this saloon.
It's the only saloon around here, and that's why you think you can be a judge." "I admit it was a timely purchase," Roy said.
"You didn't purchase it, you shot the owner," Billy reminded him. "Tom Sykes, I knew him. He was nothing but a cutthroat himself." "That's right--so I purchased his saloon with a bullet," Roy said. "Three bullets in all. Tom wasn't eager to die." "That's still cheap," Billy said.
"Not as cheap as one bullet," Roy said. "The sad truth is, my marksmanship has declined.
In my prime, I would not have had to expend that much ammunition on Tommy Sykes." Because of the saloon, it was necessary to put up with Roy, but the more urgent necessity was to get to Ojinaga and give Maria the news he had picked up in Piedras Negras. It was a great annoyance to Billy that because of a long shit and a short nap he had lost his horse. But that was the truth of it, and there was nothing he could do but limp along.
By the time he finally stumbled up to Maria's house, Billy was exhausted. His head was swimming from the strain of the long walk, and he was sweating a rainstorm. He had to grope his way through Maria's goats. Her goats seemed to think he had come hurrying all the way from Piedras Negras just to feed them.
Maria heard the goats bleating and went out to have a look. Someone had seen a cougar, near the village; she didn't want a cougar getting one of her goats. But they were only bleating at Billy Williams, who looked as if he might fall on his face at any moment.
"Where's your horse?" she asked, walking out to have a better look at him. She had known Billy Williams for many years. Sometimes she let him stay at her house, because he loved her children and would help her with them, far more than any of her husbands ever had. He also loved her, but that was not a matter she allowed him to discuss.
"Where's Joey? I got bad news," Billy said, stopping amid the goats. Maria frightened him a little. She always had. He presumed nothing when he came to her house.
"Joey left--I don't know where he went," Maria said.
"Damn the luck," Billy said. "I've traveled a long way to bring him some news and now I'm tired. I'm tired and I'm blind and I'm old and I'm thirsty." "You can sleep in the saddle shed," Maria said.
"Come in--I'll feed you and give you coffee.
I can't do nothing about your other problems." "I'd rather have a bottle of beer, if you can spare one," Billy said, limping into the house.
"I seldom walk in the heat, and I wouldn't have today, but my horse escaped." "I don't keep beer in my house," Maria said. "You know that. You stay here. If you want beer you'll have to go to the cantina." "Well, what's the harm in beer?" Billy asked, wishing Maria didn't sound so stern. He didn't know why he had asked for beer, since he knew she didn't keep it. Maria had been wonderfully beautiful once; probably she was still beautiful. Because of his poor eyesight, all he could see when he looked at her face was a dim outline. He had to fill in the outline with his memories. When he was younger he had coveted her greatly. He would have married her, or given her anything, for a taste of her favors, but he had never tasted them. He still did covet Maria, although he couldn't really see her now, except in his memories.
"The harm is not in the beer," Maria told him. "The harm is in men. Drunk men. Some of them beat women. Some of them have beaten me. If you want beer, go to the cantina, but tell me your news first." "This is important news," Billy said.
He saw a water bucket sitting by the stove, with a dipper in it. He limped over and helped himself to a dipperful. The water was cool and sweet. Before he knew it he had helped himself to three dipperfuls.
"Don't you even know which direction Joey went?" Billy asked.
Maria didn't answer. She didn't like to answer questions--not about her son Joey, not about anything. What she knew was hers; no one had a right to it, unless it was her children, and even their rights had limits. Much of what she knew was for no one to know. It was hers, and by knowing it she had survived. People were curious; women were even worse than men, in that respect; but that was not her problem.
"Where does the wind go?" she said. "Joey's young. A thousand miles isn't long to Joey." "No, and a thousand miles might not be far enough, either--this time," Billy said.
Maria just looked at him. He was in disgusting condition, filthy and drunk. His weak eyes dripped rheum down his cheeks, which were red from years of drinking. But he had been loyal to her and her children for many years. Billy was the only man who had been good to Joey, when Joey was small.
He had bought Joey his first saddle. He just walked up with it one day and gave it to Joey, when Joey was six. It was Joey's happiest day, the day Billy brought him the saddle.
Maria was with Juan Castro then, her second husband, and her worst. Juan Castro was so jealous that Maria never dared tell him that Joey was her son, so she pretended he was her dead sister's child. Even so, in that same year, Juan Castro sold Joey to the Apaches. Maria was away in Agua Prieta, helping her mother die.
When she returned to Ojinaga and found her son gone, she was wild. She told Juan Castro she would kill him the first time he went to sleep.
He beat her--he had beaten her many times--and left. Maria never saw him again, but she didn't have to kill him. His own brother did it, in a fight over a horse.
At that point, she went to Billy Williams and begged him to go trade with the Apaches to get her son back. Maria had never sold herself. She had never been with any man she didn't want.
But she was desperate; she offered to be with Billy Williams, if he would go save her son. She had never said such words to a man before. She considered herself a modest woman. She had picked badly, when it came to men, but she had picked for love.
Joey was her firstborn, and she knew the Apaches would kill him if he angered them, or else they would trade him themselves, farther and farther north, so that she could never find him.
Maria didn't want to live if Joey was lost, and yet, she had her children to raise, the two she had by Juan Castro. Rafael, the boy, had no mind and would die without her care; Teresa, the girl, was bright and pretty and quick, but born blind. Rafael lived with the goats and the chickens.
Teresa, his sister, was never far from him, for she was the only one who could understand Rafael's jumbled words.
Maria knew she wouldn't have the strength to raise her damaged children unless she got Joey back.
If she lost her firstborn, she would give up.
She would whore, or do worse than whore.
Billy was said to be a good scout, since he could talk the Indian tongues. For the sake of her children, she didn't want to give up.
So she went to Billy Williams and offered herself. To her surprise, Billy Williams, who had often pursued her and even tried to marry her, looked embarrassed.
"Oh no, that wouldn't be right--I couldn't have that," Billy said. He tilted his chair back, as if to remove himself from the slightest temptation.
For a moment, Maria felt hopeless. She had nothing else to offer, and now the man was refusing what he had often sought.
"It wouldn't be right," Billy repeated.
"Don't disturb yourself about it, Mary. I'll find Joey." He found Joey, far to the north, in the Sierra Madre, but the Apaches wouldn't trade him. All he could tell Maria was that Joey looked healthy and could speak Apache better than he could.
A year later, when Maria was so unhappy Billy feared she would die, he went again to the Sierra Madre; but again, he had to return and report failure. He had taken enough money that time to buy Joey, but Joey was nowhere to be found.
He had escaped, and even the Apaches couldn't catch him. Since then, no one had caught him.
He showed up in Ojinaga a week after Billy's return, just as Maria was slipping into hopelessness.
Later, Joey claimed that it was his years with the Apaches that enabled him to rob gringo trains so easily. The Apaches held a hard school, but they knew much. Joey learned what they knew, and he had not forgotten it.
"Tell me your news," Maria said. "I'm here and Joey's not." "The railroad's hired Woodrow Call, that's it," Billy said--he was glad to have it out.
"You know who that is, don't you?" "I should--he hung my father and my brother," Maria said. "And my brother-in-law. My sister's a widow, because of Call." "Well, that's who they've hired," Billy said. "It's a compliment, I guess. A railroad wouldn't spend that kind of money on just any bandit." "Do you know Call?" Maria asked. The name sent a chill through her. She had loved her father and her brother. They had done no more than take back horses that the Texans had taken from them.
No living man had caused her as much grief as Woodrow Call: not the four husbands, three of whom beat her; not the gringos, who insulted her, assuming that because she was a brown woman, she was a whore.
Now Call wanted Joey. He wanted her firstborn.
"I know the man, but the acquaintance ain't real fresh," Billy said. "I rangered for him about a month once, but he turned me out for drinking on patrol. I'm older than he is, and I've drunk when I had a thirst, all my life. It don't affect my vigilance much, but the Captain didn't believe me. Or didn't like me or something. He turned me out." "Would you recognize him?" Maria asked.
"Why, yes. I expect I would," Billy said.
"If he comes here, show him to me," Maria said.
"Why, so you can kill him?" Billy said.
Maria didn't answer. Billy knew better than to repeat the question. Repeating questions only made Maria close up more tightly.
"What was your last husband's name?" he asked, changing the subject. "It's slipped my mind." "Roberto Sanchez," Maria said.
"I don't see him--did he leave?" he asked.
"He left," Maria said.
"That makes four husbands, by my count," Billy said. "The two mean ones and Benito and this one. I don't know if this one was mean." "Why are you counting my husbands?" Maria asked. Despite herself, she felt some amusement. Poor, skinny, and blind as he was, Billy still had some life in him. He was still interested in her, enough to want to know if her husband was around. Life still amused him. Once, it had amused them both, a lot. They had danced together, laughed together. There were times when it still amused Maria, but those times were rare. It interested her, though, that an old man with no money and almost no eyesight could still derive amusement from the things humans did. And he could still want her.
"I just like to keep track of your husbands.
It's my pastime," Billy said. "Why did Se@nor Sanchez leave, if I ain't prying?" "You're prying," Maria said.
"My feet hurt, tell me anyway," Billy said.
Maria smiled. Billy couldn't see the smile, but he could tell that her tone was a little less severe. He wished he could see her face. All he could see was a sort of outline.
"He left me because he didn't like me," Maria said.
"Why, he married you--why didn't he like you?" Billy asked.
"He liked the way I look," Maria said.
"He mistook that for me." "I sympathize with him, I've often made the same mistake," Billy said. "I'm sure I'd make it again, if I could see better." "I think Joey went to Crow Town," Maria said. She didn't want to talk about her husbands, or her dealings with men.
"Crow Town, good Lord," Billy said.
"Joey is young," Maria said. "He likes such places." "I'm old, I don't," Billy said.
"I'd almost rather crawl off and die than go to Crow Town." "Who said you had to go?" Maria asked.
"Woodrow Call has hung enough Mexicans," Billy said. "I better go and warn Joey. Swift as he is, he might get away. If my going to Crow Town will help, then I'll go to Crow Town." "You don't listen," Maria said. "You don't let me talk, and when I do you don't listen.
I'll go to Crow Town myself." "You'll go?" Billy said. "How long do you think you'll last, in that stink hole?" "Long enough to warn my son," Maria said.
"No, I'll go. Joey relies on me to keep him informed about lawmen and such," Billy said.
"You lost your horse," Maria reminded him.
"Well, it ain't the only horse," Billy said. "I can get another horse.
"I doubt even Woodrow Call would go to Crow Town," he added. "Everybody that lives there hates him. He'd have to kill the whole town." "You've forgotten how he is," Maria said.
"If he's hired to go there, he'll go. If they sent him to kill Joey he'll go wherever Joey is." "Well, I mean to get there first, even if I have to walk," Billy said. "The man turned me out. I can't forget it." Thinking about Crow Town gave him such a terrible thirst that he limped off to the cantina and bought two bottles of tequila. There was an outhouse behind the cantina that afforded him a little shade, and he sat down in the shade and drank one bottle rapidly. Midway through the second bottle, as he was about to pass out, a vaquero came riding up, leading Billy's lost horse.
"I found your horse, old man," Pedro, the vaquero, said.
Billy found that the mere thought of his horse, not to mention the sight of him, to the extent he could see him, made him furious. The willful beast had caused him not only discomfort but embarrassment.
For a man of his prestige to have to walk into a one-saloon town such as Ojinaga was little short of disgraceful.
Without hesitation, but not without difficulty, he managed to extract his pistol from its holster. His hand didn't seem to want to go where his brain told it to. His hand often rebelled in such fashion when he was drunk. But he eventually got the pistol more or less firmly in his grasp, and without worrying too much about aiming, he emptied it in the direction of Pedro and the horse. Of course, he had no wish to injure Pedro, who was a decent vaquero. He only meant to shoot the horse, in the head, if possible. But the only casualty of the fusillade was a little white goat who happened to be standing idly by, just in the wrong spot.
"Gracias," Pedro said, tipping his hat to the old man who leaned against the outhouse wall.
"That's one less goat to get in my way." Pedro was a little disgusted. The old man had once been a renowned scout. He had been good enough to track Indians, it was said. He had once been a notable shot, too. Now he couldn't hit his own horse, at a distance of twenty yards. In Pedro's view, it would be better for such men to die and not go around shooting other people's goats.
Later, Billy found a bush that offered better shade than the light outhouse. He finished the second bottle of tequila and took a little nap. When he awoke, with an empty bottle and an empty gun beside him, Maria was kneeling by his legs. She seemed to be looping a rope around his legs. Her spotted mare was standing with her.
He could just make out the spots. Then he was being dragged, slowly. If the dragging had been rapid, it would have upset his stomach. When the dragging stopped, he was behind Maria's house, near the pump. Before Billy could give the matter more thought, he found himself under a waterfall. Cold water was splashing in his face. He felt he could drown, if he wasn't lucky, from the flood of water. But when it stopped splashing, he was not drowned. He tried to raise up and bumped his head hard on Maria's pump. She had been pumping water in his face.
"I have to go find Joey," Maria said.
"Look after my children. Don't let anything happen to them." "Well, I won't," Billy said. "Are you armed?" "No, I don't like guns," Maria said.
"You ought to take my pistol. You'd be safer," he told her.
"I don't want your gun, Billy," Maria said. "If I have a gun some man might take it away from me and beat me with it. I want you to stay here and see that Rafael and Teresa come to no harm." But Billy persisted; finally, Maria took the gun. As she rode away on her spotted mare, Billy realized that she had called him by his name. That was a change. It had been several years since Maria had called him by his name.
When Bolivar saw the Captain, he began to cry.
"Capit@an, capit@an," he said, sobbing. Call had grown used to it, since Bol cried every time he showed up. But Brookshire, meeting the old man for the first time, was embarrassed.
The place where the old man boarded was only a hovel made of mud, or of a mudlike substance, at least.
Soon Josefeta, the mother of the family that cared for Bolivar, was crying too.
"God sent you just in time, Captain," she said, in a shaking voice. "We can't have Bolivar with us, no more. Roberto has no patience with him.
He hits him." "Well, he oughtn't to hit him," Call said.
"What's Bol done, to bring it on?" "Last week he set himself on fire," Josefeta said. "Sometimes he cuts himself. In the night he cries out and wakes the children." Call sighed. Bol's hair was snow white.
He was still crying and shaking.
"He needs a haircut," Call said. The old man's hair was nearly to his shoulders, making him look shakier than he was.
"Last time we cut it he grabbed the scissors and tried to stab Ramon," Josefeta said. "Then he cut himself. I think he wants to end his life. It's a mortal sin." Call had a good deal of respect for Josefeta. She had nine or ten children and a husband who was apparently none too nice. The money he paid her for keeping Bol was probably about all that kept the family going. He knew that dealing with the old man must be a trial, but he had not supposed it to be such a severe trial that they were considering putting the old man out.
Brookshire was appalled. The old man was sure to be an impediment to their travels, although the Captain had made it clear that they were only taking him as far as Laredo. Still, in Brookshire's reckoning, every minute counted. That was Colonel Terry's philosophy, too; of that there could be no doubt. The Colonel expected them to catch Joey Garza before he robbed any more trains, particularly any more trains that might happen to be carrying a military payroll. The military did not take kindly to having its money snatched. Hints had been received; the military let it be known that they might have to find other modes of conveyance if the young Mexican struck one more time.
One of Josefeta's little boys came around the house, leading Bolivar's mule. The boy had saddled it for him. It was with some difficulty that they managed to hoist Bolivar onto the mule's skinny back. The experience darkened Brookshire's mood even more. The old fellow could not even mount his own mule unassisted. But Captain Call seemed undisturbed. He was patient with Bolivar, and he gave the woman a nice sum of money for the trouble she'd had.
"I'm sorry for the trouble, Josefeta," Call said. "He's just old, and wandering in his mind. Maybe a little travel will improve his spirits." As they got ready to depart, children began to gather around the old man and his mule. They seemed to be about half and half, boys and girls, and all were weeping.
"We don't want him to go, we love him," Josefeta said. "Only Roberto has no more patience. I'm afraid something bad will happen." Brookshire had been worried all morning, but, as they made their way at a slow pace toward the outskirts of town, he found that the heat was so great it overwhelmed even his capacity for worry.
It was winter on the plains, but summer still in San Antonio. At night Brookshire lay in his little hotel room, as hot as if he slept in a box with a stove under it. His underclothes were soaked, his bedclothes soaked. He sweated so much that he awoke in a puddle. The hotel room had windows, but no breeze blew through them. All that came through them was mosquitoes, wasps, and other flying bugs. Each morning he woke up feeling more fatigued than he felt when he went to bed.
If the Captain was bothered by the heat, it didn't show. If he was bothered by anything, it didn't show. He had taken Brookshire with him to visit the sheriff of San Antonio. Call wanted to see if the man might have a reliable deputy he could spare.
"Mr. Brookshire represents the railroad," Call said. He thought that was enough information to give out.
Being introduced as if he were Colonel Terry, or somebody important, perked Brookshire up briefly. It made him feel like a banker--he had often regretted that he hadn't become a banker. It was a breeze to his vanity, going around with the famous Ranger.
But long before evening came, Brookshire had sweated out his vanity. The one cheering thing he could think of was that his wife, Katie, wasn't along.
Katie disapproved of sweat. She considered it uncivilized. In her view, nice people didn't get drunk, spit in public, break wind, or sweat. On occasion, in the summertime, when the Brooklyn heat was at its most intense, Katie even denied him her favors in order to maintain her standards in regard to sweat.
Walking around San Antonio in the heat, or lying in his little box of a room at night, Brookshire had at least one thing to be grateful for: he and Katie weren't leading their conjugal life in south Texas. Feeling as she did about sweat, life would be bleak if they lived in San Antonio, where even the briefest embrace would be bound to give rise to a good deal of sweat.
A sheriff in the town, a young man much in awe of the Captain, had no deputies to spare, so the Captain spent the rest of the day looking at horses and pack mules, or choosing the equipment they would need on a journey up the river.
It was at this point that Brookshire gave the Captain a bad start. When Colonel Terry instructed his people to send the Captain a telegram, he meant, of course, to make it clear that Brookshire was to accompany him from beginning to end; that is, until Joey Garza was dead, or caught. The Colonel didn't spend money recklessly. Brookshire was a trained accountant. For more than twenty years, he had kept up with the Colonel's bills. The only bills he wasn't allowed to see were those that pertained to the Colonel's mistress, a mystery woman named Miss Cora. No one in the office had ever seen Miss Cora, though it was known that the Colonel kept her in an apartment on Fifth Avenue. Once in a while a bill for flowers or jewelry would get misdirected and arrive in the office, a circumstance that invariably threw the Colonel into a temper.
"Why, that idiot, that's for Cora," he would say, snatching the bill and stuffing it into his pocket. The Colonel's wife, another mystery figure, was known in the office as Miss Eleanora. She was thought to be prim, and her primness, in the minds of the office workers, explained Miss Cora and the apartment on Fifth Avenue, and the jewelry, and the flowers.
Now and then, seeing one of the misdirected bills--they were always from establishments of high repute--Brookshire would dream a little.
He would imagine that he was as rich as the Colonel and able to keep a nice girlie, one whose standards in the matter of sweat were not as high as Katie's. He thought of this girlie as his Miss Belle, for he liked the name Belle. Of course, it was just a little dream. Brookshire knew that he would never be as rich as the Colonel, and even if he did acquire a little more money he might never find a girl named Belle who would care to live in an apartment on Fifth Avenue and receive flowers and jewelry, from him. It was just his little dream.
The point, though, that startled Captain Call was that Colonel Terry expected Brookshire and his ledger books to accompany Call on his chase. The Captain had been promised his expenses, as well as a substantial bonus, in the event of rapid success. An expedition, even a small one, was bound to incur expenses, so naturally, Brookshire was expected to keep a full accounting. Mostly, when trouble had arisen in the past, it had involved dirty work on the part of Colonel Terry's rivals in Chicago or Cleveland or Buffalo--someplace civilized.
In those cases, Brookshire's job was to rein in the Pinkertons. As a rule, Pinkertons were inclined to be casual about money, and the Colonel wasn't.
Employing Captain Call to catch Joey Garza was not as simple as hiring the Pinkertons to beat up a switch buster. There was only one point of similarity, which was that in both cases, the Colonel's money was being spent. And when the Colonel's money was being spent, he expected a full accounting.
"Why? Doesn't the man trust me?" Call asked, when Brookshire revealed that he was expected to accompany him.
"The Colonel don't trust God," Brookshire said. The comment just slipped out.
Colonel Terry's unwillingness to trust was not lost on any of his employees. He was constantly popping into the office to inspect their work.
When Brookshire turned in his ledgers at the end of each week, the Colonel sat right down, took out his big magnifying glass, and went over the pages line by line.
Call was inspecting a stout gray gelding that he thought might do, when Brookshire revealed that he was expected to come along. Call had just lifted the horse's foreleg, in order to inspect the hoof. He was going into rocky country and the animals would need good feet. The notion that Brookshire, a man who couldn't keep his hat on his head, was planning to go with him into Mexico had never occurred to Call. Bol, shaky as he was, would be less of an impediment. At least Bol was used to hard living, and he was Mexican.
Brookshire seemed to be a decent man, but decency was one thing, experience entirely another.
Call had no idea whether the man could even ride.
"But Mr. Brookshire," he said. "You're not equipped, and this isn't your line of work. I know you're a family man, and there is some danger involved. To be blunt, I'd rather not take you." "I'd rather not go, neither, but what choice do I have?" Brookshire asked. "I'm a salaried man. I work for Colonel Terry. He expects me to keep the daily accounts--besides that, he expects reports." "Reports?" Call asked.
"Yes, I'm expected to report," Brookshire said. It was clear from the Captain's stern look that he was not pleased with what he was hearing.
"If you capture the young Mexican, or kill him, the Colonel's going to want to know right away," Brookshire added. "He's a stickler for promptness." "I expect he's a stickler for results, too," Call said. "What if I don't catch the young bandit promptly enough? What if he manages to rob the army a few more times?" Brookshire felt uncomfortable with the question. He had not been the only one in the office to voice doubts about the Captain's age. Of course, everyone admired Call's reputation. He had undoubtedly been the best there was, once; in his prime, Joey Garza probably wouldn't have lasted a week, with the Captain in pursuit.
But now the man was old, and looked it. If Colonel Terry could see him, he would probably have taken back his offer, or at least reduced the stipend.
"I hope I'm not getting deaf," Call said. "I didn't hear you answer. What happens if I ain't quick enough?" "He'll fire you in a minute," Brookshire said.
"I'm glad you admit it," Call said.
"I'll get Joey Garza for you, but I can't say when I'll get him, and God couldn't either.
Mexico is a big place--so is West Texas. We might not be handy to a telegraph office the day the Colonel decides to fire me." "Captain, just catch the bandit," Brookshire said. "Don't worry about Colonel Terry, too much. Worrying about the Colonel is my job." "Couldn't you get another job?" Call asked. "I don't think you enjoy this one too much. This Colonel of yours sounds like he's rough on the help." Brookshire didn't deny it, but refrained from confirming it. He had learned to be cautious in remarking about the Colonel. Remarks uttered hundreds of miles from the office nonetheless had a way of reaching the man's ear.
"I like a loyal man," Call said, seeing that Brookshire had nothing to say. "I think you are a loyal man. But being loyal don't mean you're suited for this work. It's unreasonable of your boss to expect you to do work you're not trained for." "He is unreasonable, though," Brookshire said, before he could check his tongue. "He expects me to go, and I better go. I admit I ain't qualified. I'm about as unqualified a man as you could find anywhere. But here I am.
I'm expected to go." "Send the Colonel a telegram," Call suggested. "Tell him you've caught the Texas itch. Tell him the doctor says you're not to ride for six weeks." "What's the Texas itch?" Brookshire asked, wondering if he would catch it. "How do you get it?" "You just get it," Call said, amused. The man was so green it was almost painful to see. Call couldn't help thinking what a time his old friend Gus McCrae would have had with Mr. Brookshire.
Gus would have joshed him within an inch of his life.
No doubt he could have thought up diseases far more frightening than the Texas itch.
"Well, I don't want it," Brookshire said.
"I don't want to take you off and get you killed, either," Call said. "Can you shoot?" "I can point a rifle, fairly well," Brookshire said. "I learned that much in the War, but then they made me a medical orderly. I haven't pointed a rifle since." "How long since you've ridden a horse?" Call asked.
"My experience with horses is mostly limited to horse cabs," Brookshire admitted. "I may not have personally ridden a horse myself in a fair number of years.
"I did sit on a camel once," he remembered. "It was at the Hippodrome. It was the Colonel's birthday." "What's the Hippodrome?" Call asked.
"It's a show place," Brookshire said.
"Buffalo Bill has performed there--I've seen him three times. I even saw old Sitting Bull. The Colonel has met Buffalo Bill, and Sitting Bull too, I expect." Call said nothing.
"Have you met Mr. Cody?" Brookshire inquired, feeling a little uneasy. Stern as the Captain could be when he spoke, he was even more stern when he kept silent.
"I've not had the pleasure," Call said, dryly. He considered Cody a show-off and braggart. No doubt he had killed a number of buffalo, but any man with a gun and a reasonably good aim could have killed a number of buffalo back when there were millions of them. Once, while in El Paso, Call had seen a picture of some of the Indians who worked in Cody's show. The Indians were Sioux, and they were playing baseball. Call supposed, when he reflected on it, there was no reason why Sioux Indians shouldn't play baseball. What else did they have to do? There was no reason why they shouldn't be paid money to race around a ring and pretend to rob stagecoaches, either. Cody was clearly a man of some enterprise; he figured out that people who had never seen a free Indian, much less fought one, would pay money to watch such things.
There might be no harm in it, but it didn't cause him to be eager to make the acquaintance of Bill Cody, or of Sitting Bull, either.
"Anyway, the Colonel insisted that I sit on the camel and get my picture took," Brookshire said. It had been innocent enough--just a birthday party at the Hippodrome-- but Brookshire felt merely mentioning it had taken him down a notch in the Captain's estimation. He didn't suppose he had ever occupied a very high place in the Captain's estimation, but he couldn't afford to drop many more notches.
"You can't ride and you don't know whether you can shoot," the Captain said, in a tone that was not unkind. "Your hat blows off every few minutes, and the heat don't suit you. We may have to cross a desert or two, to catch Joey Garza. We may never catch up with him, and if we do he might shoot us both." "Shoot you?" Brookshire said, surprised.
"Why, I don't expect he could shoot you." "He might," Call said. "He's said to be a notable shot." "But you've got a reputation," Brookshire said. "The Colonel wouldn't have hired you, otherwise." "There's one sure thing about my reputation, Mr. Brookshire," Call said. "It won't stop a bullet. That's why I'd rather not take you with me. I don't want to take you off and get you killed." "Killed?" Brookshire said. "Why would I get killed?" It occurred to Brookshire that the heat might have affected his hearing. He had worked for the railroad for many years, but never before had the question of dying arisen. Accountants didn't get killed, not even traveling accountants such as himself. During the worst troubles in the Chicago yards, he had still rested comfortably in a hotel room at night and had even allowed himself a nip of brandy now and then.
"Killed or not, the Colonel expects me to go," Brookshire repeated, in a voice that wavered a little.
"Try him with the Texas itch, while I inspect these horses," Call said. "You'll have ample time to send your telegram." Brookshire did send a telegram. He didn't mention any disease or disability, for that might only cause the Colonel to put him out to pasture. After much thought and a few trial runs, he whittled his telegram down to a sentence and a query:
Captain Call unwilling to take me on the expedition. Stop. Advise.
The reply was immediate, and also brief:
Insist that you accompany Call. Stop. No compromises entertained. Terry.
Brookshire showed the telegram to Call, just before they set off to collect Bolivar. Call looked at it and handed it back to him.
"I'll compromise, if he won't," Call said. "I'll try you as far as Laredo. You can help me watch Bol. Sometimes he wanders off, in the night. You can ride one of the spare horses." "Could I have a gun?" Brookshire asked.
"What kind of gun?" Call asked.
"A rifle, I guess," Brookshire said.
"Or a shotgun, and a few pistols. I believe I'd feel more comfortable if I was armed." "Help yourself," Call said. "There's a hardware store right across the street. I've got to see a blacksmith and buy some extra horseshoes. I'll see if I can locate you a saddle, while I'm at it. I'll be ready in thirty minutes." Call arrived back thirty minutes later, riding one horse and leading two more plus a pair of mules, to find that Brookshire had equipped himself with two large Colt revolvers, a Winchester, and an eight-gauge shotgun.
"Good Lord," Call said. "What do you expect to do with an eight-gauge shotgun?" "Well, the fellow in the hardware store recommended it," Brookshire said, defensively. He had been proud of his big shotgun, but now the Captain was looking askance at it, and his confidence began to sag.
The Captain picked up the gun and hefted it to his shoulder a time or two.
"It'll take a whole mule, just to carry the shells," he remarked, handing the shotgun back to Brookshire.
"The man said it would be useful for self-defense," Brookshire said.
"I can't dispute that," Call said. "It'll kick you into next week, but if you survive the kick, you probably won't have to worry much about the enemy." "The revolvers are the newest model," Brookshire said, unhappily. The sense that he was totally unfit for what he was about to do struck him with renewed force. But the die seemed cast. Captain Call had turned away, and he was methodically strapping baggage onto one of the pack mules.
From there they went to retrieve the old Mexican who was out of his mind. By the time the full heat of the day arrived, they had left the last mud hovel behind and were headed across a dusty, thorny plain toward the Mexican border. The horse that had been chosen for Brookshire was a thin sorrel named Dob.
"I don't understand the name," Brookshire said, wishing the beast's spine weren't so thin. He had expected his saddle to afford him more comfort than it did.
"It's just a name," Call said. "Maybe he was named after a dirt dobber, but that's just a guess." Brookshire was wondering if Colonel Terry would honor the bill for Dob. The horse had cost eighty-five dollars, a vast sum in Brookshire's mind. What if Colonel Terry had only meant to allow him a sixty-dollar horse? Where would the difference come from?
Call had insisted that Brookshire dispense with the fedora and buy a proper felt hat. He had also insisted on equipping him with rough clothes, boots, even chapaderos, the leggings that were necessary in the brush country near the border.
The result, Call had to admit, made the man look ridiculous, not only in his eyes, but in the eyes of almost everyone who saw him. Somehow, his Yankeeness was more potent with the clothes--he looked like nothing so much as a New York accountant who had been forced to assume a costume that was completely out of keeping with his nature.
Brookshire himself had felt quite self-conscious in his new clothes, but once they rode out of San Antonio, he found that how he looked was the least of his worries. His new hat seemed to weigh several times as much as his beloved fedora. He had not considered the fedora beloved until he tried the new hat, which, besides being heavy, fitted him so tightly that it gave him a headache. The heat didn't help his headache, nor did the boots help his feet.
"They squeeze, don't they," Brookshire said, but Captain Call looked as if he had no idea what Brookshire could be talking about. The Captain's boots apparently didn't squeeze.
To Brookshire's surprise and dismay, sitting on Dob was somewhat like sitting on a saw. The horse was very lean, and the saddle narrow and hard. Though his head hurt and his feet hurt, and he felt that within a few miles he would probably be sawed in two, none of these discomforts was as troubling to Brookshire as the nature of the country they were traveling through. He had not supposed there could be country so bleak and inhospitable anywhere in the American nation. The ground was covered with flat cactuses; the Captain called them prickly pear. There were also thick, gray thornbushes called chaparral, interlaced amid the equally thorny mesquite.
Several times they encountered rattlesnakes, which buzzed alarmingly. Though it was only midafternoon, Brookshire was feeling tired. But looking at the ground beneath him, he had a hard time imagining where he was going to sleep.
The one thing he didn't expect he would have to fear was a chill. The sky was not like the skies of home. It was vast, and instead of being blue, it was white, not with cloud but with heat.
Captain Call was not satisfied with the behavior of one of the mules. The beast was skittish. He jumped around so much that the Captain was finally forced to get down and lash the baggage more securely.
"Do snakes crawl around at night?" Brookshire asked.
"That's when they hunt," Call said. "I'm sorry I chose this mule." The mule, as if annoyed by the comment, tried to bite Call, who whacked him on the nose with a glove.
"I expect I'd better replace him in Laredo," Call said. "I'm glad Bol's calmed down. He usually does, once we get moving." Indeed, the old Mexican seemed much calmer. Once in a while, he muttered something in Spanish, but his eyes were dreamy, and he seemed happy to be on a mule.
Brookshire found that, despite the many discomforts and the prospect of a thorny sleep, he was not entirely discontented. The clothes took some getting used to, particularly the boots. He was sweating so much that Katie would probably divorce him on sight, in her shock at discovering that he contained such reservoirs of sweat.
Still, it was an adventure, the first of his life, unless you counted the War; but he had been so young and so scared during the War that he couldn't enjoy himself.
Now, though, he was riding out of San Antonio, bound for Mexico, with the famous Captain Call. They were going in search of a dangerous Mexican bandit, Joey Garza. It might be uncomfortable, but it was exciting, too.
He owned four guns, and they were loaded. He was on his own in the West--on his own, except for Captain Call. Colonel Terry couldn't find him to yell at him. He couldn't even yell at him by telegram, not for a while. The Captain had said it would take about three days to reach Laredo. Brookshire felt that he would be an accomplished horseman by the time they got there.
Perhaps he would be an accomplished shot, too.
That night, to his surprise, he slept heavily, so heavily that if any snakes crawled over him, he didn't notice.
Breakfast was only coffee. The Captain suggested that Brookshire familiarize himself with his guns by loading them and unloading them a few times, to learn the mechanisms. While the Captain was making coffee, Brookshire did just that. The eight-gauge was the easiest. All he had to do was open the breech and stuff two of the big shells into the barrels.
"Hold it tight, if you ever shoot it," the Captain said. "I doubt either one of those mules could kick as hard as that gun." "I don't believe I'll shoot it," Brookshire said.
Indeed, he had no intention of ever shooting the big gun, not unless he was heavily besieged.
He was about to unload it and put the shells back in their case when, to his dismay, old Bolivar suddenly jumped up, grabbed the shotgun, and fired both barrels at the nearest mule. The shotgun kicked the old man so hard that he fell backward over a saddle, dropping the gun. With scarcely a kick the mule died, its stomach blown away.
"He shot the wrong mule, dern it," the Captain said. "This was the good mule." He was disgusted with himself for not keeping a closer eye on the old man. Bol's fancies were apt to get away from him, particularly in the mornings.
"Los indios," Bol said, jumping up.
Call grabbed the shotgun.
"No Indians, Bol, just mules," Call said, in pity. He wondered what happened to an old man's brain to disturb it so that it could confuse a mule with an Indian. He himself would be old soon, if he lived. He could not help wondering if a morning or an evening would come when he was as confused as Bol, confused enough that he could mistake a brown mule for a brown man.
"We'll have to split this baggage until we get to the border and replace this mule," he said.
He soon had it divided among his mount, the sorry mule, and Brookshire's lean sorrel.
Seeing the dead mule, its side blown away, destroyed Brookshire's taste for coffee. In the War, he had seen a great many dead horses and mules, but that had been a long time ago.
"How much did the mule cost, Captain?" he asked, as they were mounting. He had his ledger in his saddlebags, and he wanted to record the lost property before he forgot.
"Forty-five dollars," Call said.
"I'll make an entry--I'm the accountant," Brookshire said. "I should have entered all this yesterday, but I was getting used to my new clothes and I forgot." "One decent mule and two shotgun shells.
If your boss is such a stickler, I'd be sure I listed the shells," Call said.
Joey Garza had first gone to Crow Town when he was seventeen. A cowboy, so drunk he had forgotten which side of the border he was on, insulted Maria in the streets in Ojinaga. When Maria tried to walk away, the cowboy opened his pants and showed himself to her. Joey was standing in front of their house, a few yards away. He agreed with the gringo. His mother was a whore. Why else would she have four husbands? But he had been wanting to kill a Texan, and the cowboy was right there handy. Joey put a pistol in his belt, walked past Maria who was hurrying home, her eyes down, and went over to the gringo, who was attempting to button up.
Without saying a word, Joey stuck his pistol in the man's face and blew his brains out.
The cowboy was too drunk even to realize that he was about to die. But Maria knew. She felt death in Joey when he walked past her. Joey was smiling, but not at her. She knew her son didn't like her. He was smiling because of the death he was about to deal. Joey's smile soon became part of the legend the gringos made about him: Joey Garza always smiled before he killed.
Maria gave Joey her horse and made him leave. She knew the gringos would be back to kill him. He had to leave. She didn't suppose he had killed the cowboy because of the insult to her, either. Joey didn't do things for other people. He did things for himself. It didn't matter to him that a drunk gringo had showed himself to his mother. He just wanted to kill, and chose that moment, and that man.
When the men came from the ranch where the dead cowboy had worked, they beat her with a lariat and then pretended they were going to hang her with the same rope. After they pretended to hang her, they beat her again. Maria wanted to be silent, but the men were determined; she cried out. It was merely for pleasure that the men beat her; they didn't expect her to tell them where to find Joey.
It was easier to beat her than to go look for Joey. She knew it wouldn't end with the beating, either, and it didn't. Later that night, after they had been to the cantina, the men came to her house.
Maria had given Joey her horse; she had no way to flee, and anyway, she could not leave her children.
What happened in her house was worse than the beating. Maria had never been used by men who hated her. She was a modest woman and had not supposed she would have to bear such shame, such humiliation. She fought, but as a woman without spirit would fight: her spirit had become a crow. It flew to Crow Town to be with her son, the son she had to love, despite the bitter knowledge that he was no good.
The white men from the ranch across the border were men without purpose. Even degrading Maria was not purpose enough to interest them for long. They degraded her until they lost interest in degrading her, and then they left.
As deep as the shame of being handled by men in their lust, was the pain of knowing that she would not have Joey much longer. When the men left, Maria cried until she was empty. For days, she would fill up with tears, and then cry until she was empty. Whether Joey lived or not, Maria knew she had lost her son--the good son she had until Juan Castro sold him. That son was gone, farther away even than Crow Town. He was only seventeen, but already he belonged to death.
When Joey returned, Maria told him that.
Joey only laughed.
"We all belong to death, Mother," he said.
"You're too young to say that to me," Maria said angrily. "I don't belong to death. I brought you out of me. I want you to stay alive. You have only killed one American. You should go to the mountains. The whites won't hunt you for long." "I don't like the mountains," Joey said. Then he left, just in time. The next day, four lawmen came. The bad one named Doniphan, the hard sheriff, only watched while the others did the work. The lawmen were rougher than the cowboys. They tied Maria's feet together and loped around the village, dragging her. After that, they dragged her into a prickly pear. Then, they strapped her over a mule and took her across the river. The river was up; their horses had to swim, and so did the mule. In the middle of the river the men let the mule go. Maria and the mule were swept far downstream. Maria thought she would drown.
But the mule finally struggled up the rocky bank, hitting Maria's head against a rock as it struggled. Maria heard the men laughing; not the sheriff, but the others. They kept her in jail for a month, during which time she was feverish from the festering cactus wounds. Because they kept her handcuffed, she could only draw out a few thorns. She could only sleep slumped against a wall. If she lay down, she merely mashed the cactus thorns deeper into her flesh.
Though the lawmen never said it, Maria knew they were keeping her in jail in hopes that Joey would try to free her. The lawmen didn't know that her son disliked her. Only she knew it. Joey wouldn't try to free her. He had no loyalty to her.
But she had loyalty. She ignored the lawmen's questions. She wouldn't tell them which way Joey went. They didn't degrade her, but they starved her. Some days she would get nothing, and when they did feed her it would only be a tortilla and a little water. She grew tired and very weak.
When they finally let her out, Maria was so weak she couldn't walk across the street. She didn't have the strength to walk to the river, much less to cross it. She fell and had to crawl to the shade of a small mesquite tree to rest.
While she was resting, she began to think about dying.
Her body would heal, but she didn't know about her spirit. Her spirit smelled old. It no longer smelled like the spirit of a woman who wanted to be a woman, a woman who wanted to live. Her spirit smelled too bad to her. She thought she ought to die and let it go to some new life, someone who smelled like birth and not like death.
But there was Rafael, and Teresa. She couldn't die. While she was resting and trying to summon the will to go on living, Billy Williams found her.
He rode into town, rather drunk, and saw a brown woman sitting under a tree. That was not uncommon in Presidio. He had almost ridden past before he saw that the brown woman was Maria.
"Good God, Mary," he said, and immediately brought her water, and then more water. He went to the house of a Mexican woman and begged a little menudo, but Maria was too weak to eat.
Seeing Maria's condition, Billy began to boil. Her hands were almost black from poor circulation caused by the handcuffs. Most of her cactus wounds had festered.
"I despise lawmen," he said. "I despise their stinkin' hearts." He went back to his horse, his face red with anger, and yanked his rifle out of its scabbard.
"What are you doing?" Maria asked, alarmed.
"I am going to kill those sorry dogs," Billy said.
"No, take me home, I'm sick," Maria said.
"All right, then--I will kill them later," Billy said.
Tom Johnson, the oldest of Doniphan's deputies, came and watched as Billy carefully loaded Maria onto his horse.
"I didn't know you fancied Mexican whores, Billy," Tom Johnson said.
"I fancy cutting your stinkin' heart out, Tom," Billy said. "I expect I'll come back and do it, once I take Mary home." The lawman laughed. "You old-timers have got rough tongues," he said. "Do you fancy all whores, or just this one?" He turned to see if his deputy, Joe Means, was coming to watch the fun. He only glanced off for a second, it seemed, but when he turned back toward Billy Williams, there was a crack and his right ear went numb. He thought a wasp might have got him, but when he put his hand up to his head he found that his ear was just dangling by a little strip of skin. Blood was pouring down his cheek.
"What'd you do, Billy?" Tom asked, astonished. The old man was walking toward him, a big knife in his hand. Tom became frightened; these old scouts were unpredictable. He thought he should draw his gun, but he felt paralyzed. Before he could reach for his weapon, the old man was there. He severed the little strip of skin that held the ear. Then he shook the severed ear in front of the shocked lawman's eyes.
"It could just as easy be your stinkin' heart," he said. Then he stuffed the ear in the man's shirt pocket and backed away. He didn't think Tom Johnson would recover from his shock in time to shoot him, but there was no point in taking chances.
Tom Johnson walked back to the jail, still in shock. Joe Means had his boot off and was shaving a callus off his right big toe when Tom Johnson walked in. Blood covered one side of Tom's face, so much blood that Joe almost slit his toe instead of the callus. His first thought was Apaches. Tom had only left the jail a minute before. Could the man have somehow gotten scalped?
"Good God, Tom, where's your other ear?" Joe Means asked, horrified.
"It's in my shirt pocket," Tom said, numbly. It didn't occur to him that the remark might sound odd. After all, Joe had asked where the ear was, and the ear did happen to be in his shirt pocket.
The line would be repeated along the border for the rest of Tom Johnson's life. He considered himself an able lawman. If nothing else, he outlasted his friend Joe Means by more than three decades. Joe was killed the very next year by a rattlesnake. He had ridden home one night, rather in his cups, and had the misfortune to step off his horse right onto a coiled rattlesnake.
Normally, the snake would have rattled loudly enough to have warned Joe, but it was Joe's bad luck that the snake had broken off all but one of its rattles. If it rattled its one rattle, Joe didn't hear it. Most men didn't die of snakebite, but Joe Means gave up the ghost within twenty-four hours. He was mourned by few in the town of Presidio. Joe had a tendency to be surly, since being a deputy had gone to his head. He frequently arrested people for minor offenses that a more seasoned lawman would have overlooked.
Tom Johnson felt he was a seasoned lawman, but that was lost on the populace, such as it was. All anyone on the border could remember was that he had once kept his ear in his shirt pocket. Tom took to drink. When drunk, he often cursed Billy Williams.
He didn't forget the Mexican woman, either.
She had been the start of it all. It was because of her that he had become a figure of fun along the border. If he ever had occasion to arrest her again, he meant to do worse than he had done. In the meantime, there were other brown women in Presidio or across the river that he could wreak vengeance on, and he did. Any brown woman who got taken to Tom Johnson's jail knew she was in for trouble. Two suffered so much that they died. Several times Tom Johnson had gone to Ojinaga meaning to arrest Maria herself, to show her she could not get away with making a mockery of a white lawman.
In his memory, Maria had mocked him.
But for some reason, when the moment came, he didn't arrest her. Sometimes he took a substitute. He would take another unlucky brown woman, strap her on a mule, and pull her across the river. Once, in a drunken moment, he told a cowboy in a bar that the reason he wasn't arresting Maria was because he wanted her to worry. He wanted her to wake up thinking about what he would do to her the next time.
Billy Williams laughed when the cowboy told him that story.
"That ain't why he leaves Mary alone," he said.
"Well, he said it was," the cowboy said.
"He leaves her alone because he knows if he harms her I'll do worse than shoot his ear off," Billy said. "Next time, I'll tie him to a stump and cut his stinkin' heart out." "Whoa," the cowboy said. His name was Ben Bridesall. "You'd cut a deputy sheriff's heart out?" "I would," Billy assured him.
"Whoa, that's strong talk," Ben said again. "Killing a lawman's as bad as stealing horses, in the law's eyes. You better keep a fast horse handy, if you do that. They'll chase you clean to Canada." "I wouldn't go to Canada," Billy said.
"I'd go to Crow Town." "That might do it," Ben said. "They'd have to want you pretty bad to come and get you there."
Maria was a midwife, the only one in Ojinaga. She did not want to be gone to Crow Town too long; several women in the village would need her soon. Crow Town lay two hundred miles north of the border, in the sandhills. Maria had never been there, but she knew its reputation--everyone knew its reputation, an evil one. In earlier times, slaves had been traded in the sandhills; stolen children, white or brown; stolen women. To have gone to Crow Town and survived was a mark of pride to the young pistoleros along the border.
Years before, when the buffalo were being killed, a large remnant of the great southern herd had wandered south, off the plain and into the sandhills. There they were pursued by the Kiowa and Comanche, and by the most unremitting of the buffalo hunters. More than fifteen thousand were slaughtered by the buffalo hunters, in a last great frenzy of killing. The skins were piled in great heaps, awaiting wagons to transport them east. But the hide market collapsed, and the wagons never came. The towering heaps of hides slowly rotted. The ropes that bound them into piles were chewed by rodents. In the fierce winds of winter and spring the hide stacks began to blow apart. Wolves, coyotes, and badgers played with them. Soon the hides swarmed with lice and fleas. The thousands of hides were scattered throughout the sandhills. One spring, two years after the last buffalo had died, cowboys began to see crows in the sandhills, crows and crows and then more crows. Something in the hides, some nit or flea, attracted the crows. At night, hundreds roosted on the few piles of hides that remained. In the daytime, a crowd of wheeling crows could be seen from far away. At certain times of the year, thousands of crows could be seen, and heard. Their cawing was audible thirty miles away.
An Indian named Blue Skin built the first structure in Crow Town, a one-room adobe hut. Blue Skin was shot by a vaquero, on the run from trouble in Mexico. The vaquero took Blue Skin's hut. He lived in it for a while, and then went back to Mexico. The hides continued to rot; more and more crows came, to caw and to wheel.
Then a Basque sheepherder built himself a little shack, not far from Blue Skin's hut. The Basque had been horse-whipped in Kansas for bringing sheep into cattle lands. The sandhills of the Pecos were not yet cattle land, and only Charles Goodnight and his partner, Loving, passed through them with cattle. The Basque felt that he wouldn't be bothered, since the land was too poor for cattle; sheep could barely survive it. Then the famous killer John Wesley Hardin passed through and killed the Basque, on a whim. John Wesley found the crows amusing.
"If there was another building or two here we could call it Crow Town," he said, speaking to his horse. John Wesley Hardin traveled alone. What conversation he made, he made with his horse. He repeated the remark in El Paso, and the name stuck.
Later, with the law after him, John Wesley fled to Crow Town. Two rough brothers from Chicago were sharing Blue Skin's hut. It was kill neither or kill both; fatigued, John Wesley chose to kill neither. He contented himself with a tent the old Basque had left. The soil around Crow Town boiled with fleas, from the thousands of rotting hides, but John Wesley wasn't bothered by fleas. His only problem with Crow Town, the community he had named, was the unavailability of victims. He didn't have to kill every day, or even every month or every year, but he did like to have people handy, in case the killing mood came on.
He left, but returned to Crow Town whenever he needed a respite after some killing spree.
Every year he found more people there--adobes that were smaller and more crude than the one Blue Skin had built, low frame houses and ragged tents.
Finally, there were twelve houses and a little saloon.
An Irishman named Patrick O'Brien owned the saloon. Whiskey deliveries were few and far between. When wagons did arrive Patrick O'Brien stacked the whiskey around his house, to the height of his roof. He had unpredictable customers, and was nervous about running out of liquor.
It was risky, stacking whiskey outside in such country. Patrick slept with four guns in his bed, and often had to run outside and empty two or three of them into the darkness, to protect his whiskey.
In Crow Town, where the sound of cawing could be heard night and day, the tamer types of citizens rarely appeared. Most of those who rode in were bad ones; not a few of them were worse than bad.
Many a traveler had been casually shot down in the street, his death watched only by the crows. The crows rested in the skinny mesquite. Sometimes they walked among the buildings, as if they were people.
The air, even on nice spring days, had a kind of rotten smell, the legacy of thousands of rotting hides.
Behind the town was a low, sandy hill with one skinny mesquite tree on it. Bodies of the dead were casually buried there; most of them would be dug up again, within a day or two, by enterprising varmints.
The most enterprising of the varmints was a giant feral hog, which showed up one Sunday and consumed substantial portions of three bodies. The locals, annoyed by the impudence of the swine, assembled a hasty firing squad and fired a fusillade at it; but, to their amazement, the hog defied them. It didn't die, or even retreat. It kept on eating. In the night it disappeared and was not seen for a month. Then one day, it reappeared and ate an unfortunate mule skinner who had been gored by his own ox. The ox, normally a placid creature, suddenly went insane and killed the mule skinner, though he had coaxed it across the prairies for eight years.
In time, the great pig grew bolder. Sometimes it would walk through town, attended by a contingent of crows, who would flank it or walk ahead of it, cawing. When the pig stretched out to sleep in the hot sun, several crows would attend it, cleaning nits and ticks out of its hide. The poor people who worked in the sandhills feared the pig. They called it the devil pig.
The pig disappeared for long stretches, only to reappear just when people had begun to hope that it had gone forever. The most superstitious of the poor people believed the pig walked down to hell to receive instructions from the devil, entering through a long tunnel that was said to open in the riverbank, just south of Boquillas. Sightings of the pig came from all points of the compass: from as far east as Abilene, as far north as Tascosa, and as far south as Piedras Negras. An old woman who lived near Boquillas claimed to have seen it go into the tunnel that led to hell.
Only the handful of people who stayed in Crow Town ever got used to the crows. Gamblers or outlaws who passed through found their cawing so distracting, they almost went mad. One famous gambler, known throughout the West as Tennessee Bob, became so maddened by the cawing that he pulled his revolver in the midst of a card game and blew his own brains out--and he'd been holding a winning hand, too. Tennessee Bob had played cards successfully from Dodge to Deadwood to Yuma, and he was playing cards successfully in Crow Town. What he couldn't deal with was the cacophony of the crows.
Tennessee Bob's real name was Sam Howard.
Like most of the temporary residents of Crow Town, he had gone there because he had more or less used up the West. His career had taken him from Memphis to Abilene, from Abilene to Dodge City, from Dodge City to Silver City, from Silver City to Denver, from Denver to Deadwood, from Deadwood to Cheyenne, from Cheyenne to Tombstone, and from Tombstone to Crow Town.
Other renegades, whether Mexicans, Swedes, Indians, Irish, or American, took the same route in different order. What they shared was a sense that there weren't too many places left where life was so cheap that the law wouldn't bother trying to preserve it. Why send Rangers, or the army, to clean out a dirty little village in the sandhills, whose residents were so quarrelsome that they could be counted on to eliminate one another themselves, at the rate of one or two a month?
Renegades of all descriptions could reside in Crow Town and feel themselves safe from the law-- they just weren't safe from one another. The few women who came there enjoyed no illusions about their safety. They weren't safe from anyone, and they knew it.
Very few lawmen ventured into the sandhills.
"I doubt even Woodrow Call would go to Crow Town," Billy Williams said, some two months before Maria left. He was discussing the matter in Maria's kitchen with an experienced smuggler named Olin Roy, whose specialty was moving gold across the border, at the behest of corrupt Mexican generals who were afraid they would be robbed by generals yet more corrupt.
Olin Roy was a large man, weighing just over three hundred pounds. He had trouble finding mounts that could carry him swiftly over the distances he sometimes had to cover.
"I expect Call would go to Crow Town if he felt like it," Olin said. "Probably he don't feel like it, though." Maria overheard the conversation. She could not have avoided it, since Billy and Olin were in her kitchen. Olin Roy had once tried to marry her. She had refused him, but he still had hopes.
He and Billy were opposites in one respect: Billy was always drunk, Olin always sober.
Though large, Olin was delicate in his appetites. He could stomach only the mildest of peppers, preferring to diet on raw eggs stirred into a little sugary milk. In his travels, eggs were often unavailable to him. As a concession to the great fondness Maria knew he bore her, she tried to have eggs on hand when he came to visit. She could tell that Olin appreciated such small attentions.
When Billy and Olin were in Ojinaga at the same time, Maria was careful. She was no man's woman, but men were men and she had a lot of trouble with men who became confused about her affections.
Her first husband, Carlos Garza, was so jealous that he would fight any man who turned his eyes in Maria's direction. She was beautiful then; men often turned their eyes; there were many fights. She tried to soothe Carlos, to see that he rose content from their bed, but her love, though she gave it all, was not enough. Even if he had just left her bed, jealousy burned in Carlos's dark eyes. He loved, but he could not trust, and when she became pregnant with Joey he beat her and accused her of taking a lover. He would not accept that the child was his.
For Maria, his distrust brought pain and shock.
She was young, and she had given herself body and soul to Carlos. She could not understand how he could think she would accept another man. She wanted no other man, could not even imagine wanting one. Only Carlos Garza could move her. He was very handsome, and he could move her with a touch or a look. Many times she begged him not to be foolish, not to fight over things that wouldn't happen, over feelings she didn't have. But Carlos was like a deaf man. From him, Maria learned that few men trusted women. Carlos heard only his own fears. Maria's words meant nothing, for to Carlos, women were liars.
When Joey was one year old, Carlos noticed a soldier turn his eyes to Maria.
She was making tortillas, outside in the sun.
The soldier, a fat Federale, was sitting in a wagon, across the street. It was a hot day.
Probably the soldier was hungry, and only wanted a few of the tortillas Maria was making.
But Carlos didn't think the soldier only wanted tortillas. Maria had seen the man look, but her mind was on her task. Carlos was supposed to be carrying water. She thought he was at the river, until she heard the sound of his voice, raised in anger. The soldier had a crowbar, since the Federales had been repairing the telegraph. She saw the soldier strike Carlos once, but he struck so hard that Maria was a widow before she could even run across the street. Carlos had been right about the soldier, too. Three weeks later, he was back in Ojinaga. Maria spat on him in full view of several Federales. She expected to be killed, but in fact, the man was a coward and did nothing. For a year, Maria felt guilty. She felt she had not done enough to make Carlos happy.
If she had done even a little more, perhaps Carlos would not have been so tormented by jealousy. If he had lived, surely in time he would have come to accept that she wanted no other man.
But Carlos died, leaving Joey fatherless and herself a widow. Since then, she had been cautious around males. She treated them carefully, as vaqueros treated bulls. Everyone knew that bulls were at their most dangerous when they fought, and at such times, the loser was more dangerous than the winner.
Maria didn't want Billy and Olin to fight. She valued their experience and their affection and didn't want to lose one of them in a silly fight.
"I don't think either of you know this Woodrow Call," Maria said.
"I know him, but I'll be perfectly happy to leave him alone," Olin said.
The two men fell silent. Mention of Call seemed to remind them of the uncertainty of life, along the border.
"I'll do better than that," Olin added.
"I'd ride about a hundred miles out of my way, to avoid the man." "Didn't you sell Call the horse that killed his boy?" Billy asked.
"No, no," Olin said, wishing the legend of the Hell Bitch would just die.
"Why, I thought, you sold her to Call," Billy said. "That's what everybody thinks." "I did once own that mare," Olin admitted. "At the time, I had no idea Call had a son for her to kill." It was growing dark; great shadows stretched into Chihuahua. The two men talked too much history, too much about things that were past. Bad things had happened to her, too, but she did not like to dwell on them. A certain restlessness took her, when she heard too much about the past. She still liked to laugh, to dance a little in the cantina.
Roberto Sanchez, her last husband, had not been a very good man, but despite that, she missed him. She would have liked to have a husband. She enjoyed being with a man at night, and not just a pistolero or a man of the cantina. She wanted a man who was not so prone to comings and goings, one who would spend months or even years with her; someone whose hands she liked, whose ways she liked. Perhaps this man, if she could find him, would also like her ways, and would welcome the laughter in her. Not all men liked happiness in a woman; they seemed to fear her laughter. Was it only men who were supposed to laugh?
Of her four husbands, only Benito, the third, had laughed with her. Carlos and Juan, her first two husbands, had been too jealous.
Juan was also too violent. Roberto Sanchez had been too restless; he didn't like to stay put. He could not even stay in bed all night, much less stay with her for months. He didn't live in the past, though. Men who lived in the past brought out her restlessness. Life was there, in the house, in the yard, in the town; in the bedroom, in her hands, in her womb. It was not in the past. The bad things that had happened to her had not killed her.
They had not even killed the laughter in her.
She became a little annoyed at Billy and Olin, because they so easily turned their eyes backward. Men were odd. One day they were hard, far too hard; the next day they were soft, far too soft. They were like porcupines: prickly on the outside, but with soft bellies.
Benito, her third husband, had not even been prickly on the outside. He never scolded her, and would never have thought of striking her. His only fault was laziness. Benito would lie in bed all day, looking at her with his big eyes. If she happened to stop in her chores, to pause near the bed, Benito would put out a hand.
"Is that all you can think about?" she asked one day, flattered if a little flustered. "I'm old --why do you want me?" Benito shrugged, and smiled his little-boy smile. He was younger than Joey, Benito--not in years, but in feeling. Joey had never been young. Benito would never have been old, even if he had lived. But Benito got a toothache, a bad one. After a month, the toothache was so bad, Benito could scarcely think. He ceased putting out his hand to Maria, when she stopped near the bed.
Maria wanted him to let her pull the tooth, or let the priest pull it, or the blacksmith, or anyone. But Benito kept shaking off this advice. He had beautiful white teeth and was vain about them. He wanted to keep them all.
"Why, so you will look beautiful in heaven?" Maria asked, vexed by his attitude.
"Yes, I want to look handsome in heaven," Benito agreed, smiling shyly. He thought it was a worthy goal, though he could tell it didn't please Maria. Her nostrils flared a little, when she looked at him, flared as a mare's might flare.
"Who says you will even go to heaven?" Maria asked. "You are too lazy. You never get out of bed. When I'm gone you might become a sinner, you might have to go to the bad place." "When you're gone? I don't want you to be gone," Benito said. The thought of being without his Maria frightened him terribly. What would he do?
Who would take care of him? Everyone agreed that Maria was the most competent person in Ojinaga.
His clothes were only simple clothes, but they were always cleaner than other men's clothes. His meals were tastier than the meals other men's wives cooked for them. Sometimes Maria walked far down the river, looking for chilies or herbs that would make her posole more tasty.
But it was not only her competence that he needed.
There was her smile, her cool hands, her soft breasts. The thought that he might lose all that caused him a moment of panic. He wondered if he pleased Maria, really pleased her, in their embraces. She seemed to be pleased, but she was a woman. It was hard to tell; perhaps she was merely pretending. Perhaps she had already found a lover--he suspected the butcher, Gordo Dominguez. Gordo had always wanted Maria, and perhaps he wanted her now. Perhaps they were doing things that were more pleasing than anything else Benito was able to do. Maybe Maria liked what Gordo did so much that she was preparing to run away with him.
Maria saw the worry in her husband's eyes, for there was no missing it.
"An angel might come and get me," she said, smiling. The remark was intended to show Benito that she was teasing. No angel ever came to Chihuahua. She was not going to heaven.
"I need you, the angel can't have you," Benito said. He felt a quick desire for his wife, which overpowered his toothache. He was so insistent that Maria closed the door and went to the bed. Few people in Ojinaga closed their doors, in the hot mornings. She wondered what people would think might be happening.
But neither Maria's competence nor Benito's insistence dulled the toothache for long. In a few more days, it hurt so badly that he couldn't eat the tasty meals, or appreciate the clean clothes, or be affected by the soft breasts.
"Go to Chihuahua City," Maria said.
"There's a dentist there." "But it's a long way," Benito complained.
"It's a long time that you've been sick, too," Maria told him. "You might die." Finally, one day the toothache got so bad that Benito decided to go to Chihuahua City, after all. Maria fixed him a poultice of hot cornmeal to hold against his tooth. She gave him the gentlest of goodbye kisses. His jaw was very swollen.
"I wish you would come," he mumbled. "I hate to ride so far alone." "I have the children," Maria said, looking at them.
Teresa was holding her new chick, just born the day before. Rafael sat with his goat, singing a little song whose words only he understood. Brother and sister were happy together. They were never apart more than a few minutes. Sometimes Rafael led Teresa; always, Teresa thought for Rafael.
Though they were happy together, it made Maria sad to look at them and to know that they would never be as other children were. They were damaged; Joey was damaged, too. His limbs were normal, his eyes were clear, but his soul was sick. The children were only a little unhappy; yet, because of them, at times Maria felt a failure. None of her children were as other children were, and they would never be. She felt she didn't know how to be a mother. Though she was a midwife, and a good one, in her own birthings something went wrong. She didn't know what errors she had committed, to cause her children to be so damaged.
She could not feel that she was a good wife, either.
Benito was lazy, and she had not tried to cure him of it. She let him be as he was. Two of her husbands had been killed, and now a third one was sick. She felt oppressed. She did her best, and yet, the knowledge she had was often the wrong knowledge.
"The dentist better not hurt," Benito said.
"I don't want to ride all the way to Chihuahua City to be hurt." "You'll be glad you went," Maria said.
"You'll feel so much better, that I won't be able to fight you off, even when the children are in bed." Later, she was to cry and cry over that remark.
When she made it, she did not realize that it would be the last thing she would ever say to Benito, who didn't make it to Chihuahua City, or to the dentist. Less than ten miles from Ojinaga his horse was shot out from under him. Benito tried to run, but the killer roped him and hoisted him up the side of a large boulder. Then the killer cut off his hands and feet, with a machete. The killer loosened the rope and rode away, leaving Benito to bleed to death. Benito crawled almost three hundred yards, back toward Ojinaga, before he died.
The killer was never found. The Federales came, but they didn't look very hard. Benito's mother and sisters were more upset by his mutilation than by the death. They felt it might mean that Benito's soul would be rejected by God. They felt he might never be allowed to rest.
Maria didn't worry about Benito being allowed to rest. He was good at resting. It made her smile, to think of him resting; now he could rest forever. He was not a traveling man; it may have been what she liked best about him. He was always there where she could find him, in the bed.
Benito had been a kind man. Maria knew she would miss his touch. He had been more kind to her than her father, her brothers, her uncles, her other husbands. It was wrong that he should die so cruelly; but at least he had crossed the border, into a land where there was no pain. Maria didn't believe in hell. If there was a hell it came to you in life. The Texans brought it.
They had evil in them and they had exercised their evil on her, when they caught her in her house.
That was hell, and it had happened to her in her own house. Hell was not happening to Benito. He had always liked to rest, and now he was resting.
But he would not be able to put out his hand to her, when she came near the bed; she would not be able to take his hand and guide it to her. Maria felt that the killer might have known what she and Benito did, when she shut the doors, in the morning. Perhaps that was why the hands were taken, she didn't know. Some old ones still made necklaces of fingers; perhaps someone had taken Benito's hands and feet, to be made into necklaces. Maria didn't know, would never know.
Beneath Maria's sorrow was anger. She felt a loyalty to Benito, and though her sorrow was deep, her anger was deeper. Her first two husbands were selfish men. They would have taken younger women, given time. But Benito wanted no one but her--he would never have taken a younger woman. That knowledge fueled her anger. Someday the killer might reveal himself to her. When that happened, she would take her own vengeance, even if it resulted in her death.
She would have liked to sit on the bed and touch Benito's hands, one more time. But it couldn't be.
"Do you think the killer is in Mexico or Texas?" she asked Joey, a day or two after the funeral. He had gone to the place and looked at the ground, but if he reached any conclusions he kept them to himself.
"Texas or Mexico, what's the difference?" Joey asked. He liked to take questions and make them into other questions.
There were times when her son was so insolent that she wanted to slap him. He toyed with her, in a way that made her angry. He was a smart boy, but too good-looking. He thought his looks gave him the right to be disrespectful to his mother. Joey was blond, a g@uero. He would look at Maria insolently, waiting for her next question.
It did not occur to him to be helpful. It would not have occurred to his father, either. He would rather twist her questions, make them into other questions.
"One is Texas and the gringos own it," Maria said. "This is Mexico. We own it. That's a difference." "It's two names for the same place," Joey said. "We should own it all. It was ours once, and we didn't have to smile at gringos when we crossed the river." "I don't smile at gringos, but Texas was never mine," Maria said. "I'm a woman-- nothing is mine. Not even my children. Not even you." "I am nobody's," Joey said, smugly.
Maria suddenly slapped him. He was too much like all men. He was insolent, and he didn't care that she was sad about Benito, the only kind husband she had ever had.
Joey didn't move, when she slapped him; the cold came into his eyes. He had a hat on when she hit him, a little white sombrero.
Her slap knocked it off. Joey picked it up quickly and examined it carefully, to see if it was smudged. He turned it around and around in his hands.
He was particular about his clothes. The tiniest speck would spoil the hat, for Joey.
"That is the last time you hit me, Mother," Joey said, carefully setting the hat back on his head.
Maria slapped him again, harder, and again the spotless white hat got knocked to the floor.
"You're my son," she said. "I'll slap you when you need it." Joey picked up his hat and took it outside, to dust it off. He left, and was gone for a week. When he returned he didn't speak to Maria. He took his dirty clothes out of his saddlebags, and handed them to her, to clean. He was riding a black horse. Maria had never seen the horse before, or the saddle. He was also wearing silver spurs.
Maria didn't ask Joey about the horse.
She went outside, to Rafael and Teresa. They were sitting with their chickens and goats, under a little tree. Rafael was chanting one of his melancholy songs. Rafael was a big boy, and much nicer than Joey, only Rafael was lost in his mind.
Maria grew sad, thinking about it. She gathered her washing and started to walk to the river.
Rafael followed, with two of his goats.
Teresa stopped to talk to an old woman who was grinding corn. Teresa was popular in the village. She was so quick and got around so well that some people almost forgot she was blind.
Her children dirtied a lot of clothes. It took Maria three trips to get all the clothes to the place where the women washed. That morning, because it was late, only one woman was there, old Estela.
Old Estela had borne thirteen children, and outlived them all. One drowned in a flood and the rest were killed wasdiseases. Old Estela had only a few clothes to wash because she had no family. Once she told Maria that she came to the river because she heard the voices of her dead children call, from the water. She had convinced herself that her children were not really dead. They lived in the river, with the frogs and the fish and the little snakes. God had given them gills, like the fish had, so they could breathe. Old Estela knew they were there; every morning, she heard them.
Rafael helped Maria with the clothes. There were one or two simple tasks he could do, and he always did them. He liked to beat the clothes against the rocks, and to spread them so that the cold water ran over them. Once in a while a shirt would slip away, before he could place a rock on it.
Then Rafael would have to wade in the water to retrieve it. The sheep, disturbed by seeing him in the water, would set up a bleating. Sometimes Teresa would follow them. She knew the path to the river, and all the other paths around the village.
Teresa and Rafael did not like to be apart too long. They needed one another. Teresa could not sleep, except with Rafael. He had become her eyes; she became his mind. It touched Maria, that her boy and her girl were so careful to help one another.
"Do you hear your children today, Estela?" Maria asked.
"I hear the girls," Estela said, in her tiny crack of a voice. "They are over by that bush, where the coyote drinks." Near the bush, the water made a rilling sound.
"The boys, I don't hear them," Estela said. "Maybe they have gone to Piedras Negras." "I think that's where my boy went," Maria said, thinking of the black horse and the silver spurs.
Joey Garza journeyed to the City of Mexico in search of a better gun. When he was seventeen, an old prospector named Lichtenberg had come through Ojinaga, carrying a little case made of fine leather, with a crest stamped on it in gold. Joey was interested in fine things.
He admired the little case, and wanted to know what was in it. Old Tomas, who had once worked for the German on one of his prospecting ventures, said it was where Se@nor Lichtenberg carried his rifle.
Joey thought that a gun carried inside a case would be useless when trouble arrived. If trouble arrived, it usually arrived quickly. The Apaches who bought him from Juan Castro could kill you several times, in several ways, while you were trying to get a rifle out of a leather case. Joey had seen them kill people who had their guns in their hands, but were too terrified to fire. Because they were terrified of dying, they died.
The old German was very tired, when he reached Ojinaga. He was weaving on his feet. He politely asked Maria for board, and he gave her a gold coin, which she accepted. Then he removed his high-topped boots and was soon asleep. He took no precautions at all with his possessions.
Maria had a husband then, Roberto Sanchez. He came home from the cantina to find that Maria had rented their bed. He took the gold coin from her, but raged anyway, about the loss of the bed. Due to a fear of scorpions, Roberto hated to sleep on the ground. He was a fool, Joey thought. Scorpions could come in a house and bite people, they often did. Roberto raged for a long time, but Maria finally persuaded him that renting the bed was a smart move. One night on the ground wouldn't hurt them. She herself would clean the ground, to make sure no scorpions were there to bother them.
Roberto Sanchez was still drinking tequila, but he finally stumbled after Maria.
Rafael, the idiot boy, was playing with a chicken behind the house while he sang a little idiot song. A sad tone came into his voice when he saw his mother go into the darkness. Teresa sat near Rafael. When she heard the sad note enter the song she scooted closer to Rafael and put her fingers to his lips, to feel from his breath what sadness he felt. She herself didn't care that her mother had gone out of the house. She heard her go, but for Teresa it only meant that she could whisper through the night, to Rafael, and not be scolded. Teresa loved whispering to her brother at night. In the darkness she felt that she and Rafael were the same. Neither could see, and it didn't matter that Rafael sang songs that had meaning only to him.
As soon as Maria and Roberto left, Joey took the little case into another room, where he lit a lamp and examined it carefully. It had a small lock, but he opened it with a piece of wire.
Inside the case, resting in velvet grooves, was a rifle, the most beautiful Joey Garza had ever seen. The barrel was heavy; it weighed as much as most rifles. In Joey's mind that gave the gun dignity. This rifle was not merely a gun; it was so beautifully crafted that holding it made him feel powerful.
The stock was of polished wood, and the trigger guards curved beautifully. The German rifle was the most desirable weapon Joey had ever seen.
He determined at once that he must have it, or one that was as good or better. If he had to kill the old German, he would do it, but he didn't intend to kill him right away.
Almost as fascinating as the rifle was a little spyglass that nestled in its own velvet groove. It had a fitting that attached it to the gun barrel. Joey attached it, and looked through the spyglass. Even in the dark room, lit only by the flickering lamp, he could see what the spyglass did. It brought the target near, even when the target was far. He slipped outside and practiced sighting through the spyglass, with only the moon and stars for light. He wished it were day.
At first light, he meant to take the gun and sight through the spyglass. Having the spyglass was like having a better eye. The rifle was so well balanced that Joey knew he could kill from great distances with it. He could lie on a roof in Ojinaga and kill gringos across the river in Presidio. If the wind was blowing strongly the gringos would never even hear the report of the rifle. Three gringos could be walking in the street, and in a second, two of them would be dead. The third would have no idea who was shooting.
Joey considered stealing the rifle, then and there.
He could leave and go where no one would ever find him.
He knew the mountains to the south, in the great bend of the river, and knew the Madre. He could live in the mountains for years, eating the roasts of fat mule deer. But the old prospector's rifle was the first fine gun he had ever seen. In the City of Mexico there were bound to be many, and perhaps some that were even finer.
He sat outside his mother's house until almost dawn, simply holding the gun in his hands. Then he detached the little spyglass, took the rifle apart, and put it carefully back in its case.
He felt divided; impatient, yet patient.
He wanted to take the rifle and go, but he also wanted to learn patience. Among the Apaches, the best hunters and the best man killers were the most patient men in the tribe. Though it was hard to wait, they waited. The best hunters did not take the first deer they saw; they waited for the fattest deer. They shot when they were sure, and Joey resolved to do the same. He would shoot when he was sure.
When the old German woke up the next morning, Joey politely asked about the little case. The old man seemed surprised, but after he had several cups of Maria's strong coffee, he opened the little case and showed Joey the rifle.
He explained the function of the little spyglass, and showed Joey how to attach it. Joey pretended to be amazed, when he looked through the little glass.
Later in the morning, the old German walked up and asked Joey if he would like to shoot with him.
He suggested a little contest.
"If we shoot I will beat you," Joey said.
He had nothing against the old man until he saw him looking at his mother when she was bending over, getting a tick off her old dog's ear. His mother loved the old brown dog for some reason, though the dog was mangy and had a broken tail, and a sore that had never really healed, from where a javelina had gored him.
Joey considered his mother a whore, and if Roberto Sanchez died he had no doubt she would take another man. Only a whore would seek four husbands, Joey thought, but that didn't lessen his hatred of the men who helped his mother whore. The minute he saw old Lichtenberg looking at his mother's bosom he decided to kill him someday. For now, he would be content with a shooting lesson.
Joey took some melons far down the river and lined them up on rocks.
"But they are too far," Lichtenberg complained, when Joey came walking back. There was something about the light-skinned Mexican boy that was a little disturbing. He had a coldness in his face like some of the Indians had, particularly the Indians in the mountains. His mother was a desirable woman, though.
Lichtenberg had meant to leave that morning, but he thought he might stay a few days. Perhaps for a coin or two the woman would go with him. In his travels in Mexico he had paid for many brown women. He could afford to pay for one more.
First, though, he would show the cold blond boy, the g@uero, how to shoot.
"You first," Lichtenberg said. "When you miss, I will shoot." Joey had lined up eight melons on the rocks. He took the beautiful rifle with the heavy barrel and caused the eight melons to explode, one by one.
Lichtenberg was startled. The boy could never have shot such a gun before, yet he hadn't missed.
One of his own beliefs was that Indians had better eyesight than white men. In the Madre the Indians would sometimes see things he could not see at all.
Often they would mention landmarks that to them were obvious but that he could not see until he had walked several hours. This boy must have some Indian in him, Lichtenberg thought.
Joey set up eight more melons.
Lichtenberg, on his mettle, burst them all.
"A draw," Lichtenberg said, relieved. His hand was shaky that day. It would have been embarrassing to be beaten with his own gun, by a boy who had never shot a German rifle before.
"Can we shoot again?" Joey asked, politely. "I will find something smaller." Lichtenberg was not eager. He would have been happy with a draw. But the boy had a challenge in his tone that he, as a German, could not simply ignore.
This time, Joey chose prickly pear apples, handling them carefully, so as not to get the tiny, fuzzy stickers in his fingers.
"Would you like to shoot first?" he asked the old man politely.
"No--you first," Lichtenberg said. He was sorry he had been polite to the boy. Better to have stayed in the hut and waited for the woman's husband to leave. Then he could have tried his money.
He had a bad feeling about the shooting. It was as if the boy was the teacher, the one with confidence. He had young eyes, eyes that were accustomed to the distances of Chihuahua, to the space that the great eagles looked across. Lichtenberg didn't know if he could hit a prickly pear apple at such a distance, even with his scope.
Joey hit ten apples. He balanced the gun beautifully and aimed only for an instant, before firing. When he finished he politely gave the gun to Lichtenberg, who took it and missed five times. Twice he hit the rock beneath the little red apples, the bullets whining off down the valley. The rest of the time he shot high. After the fifth miss, he quit. He did not feel it would be a good day. The Mexican woman wouldn't accept his coin; his horse might go lame; a snake might bite him; he might be robbed; he would not find any gold, or even a stream in which to pan for it. A sense of the melancholy of life began to crush him. Why had he come to this stinking village, in a stinking country, where neither the water nor the food agreed with him?
Why had he left Prussia? He had known Bismarck once--if he had stayed in Prussia he might have been a minister, or a rich man; not a tired, wandering prospector, going from village to village, trying to scrape up a few flecks of gold. Any day he might be killed, by a bandit, an Indian, anyone he happened to meet. Now he had been defeated by a boy who could shoot his own rifle better than he could. He walked slowly back to Maria's hut and put the rifle back in its case. For a moment, looking across the hot plain, he considered shooting himself with it. One bullet and he would not have to go on with such an uncomfortable existence, traveling on a horse that was narrow-backed and surly.
But he put the gun back in its case. In a few minutes he began to feel a little better.
The sun shone beautifully, and the coffee that Maria brewed had a fine aroma. Lichtenberg loved coffee. He had thought of going south, far south, where they grew coffee in the mountains. He decided not to kill himself, because of the coffee smells and the comely woman. Her husband was a brute, that was clear. The brute had made it known that he did not like Lichtenberg sleeping in his house. The husband smelled of drink. But the woman was very comely. The husband might go away, and even if he didn't go away, Lichtenberg could always look.
For her part, Maria wished the old German would go. She saw him looking at her. There were many men who showed their lust in their eyes; she could not keep them all from looking at her.
Roberto, her husband, had a harelip. He had once worked across the river, for a big ranch, shoeing horses--the cowboys teased him about his harelip, so much that he hated all whites, and the old German was very white. In the wrong mood, if he intercepted one of the old man's lu/l looks, Roberto might take a knife to him, or an axe, or a gun.
A more likely problem, though, was that Joey would rob him of something valuable. Joey was a quick and gifted thief. Although the old man's clothes were ragged, from neglect and hard wear, many of the things he owned were nice. There was the fine rifle, and, in another leather case, a set of mining instruments.
His belt had a silver buckle, and he wore a ring with a green stone in it. Maria had not touched his bags, but he had produced the gold coin from one of them and might have other gold coins in his valise.
Joey might steal any of it, Maria knew that. He might steal it out of curiosity. Joey liked to look at interesting things, particularly weapons. There was no telling what the old German might have that Joey would like to steal, but if he did steal something, trouble would come from across the river. The hard sheriff, Doniphan, liked nothing better than to beat Mexicans who stole things. The river meant nothing to Doniphan. The notion that Mexico was a nation with rights, like other nations, andwitha border that needed to be respected, made Joey laugh. Mexico was a nation of whores, lazy men, Indians, and bandits, in Doniphan's view. He crossed the border when it suited him, taking any prisoners he wanted to take. In Ojinaga there was no one to stand up to him.
If Joey stole from the old German, he would steal and go. When Doniphan arrived, with his rough deputies and their quirts, it would not be Joey who would suffer their vengeance. It would be Roberto Sanchez, or some man on the street that they just happened to notice--the shoemaker, perhaps.
They were not coming to do justice; they were coming to hurt Mexicans.
There would be less danger if the old German would just go, before Roberto lost his temper or Joey stole from him. But if Maria hoped for something, it seemed that that fact alone, the fact of her hope, made the something not occur. The old German didn't go. He drank tequila all day, smoked cigars, made water frequently, and wiped the sweat off his face with a fine silk handkerchief.
When he was not drinking or wiping sweat off his forehead, he looked at Maria, or talked to Joey.
"Are there many rifles like this in your country?" Joey asked him.
"Oh yes, many," Lichtenberg replied.
"Would I find some in the City of Mexico, if I went there?" Joey asked.
"You would find beautiful guns, but what would you buy them with? You are just a poor boy!" Lichtenberg said, startled that this youth, living in a filthy village, would aspire to travel to the City of Mexico, in search of a rifle.
"I would buy them with money," Joey said.
There was something a little frightening about the boy, Lichtenberg thought. A chill in his look, or in his tone. He reminded Lichtenberg of someone he had once known, long ago, an Austrian named Blier, a young count and assassin whose task it was to murder Hungarian rebels. There were many Hungarian rebels, and the Emperor wanted to avoid the expense of many trials. Young Blier killed forty rebels before they caught him and impaled him on a pole. Count Blier died hard, but he had done his job, saving the Emperor the expense of forty trials.
Lichtenberg had not known Count Blier well, but he had been with him a few times and remembered the look in his eyes. This boy, Joey, had the same eyes. Such eyes could look on a hundred deaths, or a thousand, without pity.
Lichtenberg had seen men executed, both in Mexico and in Europe. He had seen them shaking in front of firing squads, or crying and begging as the noose was put around their necks. Some lost their water, as they awaited death; some emptied their bowels as well. He could not, without pity, look upon men staining themselves as their deaths came near.
But Count Blier could see it without pity; and so, probably, could this boy Joey, a boy who could outshoot him with his own gun. Joey was very good-looking. He was a g@uero, as they said in Mexico; g@uero, almost white. In certain moods, Lichtenberg might have offered him a coin.
Boys were usually easier than women, but not this boy, this g@uero with eyes like the famous Count Blier's.
Maria saw Joey looking at the old German's things. His eyes turned again and again to the rifle case. She also saw that the old German looked at Joey as he looked at her. She wished the man would go; too much trouble would come, of his visit. But when you wished men to go they never did, and the old German was no exception. He stayed for four nights. Four times she had to persuade Roberto to sleep on the ground. He didn't like it. He cursed her and he cursed the German, but he only hit her once, and he didn't bother the German.
On the fifth morning, as Lichtenberg was leaving, Joey stole six coins from his valise.
Lichtenberg was drunk when he left, and didn't notice. Joey went down the river and bought a horse, a black gelding, three years old.
When he rode home with it, Maria knew he had robbed the German. Her best hope was that the old German wouldn't notice. Otherwise, Doniphan and his deputies would come.
"I didn't know you owned a horse," Maria said to Joey. "Yesterday you didn't own a horse." "I only stole six coins, Mother," Joey said. "If the old man comes back, I'll just kill him." "What if Doniphan comes?" Maria asked.
"Tell him to find me in the City of Mexico," Joey said.
That night, he left. After four or five days, Maria relaxed a little. Lichtenberg was many miles away. Even if he missed the coins, he wouldn't come back. A year later, she learned that the old man had drowned in Sonora.
He had attempted to cross a wash, when the wash was running, and the water had swept him away. The vaquero who found his body took some silver ore from his saddlebags, but Lichtenberg was dead and could not tell where he had found the silver.
The news of his death made Maria feel light. That night, she danced in the cantina, and several vaqueros fell in love with her. When she danced, she often became happy, became welcoming, and men fell in love with her. It was the death of the German that allowed her to feel light.
If he was dead, she was safe from his vengeance.
Only when men were dead could she feel really safe from their vengeance. If he were alive, old Lichtenberg might ride in someday, with Doniphan to back him up, and beat her half to death, because Joey had stolen those coins.
In the City of Mexico, Joey Garza felt at home for the first time. He felt that he had come to the place where he belonged. All night there were people in the streets. The air was soft, the ringing of the church bells beautiful. Young priests went barefoot in the street, particularly around the great cathedral. Joey was not a worshiper, but he loved the great cathedral. Several times he came back to stand inside, happy just to look at the high ceiling and the great space it contained. In Ojinaga all the ceilings were low. As he walked in the night, whores followed him, because of his horse.
They thought he was rich, for in the City of Mexico not many boys his age had fine black geldings.
Joey ignored the whores, and didn't frequent the cantinas. He had come for a gun-- if possible, one with a little spyglass on it. It took him three days to find the gun he wanted.
An old trader had it, a Frenchman, a man with a vast belly and empty eyes. Joey had the urge to stick a knife in the man's belly, to see if he could cause the emptiness to leave his eyes. Perhaps as he died, the man would look alive for a few moments. When Joey showed him the five coins--he had spent one on the gelding--the man didn't say a word. He just put the rifle away and nodded for Joey to get out of his shop.
That night, Joey walked the cantinas, looking for card players who were winning. In a cantina not far from the great cathedral, he saw a small man with quick hands who had many gold coins.
When the man had enough of the card game, he put the coins in a little sack and had a whore carry it.
When a second whore wanted to go with him, he shoved her away. Joey followed the man for a while, as he lurched along. He kept sticking his hand under the dress of the young whore. It reminded Joey of the way Benito had behaved with his mother; of how all men behaved with his mother. All her husbands put their hands on her, in the house.
They didn't care who saw them.
Joey followed the man and the whore until they were well away from the cantina. As he was walking along a cobbled street, he saw a cobblestone that had come loose. Joey believed in omens. The loose cobblestone meant that it was time for him to act.
He picked up the cobblestone, came quickly up behind the small man, and smashed his head with it. He grabbed the whore and took the sack of money from her. The whore became frightened, and fled.
Joey did not check to see whether the small man was dead. He took the sack of coins, got his horse, and rode to the edge of the City of Mexico, where he slept. The next day, he walked into the fat Frenchman's shop, jingling the coins. The fat man didn't change expressions, but he sold Joey the rifle.
Later, Joey bought some bullets, two pistols, and a fine saddle. He went to stand in the great cathedral once more, and then rode north, out of Mexico.
Ten days later, on the Texas border west of Laredo, Joey robbed his first train. The robbery was an accident, in a sense. The train was stopped at a water tank. It was a train carrying sheep. Two sheepherders and the four men who ran the train were standing around the water tank, smoking. Joey was three hundred yards away.
The heat was so great that it cast a haze. No one from the train crew had seen him. Joey decided it was an excellent chance to practice with his new rifle, so he tied his horse and crept a little closer to the men. He shot the two sheepherders first; it was easy to tell they were sheepherders because they wore huge sombreros and looked shaggy, like the animals they cared for. Joey then shot two of the railroad men, the two fat ones. He didn't like fat people, there were too many of them in the world. Juan Castro and Roberto Sanchez, two of the husbands his mother whored with, had been fat.
As a child, he had often wakened to see a fat body on his mother's. Her husbands grunted like pigs, when they were on her. Shooting the fat railroad men was only a small revenge, for the pain his whoring mother had caused him.
The two other railroad men began to run, not into the train, but down the river, toward Laredo. Joey watched them run. He was trying to judge what would be a fair distance to shoot, a distance that would allow his rifle to perform at its best.
When the man in the lead was about four hundred yards away, Joey looked through the spyglass and shot. He aimed for the neck, but the man was running downhill and his aim was a little high. The bullet blew the man's face off. Joey rode over later to inspect the body, and most of the man's face was gone.
The sixth man ran for his life. He sped along the river so fast that it annoyed Joey.
Joey loped away, on the black gelding, letting the man see him, letting him think that he had abandoned the hunt. The man slowed to a trot, and then to a walk. Joey loped down the river, until he was well in front of the man. He was satisfied with his rifle; now he wanted to try his new pistols, and at close range.
The man from the train finally stumbled out of a gully, not thirty yards from where Joey sat on the black horse. The man was terrified. He began to plead, and name the saints.
Hearing the saints named only angered Joey.
A priest in the village had the habit of twisting his ear cruelly, while talking to him about the saints. Joey began to shoot at the weeping, pleading man, but, to his annoyance, shooting a pistol proved far more difficult than shooting his fine rifle. He emptied the two pistols, twelve shots, and did no more than nick the man's arm. Joey threw the pistols away, disgusted. They were poor weapons. He was not ready to admit that his aim was bad.
Joey rode to a little rise, overlooking the river. When the man was about seventy yards away, Joey took out the great rifle and shot the man twice, aiming for his knees. He did not mean to cut the man's arms and legs off, as he had Benito's, but he did mean to cripple him. The man's knees were shattered, and he writhed on the ground, screaming. When he passed out, Joey rode close to look at him. His legs were leaking a pool of blood. Probably the man would bleed to death, as Benito had. Benito had made his mother whore like a beast, on all fours. Joey had seen them in the bed, many times, in the early morning. Benito would be behind his mother, prodding her as bulls prodded, or dogs. That was why Joey followed him, roped him, and cut off his hands and feet with the machete, so that he would not prod his mother on all fours again.
The railroad man was not so guilty, but he looked a little like Benito, which was his misfortune.
His mother didn't even know that Joey had seen her, in her shame, or that he had followed Benito and killed him.
Later, in a cooler mood, Joey went back and got his pistols. He shot the bleeding railroad man at close range, ten yards away. Then he rode back to the train. He had never been on a train, and was curious about it. The men he had killed must have some possessions. There might be things he would want, among their baggage.
What he found far exceeded his expectations.
Three of the men had Winchesters, fairly new.
Winchesters he could sell.
Besides the rifles he found two watches, a nice knife, a razor with ivory sides, a little shaving brush, and some soap that smelled like the soap a woman might use. The soap surprised Joey. The men were just men, not clean, not neat. He wondered which one had used the fancy soap.
He also found three hundred Yankee dollars, in gold. Finding the money stunned him.
Three hundred dollars was more than all the people in the village of Ojinaga had, put together. It was more money than he had ever expected to see. And yet this was just a poor train, carrying a few hundred sheep.
If such a train yielded several guns, the knife, the razor, the watches, the nice-smelling soap, and the three hundred dollars, what would he find if he robbed a train with many people on it? What if he robbed a train with rich gringos on it? What would they have?
Joey had only killed the men to try out his new rifle. He had not been particularly interested in robbing the train. But now that he had robbed it, he began to think it might be interesting to rob a better train, a train with wealthy people on it, people who would own interesting things.
Once Joey had combed through the men's effects again--he had missed two coins and a nice pocketknife--he prepared to ride away, into Texas. When they discovered the bodies they would expect him to go into Mexico, but they did not think very well, the Texans. He thought he might go to San Antonio and buy things with his new money.
As he prepared to ride away, he paused for a moment to consider the sheep. There were several hundred of them stuffed into the hot boxcars. The day was very hot, and the sheep had no water, no food. If he didn't let them out, or if someone didn't find the train, all the sheep would be dead.
Joey thought about letting the sheep out; he could use them for target practice. He could let them graze a few hundred yards away and pick them off with his great gun, pretending they were gringos. But his ammunition was limited. He did not have cartridges to waste on sheep. His brother, Rafael, lived with sheep and goats. He would have brought them into the house, if his mother had permitted it. Rafael, with his curly, dirty hair, looked like a sheep. He sang like a sheep, too. His little songs were like bleats. Teresa defended Rafael fiercely. Once, when Joey was teasing him, she had managed to grab a knife and stick him in the shoulder, through his shirt.
Because Teresa was blind, he had underestimated her.
When he laughed at Rafael, Teresa grabbed the knife and struck at the sound. Joey knocked her down and kicked her, but the damage was done.
She had made a hole in his shirt. It was a new shirt, too, one that he had bargained for in Presidio. It was a shock, to discover that a blind girl could be so quick.
Remembering Rafael and Teresa and his ruined shirt hardened Joey's mind toward the sheep.
He did not let them out. He merely whistled at them a few times, as he loped beside the cars that held them prisoner.
Seven hundred and twelve sheep died in the boxcars. The cars were covered with buzzards when the railroad men found the train. The sky was so black with buzzards that they could be seen for fifty miles. The men from the railroad had to wrap wet blankets around their heads in order to be able to run in and disconnect the cars that held the hundreds of dead and melting sheep. The buzzards were so thick around the sides of the cars that the men had to beat them away with clubs. The couplings of the cars were fouled so badly that some men fainted and some ran away. They could not breathe long enough to work the couplings loose. Finally, they had to be content with taking the engine, and even that was covered with buzzards.
"You know how flies will swarm on meat," Goodnight told Call. Goodnight had been in south Texas at the time and took an interest in the incident.
"Yes, they swarm," Call said.
"I'm told the buzzards swarmed on that train like big flies," Goodnight said. "The Garza boy wasn't known at the time, but it sounds like him, to me. Not too many people would ride off and leave seven hundred sheep to die."
"Seven hundred and twelve," Call said.
"Well, I wasn't there to count, so I don't know why they think they know that," Goodnight said. He was often annoyed by Woodrow Call's pedantry, when it came to matters of that sort.
"I expect the railroad knew beforehand--that's probably how they got the figure," Call said.
"Then I doubt it was accurate," Goodnight said. "I never met a railroad man who could count animals on the hoof, particularly sheep." "Sheep all look alike," Call said.
"That ain't my point," Goodnight said.
"An animal's an animal. The problem is, most people can't count accurately. I never met a railroad man who could count the legs of a three-legged cat." The more Goodnight thought about human incapacity, of which he had witnessed a great deal, the more he warmed to his subject.
"I can't say that it's just railroad men," he said. "People can't count animals. I am one of the few that can." "What's the most you ever counted in one count?" Call asked. The man's irascibility had always put him off slightly, though he knew that he himself had a reputation for being a fair rival to Goodnight, in that area.
"Eleven thousand eight hundred and fourteen cattle," Goodnight said, without hesitation.
"That was four herds. I counted them into a holding pasture in Pueblo, Colorado, the last time I made the trip. It should have been eleven thousand eight hundred and forty-eight. We lost thirty-four head, or rather, Bill Starr did.
I entrusted him with the second herd, which was a mistake. I like Bill, but he was deficient in a sense, and he still is." "Those sheep would have been hell to count, once they burst," Call said.
Goodnight had driven a wagon into Clarendon, to bring back some groceries and a few posthole diggers, and Call, riding a horse that in Goodnight's opinion, was beneath his standards, fell in with him on the return trip.
Joey Garza had just robbed his third train, killing five people, all of them white. But Goodnight was not thinking of the young killer on the border. He was still thinking about human incapacity.
"Do you think a man can acquire sense, or would he have to be born with it?" he asked Call.
"Sense?" Call asked. "Cow sense, or weather sense, or what kind?" "I thought I was asking the questions," Goodnight said. "You're known to be direct--just be direct.
Are you born with sense or do you acquire it, a little at a time?" "I didn't know much when I was twenty," Call replied. "I believe I make better decisions now." "I thought your best decision was to take that herd to Montana," Goodnight said. "It was bold, because the Indians weren't whipped. They got your partner and they might have got you. But it was a good decision, anyway. Montana was there waiting.
It needed someone to come and put a herd in it." Call said nothing. The man was tactless, to bring up Montana. Goodnight and virtually every adult in the West, if they were interested in the cattle trade, knew what a failure his Montana venture had been.
"It might have been smart if I had known how to run a ranch," Call said, finally. "I didn't. Gus was able. He could run pretty much anything. But he died before we got started. The whole venture was a total failure." "I don't see it that way," Goodnight said.
"Well, it wasn't your ranch," Call pointed out.
"No, it wasn't my ranch, but I hate to see you thinking like a banker," Goodnight said.
"From a banker's point of view, all my ventures have been failures, including this one I'm venturing now, this Palo Duro ranch. The lawyers will take it away from me, before I'm dead. Lawyers and bankers are like shit beetles. They'll finally carry off everything I've built up, like they carried off your ranch up above the Yellowstone.
"I would have liked to see the Yellowstone-- I've heard it's mighty fine country, up there," he added. "If I could get around like I used to, I'd ride up to the Yellowstone, just to be able to say I'd seen it." "You ought to go--it is fine country," Call said.
Goodnight rode in silence for several miles. He had to pop his little team of mules hard with the reins to get them to pull the wagon up the bank once they forded Cow Creek.
"I'm no student of the ledger sheets," he said, a little angrily, once they left Cow Creek behind.
Call found Goodnight's way of talking hard to follow. They hadn't been talking of banks or ledger sheets. What did the man mean?
"Bankers live by ledger sheets," Goodnight informed him. "They decide you're a failure if your balance hits zero, or if you can't pay your note. You're a damn fool for thinking like a banker." "I don't think like a banker," Call assured him. "I don't even have a bank account." "It was a bold thing, driving that herd to the Yellowstone," Goodnight said. "You went right through the Sioux and the Cheyenne. It was a bold thing.
You ought not to let the bankers tell you you're a failure because you went broke. I've been broke nine times in my life, and I may be broke again, before I'm through. But I've never been lost, day or night, rain or shine, and I ain't a failure." "I wonder if Roy Bean knows anything about the Garza boy?" Call asked.
"He might," Goodnight said. "He's got a good eye for thieves, that's because he's tight.
Roy Bean would hang a man over a fart, if he didn't like the smell." Call found the conversation tiring. He had only fallen in with Goodnight to be sociable; after all, he was the man's guest. He trotted ahead for a bit, thinking about the seven hundred and twelve dead sheep. He had seen the bones of the Comanche horse herd, the one Colonel MacKenzie had destroyed. But those were just bones, cleaned by the winds and the sun. Seven hundred dead sheep crammed into boxcars was a different story.
"If I was the railroad I expect I'd just burn those boxcars," he said, when he dropped back even with Goodnight.
"Would you accompany me, if I decide to make that trip to the Yellowstone?" Goodnight asked, as they rode up to his barn.
"No, you'll have to find other company, if you go," Call said. "I'd rather be shut of Montana. You can't miss the river, though." "I told you I've never been lost, day or night," Goodnight said. "I can generally locate a river." "I expect so, I don't know why I said it," Call replied. The man was a famous plainsman. Of course he could find the Yellowstone River.
"I am not good at conversation, goodbye," he said, but Goodnight was already unloading the posthole diggers, and didn't answer.
Brookshire knew the minute he walked into the telegraph office in Laredo that there was trouble-- big trouble. No fewer than seven telegrams awaited him, all from Colonel Terry. Two telegrams from Colonel Terry was so unusual that it usually meant war had been declared.
Brookshire had never expected to be unlucky enough to receive seven at one time. And yet it had occurred, in the hot town of Laredo.
"Ain't you gonna open them?" the old telegraph clerk said. His name was Johnny Whitman and he had been a telegraph operator on the border for twenty-nine years.
Never before had he received seven telegrams for one person, only to have that person refuse to open them and share the excitement. Perhaps there was a war. Perhaps troops were on their way from San Antonio with orders to kill all the Mexicans. If that was so, and Johnny Whitman hoped it was, there would be rapid business for a few months.
Brookshire knew the man wanted him to open the telegrams and share the news with him, but he didn't care. Seven telegrams from Colonel Terry could only mean one thing. The Garza boy had struck again, before Captain Call could do his job.
If that was the case, then at least one of the telegrams might be informing him that he was fired.
In that event, he wouldn't have to worry about Colonel Terry's fiery temper anymore, but he would certainly have to worry about Katie's.
She did not like change, Katie. He had a job and she expected him to keep it. News that he was fired would undoubtedly cause her temper to flare up.
It had been nippy in Amarillo. Winter was supposed to be nippy, and Brookshire hadn't minded. Then in San Antonio, which was still in the same state, it had been hot, mighty hot.
He didn't suppose it could get any hotter than it had been in San Antonio, but after a few hours in Laredo, he was forced to admit an error. Laredo, which was in the same state, was hotter still.
Their arrival in Laredo had been unpleasant on other grounds, too. Bolivar had begun to cry and wail. When they crossed the river into Nuevo Laredo, Bolivar knew that the Captain was about to leave him.
"No, capit@an, no!" he pleaded. "I want to go. I can ride and shoot." "Yes, and you have shot," Call reminded him.
"You shot our best mule, and for no reason." Bolivar had a vague memory of shooting a mule. He had shot it in the stomach with a big gun. Now, though, he couldn't remember why.
Perhaps the mule had tried to bite him; mules were known to bite.
"I thought I was shooting the devil," Bolivar said, in hopes of convincing the Captain that shooting the mule had been an act prompted by forces stronger than himself.
"No, you thought it was an Indian," Call said. "You have to stay here, Bol--you might get hurt if I take you. I'll be back for you when I head home." Soon he was handing money to a small, tired-looking Mexican woman who was not unlike the woman he had given money to in San Antonio. Brookshire decided the old man must have been a superlative cook, for the Captain to keep supporting him all these years.
Bolivar didn't appreciate the fact that the Captain had another decent family to place him with, though. He wanted to ride the river with the Captain, to ride and shoot, kill or be killed. At the thought that he would have to stay with the woman and the children again, he began to weep, and he was still weeping when the Captain and Brookshire rode off.
"Be quiet, you're old, you need to rest," Juanita said. She was not happy to see the old man. He caused many problems. But she needed the money. He was not a bad old man; just noisy, and sometimes a little violent to himself.
Brookshire stumbled out of the telegraph office, pale with shock, and took the seven telegrams to Captain Call, who was talking with the local sheriff, a young man named Jekyll, who sported a walrus mustache. Call was trying to find out the local gossip about the Garza boy.
To the surprise of both Call and the sheriff, Brookshire simply thrust the seven telegrams into Call's hands.
"Would you read them, please? I'm too worried," he said.
Call led Brookshire a little distance down the road, to a shade tree, before opening the first of the telegrams. He knew Sheriff Jekyll was dead curious about the information they contained, but he preferred to take the cautious, rather than the polite, approach. The less information got spread around, the better.
"Well, it's bad," Call said, when he had read all seven telegrams. "He's done it again, and somebody else has started doing it too." He gave Brookshire the telegrams, and Brookshire read them quickly. Three more trains had been struck.
"Three! Three, my God!" Brookshire exclaimed. Even one more train robbery would have been a calamity, but three amounted almost to a world catastrophe. News that an earthquake had leveled New York City could not have been more unwelcome.
"I don't see anything about a second robber --where's that?" Brookshire asked.
"The telegrams don't say it--it's the distances that say it," Call said. "According to this, a train was robbed in Van Horn one afternoon and another in Deming, New Mexico, the next morning. Nobody's swift enough to cover that distance in twelve hours." Call methodically arranged the telegrams in order and read Brookshire the totals: two crew and three passengers killed near Van Horn, little money taken; two crew and two passengers killed near Falfurrias, little money taken; and three crew and four passengers killed near Deming, another military payroll lost.
"O Lord, spare us," Brookshire said.
"That's another payroll lost--the army will be mad, for sure." "It's the passengers the Lord should have spared," Call said. "That's sixteen lives lost, in a little over a week, Mr. Brookshire. I fought Indians for fifteen years on the frontier and I lost six men. This is not a robber we're after, it's a killer--or two killers, it looks like now." "If there's two robbers, or two killers, who's the other one?" Brookshire asked.
"I don't know," Call said.
"Well, one of them's a robber, too," Brookshire said. "He's taken three payrolls and lots of trinkets." "Yes, he takes the money," Call said.
"Or they take the money, because it's there. But the killings worry me more. How many were killed before I took this job?" Brookshire tried to think. Three robberies had occurred before he left New York; another occurred while he was in Chicago. The one with the sheep wasn't on Colonel Terry's railroad, so Brookshire didn't count it, though he supposed he ought to count the dead men. It seemed to him that there had been three or four deaths each time, but he wasn't sure. Six had died on the sheep train, and now there were another sixteen dead. The count was in the thirties somewhere, so there was no denying it was a startling death toll. His regiment had only lost forty men, during the entire Civil War. Of course, his regiment had not been in the thickest of the action; still, the War had been carnage from start to finish and it was a shock to realize that one Mexican boy, in the course of a few months, had taken more lives than his regiment had lost in the War.
"I doubt Wesley Hardin has killed that many people yet," Call said. "And Wesley Hardin is a bad one." Near the livery stable, where Call had encountered Sheriff Jekyll, a large log had been rolled into the shade, to make a sitting place. Two old men with only a few teeth between them were sitting on it, whittling with small pocketknives. Call went over and sat on the log too. He was annoyed with himself for not having taken the casualty figures more seriously, sooner. The numbers had been available, but numbers were usually exaggerated. He had fought several fierce battles, with both Indians and Mexicans, in which no one was killed on either side. Usually there were wounds, but fighting men were not easily killed. In the War, of course, the great engagements had left hundreds or even thousands dead, but frontier fighting was of a different order.
In the worst Indian fight he had engaged in, he had only been able to say positively that two Indians were killed--he buried the two himself.
Call rarely saw a newspaper and had not followed the Garza boy's murdering that closely.
He had assumed that the figures were exaggerated.
Let one or two people get killed in a feud or a ruckus, and as the story went up and down the trail, the figure would swell until it became twenty or thirty. Before the Garza boy showed up, the most notorious outlaw in the West was Billy the Kid, who was said to have killed a man for every year of his life, when he was nineteen. But Dish Boggett, the gifted Hat Creek cowboy who was now selling hardware in Lincoln County, New Mexico, where the troubles occurred, assured Call that the boy had only killed four or five men. Goodnight, who had been in Lincoln County while the range war was going on, agreed with that figure.
If the information in the telegrams was true, Joey Garza had quickly eclipsed Billy the Kid as a killer.
In his conversation with Sheriff Jekyll, Call had asked if anyone knew how the Garza boy got the trains to stop. One man working without a gang, would have to be inventive to stop a train.
"He piles rocks on the tracks," Sheriff Jekyll said. "He ain't lazy. He works in the night, piling up rocks, till he gets a kind of wall." "But a locomotive going full speed could bust through a pile of rocks, surely," Call said.
"Maybe, but the train might derail, and then you'd be in a pickle," the sheriff replied.
"If Joey Garza's after you, you're in a pickle anyway," a lanky deputy named Ted Plunkert observed.
"If it was me, and I was driving the dern train and I seen a pile of rocks and thought Joey Garza had piled it up, I'd pour on the steam," the deputy added.
Sheriff Jekyll looked startled and embarrassed by his deputy's remark. It had never occurred to him that Ted Plunkert would venture an opinion of any kind, in the presence of the great Captain Call. Ted Plunkert had not made a comment of such length and complexity since Jekyll had hired him. What could have prompted him to wag his tongue for five minutes when he, the sheriff, was discussing serious matters with Captain Woodrow Call?
"Ted, you were not consulted," Sheriff Jekyll said bluntly.
"I'll consult him--he's making better sense than you are," Call said, no less bluntly. He didn't like Jekyll's manner, which was fawning yet superior. Many young lawmen took a similar tone with him, nowadays.
Sheriff Jekyll blushed scarlet. Call thought the man might have a seizure, he was so embarrassed.
"Well, the engineer can plow on, if he wants to risk it," the sheriff said.
"It's run or fight, if you're dealing with Joey," Deputy Plunkert said. "I doubt I'd be ashamed to run, if he had the drop on me." "Are you employed steady, or would you consider accompanying me?" Call asked. He liked the deputy's dry manner and matter-of-fact outlook.
"It's steady, but it's warm," the deputy said.
"I wouldn't mind going to higher country, where there might be a breeze once a month or so." "Now, Plunkert, who asked you into this conversation?" Sheriff Jekyll said. He considered it damn unneighborly of the Captain to try and hire his deputy. He didn't much care for Ted Plunkert, but if he left, there would be no one but himself to sweep out the jail.
Call sat on the log, by the toothless old men, and considered the situation.
Survivors of the robberies claimed there was no gang. A single blond Mexican boy, well mounted, showed up and took their finer possessions.
Though some of the passengers were armed, something in the boy's manner kept them from using their arms in their own defense. The lost payrolls had come to almost a million dollars in cash. Dozens of watches and rings and jewels had been taken, and the people killed had not been offering any resistance. The boy stopped trains carrying a score or more passengers, robbed them, killed a few, and left, only to strike again, far away, when it suited him.
In Call's experience, it was unusual for criminals to have such confidence. One reason they ran in packs was because confidence was one quality they seemed to lack. It was also unusual for criminals to have much ability. When they succeeded, it was usually because they had circumstance on their side. It might be that the Garza boy was an exception--a criminal with real ability.
Brookshire was so upset that he could not keep still. He saw Captain Call sitting on the log with the two old men. Obviously, the Captain was thinking matters over. Brookshire tried to allow him his privacy, but it was hard.
Another telegram could arrive from Colonel Terry at any moment, informing them that they were both fired. The Colonel had never been loath to change help.
Brookshire found himself edging a little closer to the log where the Captain sat. If only they could get started, he might feel a little better.
"Ain't we gonna start soon?" he asked.
"Joey Garza could be getting farther and farther away." "That's just a guess, though," Call said.
"He might be headed back down the river toward us, for all we know." "What are we going to do?" Brookshire asked. "The Colonel won't sit still for much more of this." "Nobody's asking him to sit still," Call said. "He can catch the next train and come out here and catch the boy himself, if he's impatient." "Oh, but he won't want to," Brookshire assured him. "The Colonel don't like to leave New York--he's too attached to Miss Cora, for one thing." "Do you still want to go with me?" Call asked. He had taken a liking to Brookshire.
The man was incompetent, and he usually despised incompetence, but for some reason, Brookshire's incompetence made him likable. There was something brave in it. For a man who could neither ride nor shoot, to be willing to travel over some of the roughest stretches of the West in pursuit of a young killer who had already accounted for nearly forty lives, took guts.
"I have to go with you," Brookshire said.
"I've been ordered." "Suppose you didn't have to go, though," Call said. "Suppose you could choose." "But Captain, I can't choose," Brookshire reminded him. "I work for Colonel Terry. I can't choose. I don't think I've ever chosen. I wouldn't know how." Captain Call just looked at him.
Brookshire was so taken aback, by the question and the look, that he didn't know what to say. Why ask him what he would do if he could choose? He had never chosen. He had taken the only job he had been offered, married the only woman who would agree to marriage. He was just a husband and a salaried man. Choice didn't play any part in his life. His choices were made for him, by people who were smarter than he was: Colonel Terry and Katie, to name two. Captain Call was also smarter than he was, Brookshire felt sure. Why had he asked such a question?
Call was wondering if the man would survive.
There was no answer to the question, of course, but it was a matter he always pondered, when he led men into danger. It was also a question he could as well ask of himself. If the years had taught him anything, it was that survival was a matter that could not be predicted with any accuracy. Time and again, on the frontier, men who were well experienced and well equipped rode off one day and got killed.
Gus McCrae, his old partner, was as competent as any man he had ever known, and yet, Gus had ridden off on a kind of frolic, in Montana, and ended up dead. None of the Hat Creek cowboys had been as competent as Gus, or Deets--the black man who had served him so well for so long--yet, Gus and Deets were dead, and some of the least competent--Soupy, for example, or Jasper Fant--were still alive and flourishing. There was no degree of competence that would assure anyone of survival, and no scale that would tell a commander which man would live and which man would die. If you added it all up reasonably, then Brookshire would be the first to fall, if there was a fight; and most people would expect that he himself would be the last. But it might not happen that way. Joey Garza was said to have a fine rifle, with a telescope sight. Several cowboys had turned up dead, on the Pecos ranches, shot while riding alone, far from their headquarters. It might be that Joey Garza was killing people who never saw him, never suspected that he was anywhere near. Instinct, however well honed, could not necessarily warn one that a young killer, hidden behind a rock four hundred yards away, with the sun at his back, was looking through a telescope sight, about to squeeze the trigger.
If Joey Garza happened to see him and Brookshire riding along, which would he shoot first, the Ranger or the dude?
"You can come with me," Call said. "But it's up to you to keep up. I might not be able to stop and help you. You've got to try and keep up." "Captain, I'll keep up--I'm a grown man," Brookshire said, a little insulted.
Call stood up and handed Brookshire the telegrams.
"We need one more man," he said. "I think I'll hire that lanky deputy." "Oh, the tall fellow?" Brookshire asked, surprised.
"Yes," Call said. "You did say I could hire a man to make up for Pea Eye, didn't you?" "Why, yes, provided he's not too expensive," Brookshire said. "How do you know he'll go? He has a job right here in town." "The man looked restless," Call replied.
"I expect he'll come."
Doobie Plunkert cried so hard she ran completely out of breath. She stood in her own kitchen, gasping like a fish, her mouth open, trying to suck in air but mainly pouring out tears. Ted stood behind her, timidly patting her on the back, as if she were a baby who needed to burp.
The timid way Ted patted her was beginning to make Doobie angry. When Ted walked in and announced that he was going to El Paso, or possibly farther, to help some old lawman she had never heard of catch a bandit Ted had no business chasing, Doobie had been stricken to the heart. How could he, when she was already four months pregnant with their baby, a little boy, she hoped!
She planned to name him Edward, after his father, but they would just call him Eddie, and he would be the light of their life.
Doobie had never, in her short married life of almost eight months, supposed that Ted Plunkert would leave her for any reason whatsoever; not leave her overnight, that is. So far, she and Ted had slept together every single night of their marriage. Of course, Doobie understood that accidents might happen; the milk cow might get loose, or one of the horses run away.
In that event, Ted would have to go looking for them, and might not get back just when she wanted to go to bed.
He might even be gone as late as midnight, as he was on the nights when he was required to watch the jail until all the saloons closed and all the drunks and bullies were rounded up.
Not having Ted beside her until around midnight was just one of those things you had to put up with if you married a lawman. Doobie was sixteen years old and married to a deputy sheriff; she expected to do her duty, even when she was lonely and could think of nothing but how happy it would make her if Ted would only get home, take his boots off, take his socks off, take his pants off and his shirt off, and get into bed and hug her tight.
The truth was, Doobie needed a lot of tight hugging. She had grown up poor; her mother had died when she was four, and the aunt and uncle who raised her were too poor and too busy to pay much attention to her. When Ted Plunkert began to pay attention to her, it was like a miracle sent from heaven--like the coming true of the best dream she had ever dreamed. He was just the sweetest man, willing to hold her tight all night long, except maybe for a few nights in July and August, when it was really too hot to hold anyone tight for very long.
Now Ted was leaving, after only eight months with her. It was the end of all her dreams, and she told Ted so, just before she burst into tears and cried so hard she lost her breath.
"Stop, honey. Stop, honey," Ted kept saying as he patted her timidly in various places. "We're just going after Joey Garza, that's all. Soon as the Captain catches up with him I'm coming right back here, to my darling." But neither Ted's words nor his pats had any power to soothe Doobie. Ted was going away. He was going to leave her alone all night; maybe weeks and weeks of nights. It was the end of her happiness, the only true happiness she had ever known, and it was all happening because the old lawman had butted in where he wasn't wanted and persuaded Ted to go with him.
The thing that hurt the most, after the fact that Ted wouldn't be there to hug her tight for many, many nights, was that Ted hadn't even asked if he could go. One of the nicest things about Ted was that in all matters involving their domestic life, he let her be boss. Even before they married, he let her boss, and in fact, even offered formally to let her boss.
"I'm too busy, I've got my deputying," he said. "You look after the rest of it." Ted had kept his word, too. If Doobie wanted to go to church on Sunday, they went; if she didn't, they didn't. If it was a fine day and she felt like wading in the river, Ted went with her, took off his boots, rolled up his pants legs, and waded in the river with her.
Doobie loved it, that she got to be the boss.
During her hard life with her aunt and uncle, she had been more like a slave than a boss. In her marriage, though, Doobie tried very hard to make good decisions about what to cook, or when to clean, or how to doctor Ted when he got an ailment, usually the grippe.
She tried hard, and she had convinced herself that she was doing a good job and that Ted was happy; because she was convinced that she was doing a good job, it hit her all the harder when Ted walked in and announced that he was leaving in an hour. He said it matter-of-factly, as if he were telling her it might rain.
Doobie couldn't grasp it, at first. She thought she must have misheard, or misunderstood, or that she must still be asleep, having the worst dream of her life, instead of the best.
When Doobie had to admit that it was true, that it wasn't a dream or a misunderstanding, she started crying and cried until she ran out of breath. It was a worse shock than her mother's death. When her mother died, she had been young, and her mother had always been sick. There had been so little happiness that it wasn't very different when her mother went. The big difference was that her Aunt Gladys slapped her frequently. Her mother had never slapped her in her entire life.
But it was certain, Doobie knew immediately, that it was going to be a very different life, now that Ted wasn't going to be there to hold her tight, every night.
"Stop patting me on the back!" Doobie said, vehemently, when she started breathing again and could speak. At that point, she still had a little bit of hope that Ted would change his mind. They had a happy marriage, all eight months of it, and Ted probably had no idea that his going away would upset her so. After all, he had no reason to go away and no place to go away to, not until the old lawman showed up.
Doobie had long realized that Ted's way of thinking was different from her own. What she needed to do was let him know how strongly she felt, and make it clear how much she needed him to stay with her. She had been told, by her one good friend, Susanna Slack, that men were a little dumb, in some ways.
Susanna maintained that they didn't understand the first thing about how women felt; mainly, Susanna believed, men didn't even care to try to understand the first thing about how women felt. That had never sounded exactly right to Doobie. Maybe Ted didn't really understand how she felt, but he was willing to let her be the boss of their family life, and that amounted to pretty much the same thing.
Now, though, in her shock and misery, Doobie was forced to consider that Susanna had been right, after all. Ted Plunkert didn't know a thing about how she felt.
"I guess I better go round up some bedding," Ted said, as her tears were subsiding.
"The Captain's in a hurry to get going." "The Captain, who's he?" Doobie said, furious. "He's just some old man I never heard of. I don't see why you think you have to go with him." "Why, it's Captain Call," Ted Plunkert said, shocked. He knew his wife hadn't had the advantage of much schooling--he himself hadn't had much, either--but he had not supposed her ignorance to be so profound that she would never have heard of Captain Call.
"I never heard of Captain Call, I tell you!" Doobie yelled. "I never heard of him! He don't live here, why would I have heard of him?" "Why, it's Captain Call," Ted Plunkert repeated. "Everybody's heard of him. He's the most famous Texas Ranger of all time," Ted said, still shocked. He was a little embarrassed for Doobie. It was almost as bad as if she had told him she had never heard of air, or the moon, or something. He had lived along the border all his life, and along the border, the Captain was about as well known as air, or the moon.
"Well, I ain't heard of him, why do you have to go?" Doobie asked. She was ready to plead and beg, if she had to.
"Doobie, there's no why to it," Ted explained, patiently. "The Captain asked me to ride with him. That's it." "If he asked you, you could have said no," Doobie pointed out, in what she thought was a reasonable, even a calm voice. "He ain't the president. He can't just order you to run off and leave your wife." "Doobie, I swear, he's Captain Call," Ted said again. "You don't just go around saying no to him." Doobie was silent. She didn't want to be angry, but she felt herself getting angry--very angry.
"Besides," Ted added, "it's a big honor to be asked to ride with him. I expect it's about the biggest honor I've ever had in my life, or ever will have." "What if you ain't back when the baby is born?" Doobie asked. "What if you don't never come back? What if you never even see our little Eddie? If you go off and get killed, little Eddie might never even get to have a daddy." "I guess I better round up that bedding," Ted said, trying to be patient. In fact, he was becoming a little exasperated. His private belief was that Doobie had temporarily lost her mind.
Instead of feeling honored that Captain Woodrow Call, the most famous Texas Ranger of all time, had singled him out from all the men in Laredo and asked him to go up the river with him, all Doobie could do was cry and complain. After all, the great man could have asked Bob Jekyll to go with him. Bob was the sheriff, and had a better claim to such an honor. But Captain Call had walked around Bob Jekyll and had chosen him. It ought to have been the proudest moment of their marriage, and yet, all Doobie could do was bawl like a heifer.
Of course, he loved Doobie. No man could ask for a better little wife. Her biscuits were first-rate, and she could even repair boots, if the holes in the boots weren't too big.
Ted sincerely hoped she would soon get over being out of her mind. She had no business suggesting that he might have turned down Captain Call's offer. Of course he couldn't refuse Woodrow Call, just because Doobie chose to bawl like a heifer for an hour. It was very inconsiderate of her, Ted thought. After all, he did have to gather up his bedding, and could have used some help. He didn't get any help, though. Almost an hour had passed, and he had to rush. One consequence of the rushing was that he forgot his slicker, an oversight that was to cause him much misery, on the trail.
Doobie Plunkert stood at the back door of their little house and watched hopelessly as Ted and the old Captain and the fat little Yankee rode away. She felt her heart breaking; she didn't think she would be able to endure the ache.
If Ted had just once turned in the saddle and waved at her, it would have made the ache a little easier to bear. Even when he was just walking down the street to do his deputying, Ted would sometimes turn and wave at her. The fact was, she loved him so much that she could miss him acutely, even when he was just down the street. Often, she had an urge to run visit him at the jail, just to see if he still looked the same, or if his smile was as sweet. But Doobie could never indulge herself when she had this longing. Sheriff Jekyll had made it plain, the one time she stuck her nose in the door, that it was the last time he expected to see her at the jail. He lectured Ted so severely about his wife's behavior that Ted told her that evening never to go near the jail again.
"There's rules," he told her that night.
He was gentle about it, but Doobie's feelings were still a little hurt. All she had wanted to do was peek at her husband, to be sure he looked the same.
Now, watching him ride north along the river with two strangers, one of whom, in her view, was no more than an old killer, Doobie cried again. She cried until she was cried out. She felt sure that little Eddie was crying too, inside her. There were rules, just as Ted had warned her, and the main one seemed to be that men could leave when they chose to. They could close doors to jails and other places, when they wanted to, and not wave when they left their wives to go off on manhunts.
They could do any and all of those things, and worse, for all she knew.
All the same, though she didn't like the rules, Doobie really wanted Ted to come back. That night, without him to hold her tight, she had many dreams, and tossed and turned, but the best dream she had was that the bandit they were after, Joey Garza, came riding into Laredo to surrender, so that Ted and the Ranger and the Yankee didn't have to go at all.
Doobie's dream was so vivid that she could even smell her husband, Ted Plunkert. He smelled of saddle soap. Only that morning he had taken it into his head to saddle-soap his old saddle. It gave off a good smell, saddle soap. Smelling it in her dream made Doobie remember what a good man Ted was, and how kind he had always been to her.
The best part of the dream, though, was that Ted not only smelled of saddle soap; Ted was there.
He snuck into the bedroom, as he always did when he came in late; he took off his boots, took off his pants, took off his shirt, and climbed into bed to hold her tight, as she always hoped he would, not just for one night but throughout her whole life. Doobie tried to stay in her dream, to hide in it, but she grew more and more restless; she began to have moments of wakefulness, began to suspect that her dream was just a dream.
She tried to fight off waking up, to burrow deeper into the dream, but it didn't work.
Despite herself, she woke, opened her eyes, and knew the worst, immediately. Ted Plunkert wasn't there.
He wasn't there, just wasn't there. One day, when she had no reason to expect trouble, or even to be the tiniest bit worried, her life with Ted Plunkert had ended.
"No it ain't, honey. He's just gone on a job," her friend Susanna, told her a little later that morning. Doobie had been so upset that she had run down the street, barefoot and sobbing, and flung herself into Susanna's arms.
"He'll never come back. He'll never come back, I know it," Doobie kept saying, between fits of racking sobs.
"He'll come back," Susanna said.
"He'll come back, Doobie." In fact, she wasn't so sure. She couldn't really say it with much conviction, because only the year before, her husband, John Slack, by consent one of the best cowboys to be found anywhere near the Rio Grande, had ridden out one morning to brand a few calves--work he had done hundreds of times in the twelve years of their marriage--and had never come back, not alive, that is. A calf he had just roped turned directly under his horse while the horse was in a dead run. The horse's front legs buckled, and he fell in such a way that it drove John Slack's head straight into the ground, breaking his neck. He died instantly, and since then, Susanna had been a widow.
At least you've got his child, Susanna thought wi/lly, as she held her sobbing friend. She and John had hoped for a child, hoped year after year; but no child came, and now she had nothing of John Slack except a few notes he had written her while they were courting, and of course, her memories, memories of being married to the best cowboy in the Rio Grande Valley. They had once hoped to have a ranch, as well as a child, but now John was dead, and Susanna had neither. She had been forced to move to town and take a job clerking in the general store, to support herself.
Doobie would not be comforted. Remembering her own loss made Susanna a poor comforter, anyway. Soon, she was crying, too.
"He won't come back, he'll never come back," Doobie said, again and again. She had never been so convinced of anything as she was that her husband, Ted Plunkert, was gone for good. Little Eddie would never know his father. She would never again have a husband, to hold her tight in the night.
"I was going to give him a new saddle," Doobie said, hopelessly, to Susanna.
Indeed, she had been skimping and saving for just that purpose. She had paid down the immense sum of eight dollars to old Jesus, the local saddlemaker. She had discussed Ted's new saddle with Jesus in great detail. Doobie had even begun to take in sewing, to pay for the saddle. Old Jesus had promised it to her by the spring.
Doobie's dream was that someday Sheriff Jekyll would move away and Ted would be sheriff of Laredo. She thought Ted would be a wonderful sheriff; maybe little Eddie could be his deputy, when he grew up. She wanted Ted to have a saddle worthy of the sheriff of Laredo.
Now that little dream was lost, too. Jesus had already started on the saddle. Maybe the best thing she could do would be to let him finish it. It could be little Eddie's saddle, one day.
"I hate that old man Call," Doobie said. She felt weak from crying so much and so hard, but not too weak to hate what she hated. She had only seen the old man from a distance; the Yankee, too; but she hated them both. They had ridden in and taken her Ted. She hoped they were both killed, and that the buzzards ate their guts.
"Who does he think he is anyway, just to come here and take people, like that?" she asked Susanna.
Susanna was ten years older than Doobie.
She had heard many stories about Captain Call, for the cowboys were always talking about him. But it had mainly just been men talking. She had not paid much attention. Doobie coming in so upset had upset her, too, and now it was almost time for her to go to work.
"I think he was an Indian fighter," Susanna said.
"I wish the Indians had killed him, then," Doobie said bitterly.
"Don't think about it," Susanna advised.
She soon had to leave for her job in the store.
Doobie walked back home barefoot, not caring how she looked, not caring about anything. She wished an Indian would ride into town and kill her. It would be easier than suffering. But then, she remembered that she had to stay alive so that little Eddie could be born. It seemed hard, but she would have to do it. She would have to do it without Ted, too. Yesterday, he had been there; today he was gone, and he would not be back. Ted was not very tough. Doobie knew that. He would not be very hard to kill. Somebody would kill him--this Joey Garza, or someone else. She knew it in her bones.
Doobie walked on home and hid in her bed all day, wondering who would be the one to bring her the news, and how long it would be before it came.
As a girl of ten, Maria had been given a crippled pony--not a true pony, but a small, spotted horse that had injured itself badly on some barbed wire strung by the men who owned the big ranch across the river. The men had been careless with their wire, and the little horse had become entangled in a coil and had cut one foot so badly that everyone thought it would lose its hoof. The villagers in Ojinaga were hoping that old Ramon, who owned the horse, would kill it and make horsemeat jerky.
That was what the people of Ojinaga wanted, but that was not what Ramon wanted. Ramon, though already an old man, wanted Maria, who was only ten.
Ramon had a wife named Carmila, a quarrelsome woman liked by no one, but liked least by Ramon, who'd endured her angry eyes and acid tongue for thirty years. Now Carmila was sick; it was thought she had a tumor in her womb.
As the tumor grew, Carmila became even more angry and spiteful, and refused to be with Ramon. She told him she thought he had put the tumor in her womb out of spite because she would bear him no more children. She had already borne him thirteen.
Denied relations with his wife, Ramon's thoughts turned more and more to Maria, whose breasts were already budding. One day, noticing that Maria came every day to pet the crippled horse, the horse he had been thinking of making into jerky, Ramon impulsively gave it to Maria. He was not just being generous; he was preparing the way for a serious courtship. As soon as Carmila died, he meant to go to Tomas, Maria's father, and ask for her hand.
That plan failed, because Tomas and his oldest son and son-in-law got caught in Texas with twenty stolen horses. A Ranger troop led by Captain Call and Captain McCrae caught the men, and they were hung within an hour of their capture. Ramon considered, and decided not to take back the horse, which could walk fairly well, and even trot, although it had only three good legs.
When the news came that her father and brother were dead, Maria took her horse, whom she called Three Legs, and walked far down the river, farther than she had ever gone before. She never rode Three Legs, but she loved him more than anything else in her life. Every day, she made a poultice for his wounded hoof, hoping it would heal.
But a tendon had been severed when Three Legs got caught in the wire; with the tendon cut, the leg could not heal.
During her time on the river, mourning for her father, Maria ate mesquite beans, and nibbled carefully at prickly pear apples. Once or twice she was able to scoop a little fish out of the water. The fish she ate raw. Once she caught a small turtle, meaning to eat it, but instead, she kept it for a few days and let it go.
During the day, she walked with Three Legs, as he foraged. During the worst of the heat, she found shade. Often she looked across the river, at the hated place called Texas, where men killed other men over a few horses. She wanted to kill all the men who had hung her father and brother. She did not suppose it would ever be in her power to kill them, but she vowed to do it if she could.
At night, she looked at the bright stars, sleeping little, listening to the river. She did not understand rivers. Where did so much water come from?
She wondered if the river began in the sky, where the rain lived. On some days she didn't eat at all, though always, she drank the cold water of the river.
Ramon was furious with Maria, for going away with the horse he had given her. He wanted to find her and beat her, but in the end, he was too lazy to go look for her. It didn't bother Ramon that Tomas and his boy had been hung. They were sloppy thieves, and it was no surprise to him that the Rangers had caught them and hung them. They had known the danger before they crossed the border.
Horse thieves had to hang. That was the law on either side of the river.
It angered Ramon that a girl of ten would take it upon herself to leave, without asking anyone, andwitha horse he had given her. Carmila, his wife, was dying--she might go any day now. Her stomach was blue and swollen. She could not keep food down. All Ramon could think about, during Maria's absence, were her little budding breasts. He wanted to touch fresh young breasts, not the tired sacks that Carmila had.
Finally, Maria walked back to the village.
The mesquite beans were gone, and she was hungry.
Two days after Maria's return, Ramon caught her in the cornfield. She was feeding Three Legs corn from her hand. Maria greeted Ramon with a friendly smile, but one look at his face told her that Ramon was not in a friendly mood. She knew little about men and women. She was shocked when Ramon simply shoved her down in the cornfield and began to pull at her clothes.
She screamed, and Ramon hit her; she screamed again and he hit her again. Maria thought he had gone berserk when he tried to pry her legs apart. No one in the village came. Maria was weak from her fast, and Ramon was strong. Also, Maria was so shocked at the change in Ramon, who had been her neighbor all her life, that she did not know what to do. She thought his wife's illness must have driven him insane. He was acting like a crazy man. His face was twisted, he bared his teeth, and he was ready to hit her again if she tried to scream.
Maria gave up. Her life had become nothing but pain. She was surprised by Ramon's pleasure, which soon dripped out of her, along with her own blood. While he still held her down, Ramon told Maria that he wanted her to live with him now. Carmila would soon be dead. As soon as she died, he would marry Maria. Even as he crushed her into the dirt, Ramon was eager to let Maria know that his intentions were good.
Maria was almost more shocked by what Ramon told her than by what he had done to her. She did not want to marry Ramon, or anyone. What had happened in the cornfield frightened her and hurt her, but it also taught her something. It taught her what men really wanted of women.
What they really wanted was what Ramon had just taken from her.
Carmila died the next day. Two days after her funeral, Maria's mother, Silvana, told Maria that Ramon had asked to marry her.
Silvana thought Maria should do it. Ramon had money--not much, but more than they had. Maria had two younger brothers and a little sister. They were mouths that Silvana had to struggle hard to feed. She did not think much of Ramon, but he was no worse than most men. If Maria married him he might be kind to her family, to Silvana and the little ones.
Again, Maria was shocked. She knew that her mother was tired. Silvana had worked hard all her life, she had lost a husband and a grown son.
She had given up. Maria knew what it was to give up, for she had given up in the cornfield, given up because she was afraid a crazy old man might kill her.
Still, Maria had no intention of marrying Ramon, or anyone.
"He is a bad man," Maria told her mother. "He did a bad thing to me." She had not meant to tell about the bad thing, but she could not hold back.
Silvana was saddened by this news. It confirmed a fear that she had had for two years: Ramon was not to be trusted around Maria. Silvana cried, but not for long. It was only one more sorrow, heaped on many others, so many that Silvana could not cry long for any of them.
"He is not as bad as some men," Silvana pointed out.
"He is a bad man, he bit me!" Maria said. She showed her mother a mark on her shoulder, a mark Ramon had put there with his teeth.
"He is not even as bad as your father," Silvana said. "Your father did worse things.
Marry Ramon, Maria. It will help us eat." But Maria wouldn't, not even if they all starved.
Silvana had to tell Ramon that Maria had refused. She was a stubborn girl, stubborn enough to deny her mother's wish.
Ramon did not take this news well. He cursed Silvana, and he told her he did not think she had asked Maria. He was only seventy-two, and he had given the girl a horse; crippled, it was true, but still a horse. How many men in Ojinaga were wealthy enough to give a ten-year-old girl a horse?
After that, Ramon watched Maria constantly.
He became obsessed with her. Sometimes he even crawled up to her window at night, hoping to see her undress. He watched the cornfield, meaning to catch her again and repeat what he had done. Soon, he was convinced, Maria would accept him. She was not experienced. If she would consent, or if he could catch her, she would realize that he was a good man. Soon she would welcome his attentions, he was convinced of it.
But while Ramon was watching Maria, Maria also watched him. She would not be caught again, as she had been caught when she thought Ramon was her friend.
Now she knew what he was, and he was not her friend. Perhaps no men would be her friends, not if they went crazy, as Ramon had, every time they wanted to go between her legs. Not if all they wanted was to make her serve their pleasure. She was determined that Ramon, for one, would never have that pleasure with her again. Her dead brother had left an old machete behind when he went to Texas on the raid that led to his death. The machete was dull, but Maria carefully sharpened it on the grindstone until its blade was as keen as a razor. She began to wear the machete in its scabbard over her shoulder. Whenever she led Three Legs into the cornfield in search of fodder, she carried the machete in one hand.
One day, when Silvana had gone to the river to wash clothes, Ramon snuck into her house, hoping to take Maria by surprise. Instead, he found her just inside the door, in the dim kitchen, her machete gripped in both hands.
Ramon cursed her bitterly, then. But he didn't challenge her knife. He was too slow, and his eyesight was not good. Maria might cut him badly before he subdued her; he might bleed to death, or get an infection in the cut.
Many men he knew had died from infections in the cuts they received in fighting. Ramon did not plan to lose his life because a ten-year-old girl cut him with a machete.
That afternoon, when Silvana was back, Ramon came over and offered to buy Maria. He could not get the girl off his mind. He felt that the rest of his life would be a sour thing if he could not have Maria. He wanted her so badly that he offered Silvana two hundred pesos for her.
Two hundred pesos was an unheard-of price for a girl so young and inexperienced.
To Ramon's surprise and chagrin, Silvana countered by offering herself, in Maria's stead.
"She doesn't want you," Silvana said.
"She won't marry you. Take me. I am your neighbor and I need a husband." Ramon was outraged. He wanted the girl, not the mother.
"You are too old," he said. "Almost as old as Carmila. Sell me the girl." "She won't go with you. She'll cut you when you're asleep," Silvana said. "Tomas's mother was part Apache. Maria is like her. They are not afraid to cut men." "I didn't know Tomas's mother," Ramon said, a little daunted. He did not like Apaches.
But he still wanted Maria, and he said so.
"No, she won't marry you," Silvana repeated. "Take me. I am not so old." Silvana had not expected to offer herself to a man who wanted her daughter, but then, she had not expected many things that had happened in her life.
This was just one more surprise, and it would help her feed her children.
Ramon spat, and turned away in disgust.
He did not want any more old women.
The next morning, a gunshot woke Maria.
Fear went through her heart. She ran outside with the machete, but she was too late. Ramon had shot Three Legs. He didn't make him into jerky, though. He just led him out beyond the cornfield and shot him.
Maria cried until she couldn't cry anymore. When her mother came to comfort her, she stopped crying and became like a stone. It was another lesson about men: they wanted only one thing, and they were vengeful if they didn't get it, or enough of it. Later, she was to learn that if someone else got what they wanted, they were even more vengeful.
A few weeks later, Ramon changed his mind and took Silvana. He had begun to be a little bit afraid of the girl; after all, she was part Apache. She might cut him in his sleep.
Whenever he looked at her, he saw hatred in her eyes, black hatred. He began to avoid her, especially to avoid her hating eyes. Her hatred was too black. She might be a witch.
He began to be fearful that Maria would sneak in and cut him in his own house. She was only a filthy Indian. He had been a fool to want her.
Silvana was not so old, after all. She did not smell bad, as Carmila had. She was a decent Mexican woman, and she had something of the beauty her daughter had. Ramon didn't want to marry her, but he took her into his house. Her brats had to stay in her house, though. He gave her a little money for their food, but he didn't want them underfoot.
Silvana's younger children, the two boys and the little girl, stayed with Maria in Silvana's house.
Maria became their mother. They saw little of Silvana, once she became Ramon's woman, although his house was only a few steps away.
Maria forgave her mother. She knew that Silvana was only tired. She had accepted Ramon because her spirit was weary and dying. Only a woman whose spirit was dying would submit to a man like Ramon.
When Ramon killed Three Legs, Maria felt that her spirit might die, too. She had loved her horse more than anything. But her spirit didn't die. Her hatred kept it alive, hatred of Ramon, and for a time, hatred of all men. They were creatures of violence, brutes.
Maria planned to live alone. She would raise her brothers and sister, but she did not plan to live with a man, as other women did. The only way a man would have her was if he was quicker and stronger and took her, as Ramon had.
Silvana gave Ramon two more children. Much of the time, they lived with Maria and the other little ones.
Maria felt sorry for her mother, because her spirit was so damaged. She helped her mother as much as she could.
But she never turned her back on Ramon.
All she gave him was the hatred in her eyes.
In time, Ramon came to fear Maria as he feared his own death.
In the matter of men, though, Maria was wrong.
She never expected to be with one willingly. But the years passed, and then Carlos Garza rode into town. He was then a vaquero who worked in the south. She saw him looking at her, and when he spoke to her in his soft voice, she felt a change inside her. A few days later, she went with Carlos willingly and even eagerly.
Only later was Maria to learn that Carlos's soft voice belied his jealous nature. Soon after she went with him the first time, Carlos gave her a horse, a little white gelding who was too slow for cattle work. Maria named her little horse Chapo, because he was so short.
The day after Carlos gave Maria the horse, the two of them rode together, far down the river, past the place where Maria had gone to mourn her father. They entered a canyon whose great cliffs rose over the never. Carlos Garza looked especially beautiful to her that day. She was eager for him, more eager than she had ever been before.
In the time of their ride, Joey was conceived.
After Carlos gave her Chapo, Maria was never without a horse. Maria traded work for corn, in order to feed her boy and her horse.
Joey was six when Juan Castro sold him to the Apaches. He was gone two years. Maria had begun to give up before her son came back, and once he did return, she found she had to give up again, though in a different way. Juan Castro had traded away a good boy, a child she loved, but the boy who came back was not even a child she knew. No one knew Joey Garza. He was the most beautiful boy in the village; the girls looked at him, and hoped.
But they hoped in vain. It was to be that anyone who invested hope in Joey Garza hoped in vain. From the time he was ten, he often left the village, to be gone for a month or more. Maria wondered if he went back to the Apaches, if the Indian ways were stronger than her ways. Once she asked him if he went to the Apaches. Joey merely looked at her, smiling.
"Why do you care?" he asked.
"You're my son," she said. "Can't I be curious? I wonder about you." "I don't go to the Apaches," Joey said.
"If I ever go to the Apaches again, it will be to kill the ones who beat me." Later, by accident, Maria found out the truth.
Joey went down the river, as far down as Laredo, and he went to steal. He was a thief, and a gifted one. Olin Roy told her about Joey's thieving. Olin said that Joey had found a cave, somewhere in the mountains north of Boquillas.
Olin had glimpsed Joey once, at dusk, on the Mexican side of the river. Joey had been carrying a fine saddle, with silver trappings; the silver shone in the late light. Olin knew the saddle was stolen, because only two nights earlier he had stayed at the home of the hidalgo Joey stole it from. The old man thought an Indian had taken it, because there were no horse tracks leading to or from his ranch. There were no tracks at all.
It was a long way from the hidalgo's ranch to the mountains near Boquillas. And yet Joey was there, by the river, carrying the saddle. It was a thing an Apache could do. Apaches had little use for horses. They walked, and they left no tracks.
Olin Roy camped near the river that night, meaning to see if he could find Joey the next day. But Olin didn't find him. There were many caves in the high, limy cliffs, and the mountains rolled back for many miles into Texas, where the river made its great bend. Cougars lived in the caves, cougars and even a few grizzly bears.
Olin told Billy Williams what he had seen, and Billy told many others. Soon a legend was born, the legend of Joey Garza's cave. It was said that Joey was filling a cave with things he had stolen: rifles, fine spurs, fancy bridles, ivory combs and jewels, stolen from the bedrooms of rich ranchers on both sides of the river. The river was no boundary to Joey. He crossed it as he would cross any stream.
Olin told Maria what he had seen. He loved Maria, and knew that she worried about her son. He also knew that things had not been good between mother and son since Joey returned from the Apaches.
"When he left here he was on a horse, a sorrel he got from Ramon's son," Maria said, in response to Olin's news. "When he came back, he was walking. He leaves on horseback--he returns on foot. Or he leaves on foot and returns with a horse.
He's a boy I don't understand." "Maybe Joey eats the horses. Apaches do, you know," Olin said, when he was discussing the matter with Billy Williams. "It's a long way from Ojinaga to Laredo, but Joey steals from Laredo like it was a candy store." "If he steals horses, then it's better that he eats them," Billy said. He had always liked Joey. He thought he was a good boy, but strange. Being strange was not something he could hold against anyone; after all, he himself was strange.
"Life makes everybody strange, if you keep living long enough," Billy told Maria, once.
Maria disagreed. "I am not strange," she said. "I could be a happy woman, if I had a little help." "Well, I'll help you," Billy said "You name it, I'll do it." "If you really wanted to help me, I wouldn't have to name it," Maria said. "You'd be doing it right now." She smiled when she said it, though.
Billy Williams felt disquieted. They had just eaten a good meal, cabrito and frijoles. What could it be that Maria wanted help with? He considered asking, but in the end, he didn't. He got drunk instead.
Maria had almost no money. She worked as a midwife for food, for herself and Rafael and Teresa. Her two brothers had run away to Texas, and her little sister had died one winter; she got a sickness in her chest and died within a week. Maria had to work hard to see that there was enough food for Rafael and Teresa. When Joey returned from his journeys, he always had money.
He wore it in a belt that went across his shoulders, like the belt of the machete she had once carried to defend herself against Ramon.
It angered Maria that her son would not share his money, not even the few pesos it would have taken, every week, to keep his family in food. Besides her midwifing, Maria did washing and cleaning, so as to be able to give corn and frijoles to her children.
Joey liked for his mother to wash his clothes, because she did it well. When she did them, they were clean and soft. Joey took the soft, clean clothes as his due. He never offered to pay for the food he ate, and he took no notice of his brother and sister at all, unless he was in the mood to torment one of them.
One day when Maria was tired and angry--an old man she cooked for had tried to poke his bony hand between her legs, and when she shoved him away, he spat at her--she challenged Joey about the cave.
"I hear you have a cave full of treasures near Boquillas," she said. "Is that true?" Joey looked at her insolently, as he always did when questioned. Who was this woman to ask questions of him? She was a woman who had whored with four men. Perhaps there had been even more.
"Where do you go, when you go?" Maria asked, when Joey said nothing. She felt like slapping him, maybe punching him with her fist. Rafael and Teresa, her damaged children, loved her. Even Rafael would come to her bed and try to speak to her, to express his little hopes. If he had a new chick, he would bring it to his mother and offer it to her as a present, cupping it tenderly in his large hands. Teresa would come to her bed to cuddle with her every morning. If Maria was sad, if tears leaked from her eyes, Teresa would whisper to her and wipe the tears away.
"Don't worry, Mama," Teresa said.
"I am here. Rafael is here. We will take care of you." It made Maria angry that her children who had no gifts--one who could not see, the other who could not reason--would help her with their love; while Joey, the brilliant one, the one whose mind was quick as a young deer, whose eyes were blue, whose teeth were so white that girls and even grown women melted at his smile--Joey gave nothing, not even little scraps of information. Maria did not really much want his money; what she wanted was his help.
"Someone saw you near Boquillas," Maria said. "Near the cave where you keep the treasures." "I don't have a cave," Joey said. "I go to Piedras Negras, not Boquillas. There is nothing in Boquillas." Maria thought of following Joey to his cave.
She didn't believe him when he said he didn't have one. She didn't want his money for herself, she wanted it for her children. She had heard that in the City of Mexico, there were doctors who could cure many ills. It was said that there were doctors who could make blind people see. She wanted to take Teresa to such a doctor. It saddened her that her little girl had never seen the beauty of the world.
Also, she had heard that there were doctors who could help people whose minds were incomplete, or whose thoughts could not stay in order. She wanted to take Rafael to such a doctor, so that someday he could think like other people.
Maria wanted to take her children and go and seek the great doctors, in the City of Mexico, but she had no money. Joey had money.
Maria wished he could be generous and give her what she needed, but she knew he never would. Joey was not generous, and not interested in her life or the lives of his brother and sister. He was only interested in himself.
"You help no one," she said to Joey one day, bitter.
"I help myself," Joey said.
"Are you the only one in the world?" Maria asked. "What is wrong with you?" Joey didn't answer. He left, as he always did if she asked questions.
The day Maria rode off to Crow Town to warn Joey that Captain Call, the famous manhunter, had been sent to kill him, Billy Williams sobered up and made food for Maria's children.
As he cooked and set the plates, Billy felt sad. He should have gone with Maria, although he was nearly as blind as Teresa. He would have gone if Maria had asked him, should have gone, even though she hadn't asked. He was too old for places such as Crow Town. Going there might mean his death, but it also might mean Maria's death. He would worry now until the moment he saw her again.
He wondered if Maria had refused him because he was a Texan. After all, her husbands had been Mexican. He didn't know if that had been her reason. Probably he had made some mistake and Maria had turned away from him instead of toward him. He ate his frijoles in sadness; he was old; it was too late. The large boy crooned, the little blind girl chattered. Billy thought it would be enough if Maria could just escape harm, if she could return from Crow Town to her children. His job was to stay sober and take care of her children.
Later, though, when Maria's children were asleep on their little pallets, the power of the lost, never captured love became too much for Billy.
He couldn't bear it, not sober. And he began to get drunk again.
"Now you wish you'd gone, don't you?" Lorena said.
Pea was standing just outside their back door, looking across the plains. It was past time to get the team hitched, to begin the day's work, but he was just standing there, looking across the plains. A norther had blown in around morning, and it was going to be a cold ride to school. But that wasn't what worried Lorena. For nearly a month after sending Call off without him, Pea Eye had worked with a will. But then, his will began to falter. Usually, he was out of bed and at work in the kitchen, getting a fire started or the boys up or making a beginning at breakfast, before she finished feeding Laurie and hauled herself from under the covers. Ten minutes more in bed, to gather her energies for the day, was something Lorena had come to count on, but she was able to count on it only because Pea was so good about getting up and getting started with the early chores.
He still got up and made a start on things, but with only half a will. He made mistakes, put one boy into another boy's clothes, burned the porridge; he seemed to be distracted, or in a daze, or something. Instead of saving her time, he cost her time, all of it spent correcting his mistakes.
The same distractedness stayed with him throughout the day. Clarie complained that he gave hay to the horses, but forgot the milk cow. He went off to work, as he always did, but instead of working from dawn until dark as he had to if the farm was to flourish, he would come home in the middle of the afternoon. Often, she would find him in the barn, when she returned from school. He would have taken a harness to the work bench, meaning to repair it, but then he didn't repair it. He would just hold it, and go into his daze.
Lorena let him be for three weeks. She had days when she didn't concentrate so well, either.
Sometimes, she forgot things too, or did them badly, or just felt lazy. She didn't fret that much about human inconsistence, for she was human, and inconsistent herself.
But after a time, Pea's distractedness began to irritate her. They all had their work; she wanted him to do his, as she did hers. Hard work was the basis of their life. In the past, when Pea had gone off with Call, she and Clarie had worked harder than ever, so they would still have a life and a farm when Pea got back. They did well, too.
They couldn't do all the field work, but otherwise, they kept things going so well that sometimes, it took a week or two to adjust to having Pea back.
None of the stock died, the barn didn't burn down, and the essential things got done.
Picking up the slack when Pea Eye was gone was one thing; having to pick it up when he was there was vexing. Even more vexing was the cause of his distraction: he wished he had gone with Captain Call.
Lorena stepped outside, in the cutting wind, and repeated herself.
"Now you wish you'd gone, don't you?" she said again.
"I wish the Captain hadn't gone," Pea Eye said. "I wish he'd quit." "Quit and do what?" Lorena asked. "He doesn't know how to do anything but kill." "That ain't fair, Lorie," Pea Eye said. If there was one thing he hated to do, it was argue with Lorena, his wife, about Captain Call, his old commander. Yet that was exactly what he was doing, and in a cold wind, too.
"It is true," Lorena said. "Maybe in the days of the Indian troubles there was a need for a man like him." "You know there was. Look what Blue Duck did, and he was just one man," Pea Eye said.
"I don't need to remember what Blue Duck did," Lorena said. "I taught myself to forget it. Clara taught me about forgetting things like that." "Why, he never bothered Clara," Pea Eye said. He, too, tried not to think about the terrible time when Blue Duck, one of the worst outlaws ever to terrorize the plains, had kidnapped Lorena. Gus McCrae had rescued her and she had survived; she had recovered, and become his wife. What had happened with Blue Duck was the kind of thing that happened to people all over the frontier, in those days. He himself had fought over twenty engagements with Indians, and the first one had frightened him the most. It was known to locals as the Battle of the Stone Houses. The Indians fired the grass and stole the Rangers' horses, putting them afoot in territory where it was easily possible to starve. They hadn't starved, but Pea Eye had been a little deaf in his left ear ever since, the result of a terrified Ranger firing his rifle into the smoke, when the smoke was so thick he was unaware that Pea Eye was kneeling only a yard away.
Those had been hard times. Without the Captain's and Gus's leadership, Pea Eye doubted that he would have been alive to try dirt farming on the plains.
Clara Allen, though, lived in Nebraska. So far as he knew, she had never been taken by anyone as bad as Blue Duck.
"Clara has things to forget, too," Lorena insisted. "There's other kinds of bad things besides what happened to me. All three of her boys died. We got three boys. How would we be if all three of them died?" "Oh, Lord, don't even mention it," Pea Eye said. "Let's get back in the house." He felt chastened. Of course, losing children was worse than being half deafened in a fight; the thought of his children dying was not something he even wanted to let his mind approach. Lorie, as usual, was right. Life was hard for women, too, even though they didn't often have to go into battle.
"Clara has more to forget than I do," Lorena said, saddened by her own statement and by the memory of Clara's kindness--and Clara's sadness, which, now that Clara was older and had seen her girls marry, only seemed to sit on her the more heavily, judging from the letters she wrote Lorena. At least Clara loved horses, and had her herd to work with.
"If I was to lose three children, I'd give up," she told her husband. "If I even lost one child, I might give up. But Clara lost all her boys, and she didn't give up. And everything she did for me she did after her grief." "I wasn't saying anything bad about Clara," Pea Eye said. "I guess if it hadn't been for her, we might not have come together, and I wouldn't have none of this. I'm obliged to Clara, and I always will be. I didn't have nothing but the clothes on my back, and she helped me. I ain't the kind of man who forgets the folks that helped him.
"It's just that Captain Call is one of the folks who helped me," he said. "Now he came asking for my help, and I didn't go. I can't not feel that's wrong, even though I know I'd feel wronger if I went." "Not wronger--more wrong," Lorena corrected.
All of a sudden, without her wanting it or even expecting it, tears flooded her eyes, tears of anger and hurt. It would never be finished, the trouble over Call, not while the Captain was alive, it wouldn't.
"Go!" she said, vehemently. "Go! I want you to. I'll never really have you while he's alive, and neither will the children. Go! And if you get killed, good riddance!" Pea Eye looked at her, stunned.
"I don't want to go," he said. "I told you why and I told the Captain why. Since we been married, I ain't really wanted to go." "Haven't really wanted to go!" she corrected him, again. "Haven't!" Pea Eye just looked at her, bewildered.
He saw her tears and her anger, but didn't really understand that she was trying to correct his grammar.
"I didn't go," he pointed out. "I didn't go. I didn't want to, neither. It's just that I feel bad for the Captain. I can't help it." Lorena turned away. It was a subject she was sick of. She didn't speak another word to Pea, before leaving for school. But the sad look in his eyes, when she and the children left, made her feel sorry all day, and as soon as she got home she went down to the barn, where she found him trying to straighten a horseshoe. He was not that good with tools, Pea wasn't. Clarie could often fix things that left Pea Eye at a loss.
But seeing him holding the shoe in his hand--it seemed to Lorena that he was just making it more bent-- touched her. He was not mechanical, or even very competent physically. It was a wonder he had survived, in a place where physical competence was so important. Yet his very lack of skill in areas where most frontiersmen excelled, moved her. It always had. Pea Eye was a man she could do things for, and he would let her do things for him.
He accepted her instruction gratefully, whereas most men she had tried to instruct, in even small, unimportant matters, had usually bristled and become angry; in some cases, even violently angry. But Pea Eye had no violence in him, and he surrendered meekly and tried to pay attention when she or Clarie was trying to show him how to do some simple task.
"I didn't mean that about good riddance if you didn't come back," she said. "I'm sorry I said it. I was just mad." When Lorena apologized to him, which she did almost every time she got mad at him, and she got mad at him fairly often, Pea Eye felt even more unhappy. Lorena oughtn't to be having to apologize. In his eyes, Lorie was never wrong. If they disagreed, he was the one who was wrong. In the matter of the Captain, he had to feel doubly wrong: in relation to Lorena and his family, if he went; in relation to the Captain, if he didn't.
But this time, it seemed, he felt even worse.
The Captain had looked old, when they met by the train. In fact, the Captain was old. He oughtn't to be chasing bandits, at his age. Of course, ordinary bandits, of which there were a great many still running loose in the West, would give the Captain no trouble, even at his age.
It was just that the Garza boy didn't sound like an ordinary bandit. Pea Eye had run into Charles Goodnight while at the blacksmith's in Quitaque, and Goodnight had been startled to see him.
"Thought you went with Call to run down the Garza boy," he said, looking gruff.
"No, my family's got too big," Pea Eye said. Charles Goodnight was a stern fellow, even when he wasn't being gruff. Being even slightly in his disfavor was not comfortable.
"I've got a new little one, and my wife has to teach school," Pea said, though he felt explanation was hopeless. All the good reasons he could muster for not going with the Captain weren't likely to be good reasons to Mr. Goodnight.
He would doubtless view them as the Captain had-- excuses, made by a man who had no stomach for conflict, anymore.
"I don't care to know the details," Goodnight said, looking critically at the hoof of a horse that had just been shod.
"Well, the Captain went away, with the man from the railroad," Pea explained. "That's a young boy he's after. I doubt he'll give the Captain much trouble, the young ones never do." "You're scarce on your facts," Goodnight said, lifting the hoof so high that the horse almost fell over. Goodnight was a big man. Though old, he could still lift most of a horse, if it was necessary.
"What facts?" Pea Eye asked. "We don't hear that much news, out at the farm." "They estimate Joey Garza has killed over thirty men, and that's just the ones who've been found," Goodnight said. "There may be more who haven't been found and never will be found. He shoots a German rifle with a telescope sight. They say he can kill at five hundred yards, which is farther than most people can see. Half the line riders west of the Pecos may be dead, for all we know. Who's going to find a line rider, if he's shot fifty miles from the bunkhouse? Who would even miss one? Line riders don't come back half the time, anyway." Pea had seen rifles with telescope sights. They had been available for many years.
But they were too slow for most of the rangering action, and so he had never fired one. The notion that a man could be killed at five hundred yards, other than by a freak shot such as the famous one Billy Dixon had made during the Adobe Walls fight, was difficult to grasp. Most of the killing he had seen had taken place at distances under thirty yards, and in many cases, under twenty yards. Five hundred yards was about the distance from Lorie's schoolhouse to the Red River. He himself could see a bull, or a buffalo, at that distance, but that didn't mean he could hit it if he shot at it.
"Good Lord, I hadn't heard any of that," he told Goodnight.
"You ought to have gone with your Captain," Goodnight said bluntly. "This is a time when he might need an experienced man." "Well, I swear," Pea Eye said. He felt bad in his stomach, suddenly. Mr.
Goodnight was probably right. He should have gone.
"I guess the Captain will manage," he said, guiltily.
"In my opinion, Woodrow Call is a fool, to be pursuing young killers at his age," Goodnight said. "I'm his age, and I ain't pursuing young killers." Pea Eye was silent. His sense of guilt was swelling within him. He had become sick at his stomach, just from the weight of the old man's displeasure.
"Is he that dangerous, this boy?" Pea asked.
"The whole Comanche nation would take a year to kill thirty men, and that would be in a good year, too," Goodnight replied, looking at Pea Eye solemnly.
Then, as if suddenly weary of his thoughts, or perhaps even of thinking, Goodnight set the gelding's foot down, and mounted him.
"There's always a time when you don't win," he said. "With me, it's lawyers. I've never won against any lawyer, not even the dumb ones. But lawyers just rob you legally. They don't shoot German rifles with telescope sights." Pea Eye had met only two lawyers.
One of them lived in Quanah and had drawn up the deed when he and Lorena bought the farm.
"There's always a trip you don't come back from," Goodnight said. He turned his horse, as if to leave, and then turned back again, stood up in his stirrups, reached in his pocket and found several coins, which he handed to the blacksmith.
"Were you just going to let me ride off without paying you?" he asked the young blacksmith.
"Yes, sir," the blacksmith, Jim Peeples, replied. It would never have occurred to him to ask Charles Goodnight for money.
"Well, that would have been a damn nuisance," Goodnight said. "Then I'd have had to ride the whole way back to pay you. If you want to thrive in business, you better learn to speak up." "Yes, sir," Jim Peeples said, terrified. He had never supposed Charles Goodnight would speak to him at all, much less lecture him. It was a little like being lectured by God, or at least, by the prophet Moses.
Jim Peeples was a Baptist. He read the Bible every night, and much of Sunday, too. He didn't really think he had a clear picture of how God looked, but he did think he could imagine the prophet Moses fairly accurately. In Jim Peeples's opinion, Moses had looked a lot like Charles Goodnight.
Goodnight looked down at Pea Eye. The man had made a remarkable walk, nearly a hundred miles, naked, through the Cheyenne country to find Call and bring him to where his wounded partner, Augustus McCrae, lay dying. It was a great thing, in Goodnight's view, that walk. Not too many men, in his experience, had achieved a great thing, even one. Very few ever achieved more than one, he knew. He had led men himself, many men. Men as faithful as Pea Eye had been to Call had served with him until they fell, and the best of them had fallen. Goodnight was a married man himself, but had no children. He had always wondered what it meant, to have offspring. How would it affect his leadership, his ability to go and keep going, his attitude toward the dangers of the trail? It hadn't happened, but he didn't suppose it would have simplified matters if he had. In a time of danger, he had sometimes thought of his wife, but he always thought of his men. He did not worry too much about his wife. He had never supposed himself to be a very good husband; he had always been too busy. His wife was an able woman, and would probably be happier with someone more settled, if something happened to him. But he had never had to worry about children, and the man who stood before him did have to worry about children.
"I suppose your wife don't like it," he said.
"Don't like what?" Pea Eye asked. He was a little surprised to find himself in such a lengthy discussion with Charles Goodnight, a man known all over the West for his dislike of long conversations.
"You and Call," Goodnight said. "Divided loyalties don't appeal to women, not that I've noticed." "I ain't divided, I'm loyal to them both," Pea Eye replied.
"That would be fine if Call was bunking with you," Goodnight said. "The fact is, he bunks with me, when he bunks, which ain't much. He sure don't bunk with you, though. Now, he's in Mexico, chasing a boy with a German rifle and a dern good eye, if he can shoot people at five hundred yards." Pea Eye didn't know what to say.
Captain Call had been in danger much of his life, but Pea Eye, in the years he had been with him, had never really considered that the Captain might be killed. That was Goodnight's point, though--the Captain might be killed.
"You think Joey Garza could kill the Captain?" he asked.
"Yes, I do," Goodnight said, and turned and rode away.
Pea walked back to the house with Lorena, after her apology. They had a good supper. The children were peaceful, for once. Lorena read the boys stories until they fell asleep. Little Laurie liked to listen to the stories, too; at least, she liked to listen to her mother's voice while her mother was reading. Her little eyes were so bright. She waved her hands but she was very quiet while Lorena read.
It was a fine evening, but in the middle of the night, Pea Eye woke with a start. He was shivering, as if with a chill. It seemed to him that death was in bed with them. When he had been trapped with Gus under the cutback in Montana, his death almost a certainty, he hadn't given it much thought.
He had too much to do, keeping alive, to worry about dying. Then, on the last day of the long, cold, hungry walk out, he had begun to feel that perhaps he was dead; in the dark of the last morning, he had felt that Deets, his friend the black cowboy, was walking beside him, guiding him. Deets was dead; if he was with Deets, he must be dead too.
But he hadn't been. Within a few hours, Pea Eye found the herd, and Deets, if he was there, went back to the place of ghosts.
Now, though, with Lorena beside him and their five children in the house near him, Pea Eye faced death as a thought and as a fact, in a way he never had.
Far south, below the border, Captain Call might be facing it, even at that moment. Little Laurie might be taken, the next time she had the croup. Lorie might be taken, the next time she bore a child. What would it mean, if any one of them died?
Lorena knew Pea Eye was awake. She had awakened while he slept, for he was restless in his sleep and had scraped one of her legs with a toenail. He was lazy about cutting his toenails and rarely cut them until she had complained two or three times.
But it wasn't the scrape from the toenail that bothered her. A bad dream had come, from the past, from the time when she had been with bad men. She always tried to pull herself out of such dreams as quickly as possible. Better to face those memories awake, with thoughts of her husband and children to support her, than to let the dream carry her far down, into the depths of pain and fear.
"Lorie, I'm scared," Pea Eye said.
"I'm so scared, I've got a chill." Lorena put her arms around him. Indeed, he was clammy, as if sweating out a fever. His skin was cold.
"Maybe you're getting what Georgie has," Lorena said. Georgie had been running a high fever for several days.
"I'll get you warm," she said, pulling her body close to his.
"I ain't cold outside--it's inside," Pea said, though he was glad Lorie was lying close to him. It had seemed a miracle, the first time she had drawn him into her body. It still seemed a miracle that he, who had never been able to rise higher than the rank of corporal, could be wanted by a woman as fine as Lorie, and have the warmth and the pleasure of her body, in the bed at night, through his life. She was generous with him. He knew from the complaints of other men, that all women weren't so generous. He put his arms around her and held her, grateful and warmer, but still frightened.
Lorena liked it that she could comfort Pea Eye so easily, just by taking him into her arms. She hoped she wasn't with child. It was too soon, for she was still tired from Laurie. But if she was, she did not plan to stop wanting her husband because of the inconveniences of pregnancy.
Lorena knew that Clara Allen must be very wise to have advised her to marry Pea Eye. She had never expected to marry any man, or even to share a bed with one and want him. Too much of her life had been spent at the mercy of men she didn't want, even of men she despised; or in having to refuse the love of decent men--Dish Boggett was the main one, although there had been others in Ogallala--whose feelings she couldn't return.
Why she had been able to return Pea Eye's love, she really didn't know. In a way, she thought Gus might have wished it. He and Pea had been friends. But perhaps that was silly. Gus had been as jealous as anyone, in his way. Still, Gus had loved Clara, and herself as well, and Pea had been his corporal, and Clara her own best friend.
Something had caused her to want Pea. Perhaps it was only his simple, honest need. And she still wanted him, which was more of a blessing than many people had in life.
More than Clara had herself; she'd had no men since her husband's death, years before.
That made it all the harder to turn loose, though, to allow him to do his duty by old Captain Call. She might have to turn loose yet, probably would have to, but she still wanted to fight it, woman against man. That was what it was, too: woman against man. Her body, her spirit, her affection and passion, the children she and Pea shared, the life they shared on the farm that had cost them all her money and years of their energy. It was that against the old man with the gun, and the way of life that ought to have ended. Probably there was more to it--it involved the loyalty of fighting men to one another and to their leader, but Lorena gave that no respect, not where Pea Eye was concerned. He was a gentle man. He should never have been a Ranger, should never have had to deal out violence. There were many men who dealt out violence naturally. Old Call should never have had the use of one like Pea, a man who was comfortable with gentleness, who would spend hours taking prickly pear stickers out of the boys' hands, working at each one gently until he got it out.
Pea had never been meant for military life.
He had turned out of it eagerly, happily, into a life with her. He loved best the days in the summer, when she didn't have school to teach, when they could work together at some of the lighter tasks around the farm. He had driven a wagon all the way to Amarillo to get lilac bushes for her to plant, and had helped her cover the little plants against the biting northers and the freezes of February and March.
She ought to win, Lorena knew. She held him in her arms, put her legs over his. She wanted him to know that there was more life with her; more children, if he wanted them; and more of her love.
But Pea Eye was staring past her, even as he held her tight.
"It's like I dread something," he said. "I dread something, Lorie." He whispered it. Pea was always nervous about waking the children. His voice, when he whispered, was exactly like Georgie's voice, when Georgie whispered his little secrets into his mother's ear.
Lorena felt some dread herself. She was only one woman, and she could only do so much. She knew she came first in Pea Eye's affections.
It wasn't that he loved the Captain and not her.
She had thought much about this subject--it had dominated their marriage, in a way--and the fact she couldn't change was that the Captain had been there longer, in Pea Eye's life. He was there first, and not by a week or two, either, but by almost three decades. That was the fact she couldn't eliminate. She could change her husband's habits, and she had, but she couldn't change his history, and it was in his history that the problem lay.
"I ought to go find him," Pea Eye whispered.
"He's an old man. I ain't." "You aren't," Lorena corrected. But then, what was the point of correcting his grammar if he was going to Call? Good grammar wouldn't save him, and saving him was what mattered most, now.
The dread that Pea Eye felt crossed into Lorena. They were both gripped by it, husband and wife. Lorena had watched him go away several times, always with irritation, but never with such trepidation. She hated to see him leave, but always before, she had assumed he would return. She didn't know why this trip should be so different, and neither did Pea Eye. Yet they lay together, equally troubled, equally frightened.
"At least I get paid in cash," Pea Eye said.
"I don't care if you get paid in cash," Lorena said. "Cash can't hug me. It can't make me a baby. It can't be a father to Augie and Georgie and Ben and the girls." "Well, it won't have to," Pea said.
"I'll come back." "I don't believe you, this time," Lorena said. "If you go you won't come back. We'll never lie in the bed like this, again. I'll get old and I won't have you, and neither will the children." Pea Eye said nothing. He had begun to have wild thoughts, one being that the Captain was already dead. That would mean that he didn't have to go. But of course, if the Captain had been killed, he would have heard about it, and he hadn't.
Lorena didn't say a thing, either; her thoughts were disordered, too. If Pea got killed, she would probably have to turn Dish Boggett down again. He kept a store in New Mexico and was still single, unless he had recently married. If Pea got killed, Dish would soon hear of it and ride over to court her. He wasn't a bad man; in fact, he was a good man. But she didn't want him, never had, and all the tea in China wouldn't change that.
I wish this would stop, she thought. I wish it would stop. It's going to drive me crazy, if it don't stop.
In the morning, they were both as drained as if they had done three days' work. Clarie had to deal with everything, including the chores and the younger children, too.
"What's wrong, Mama?" she asked, disturbed. "What's wrong, Pa?" Neither parent would say. When Clarie went out to milk, Lorena made one last try.
"What makes you think you can find him?" she asked. "He's been gone nearly a month. He could be in the middle of Mexico by now. He could be as far away as the Pacific Ocean." "I expect I can find the Captain," Pea Eye said. "People notice, when he's around. Roy Bean or somebody will know where he is." "Go on, then, today," Lorena said. "Go now.
I can't stand another night like last night. Go right now, before I leave for school." Pea Eye got his slicker and his rifle and walked down to get his horse.
"You're going to ride?" Lorena asked, when he came back. "You could take the train. He took the train." "No, I'll ride. I might not find a trustworthy horse down on the border," Pea said. Patches, his big bay with white spots, was a trustworthy horse.
Pea Eye kissed each of his children goodbye.
All of them cried, Clarie the most. She was a big, strong girl. The boys cried themselves out, and Laurie cried because everybody else was crying.
Lorena went in and got ready for school. She dressed slowly, very slowly. Slowly, very slowly, she put her lesson books in order.
Usually, she just threw them in her bag and sorted them out once she got to school. But this morning, she put them in order, carefully and slowly, as if her sanity or even her life depended upon keeping her schoolbooks in the correct order.
It was all she could do, once she got outside, even to raise her eyes to her husband.
But she did, just briefly. His eyes, though troubled, were the same honest eyes that had won through her reluctance, long ago, in Wyoming. She kissed him briefly, gave him a long, tight hug, and then, moving stiffly, like a woman whose back has been injured, helped her children into the buggy and drove away to school. The children all looked back at their father, but Lorena didn't.
She kept her eyes fixed on the plains ahead.
Pea Eye put a little salt and pepper in a sack, stuck a small skillet in his saddlebags, and stood at his back door a minute, wondering when he would see them all again, his loved ones, already almost out of sight to the north.
Then he mounted Patches, made sure his rifle and scabbard were tight, and turned himself south, toward Mexico, to go to the assistance of Captain Woodrow Call.
On his way into Mexico, Call stopped to say goodbye to Bolivar. The old man had been with him a long time. Seeing him brought back memories, good and bad, of the Ranger troop and the Hat Creek outfit: memories of Gus and Deets, Pea Eye and Newt, Call's son. Only after the boy's death, in Montana, had Call been able to admit that Newt had been his son. Now, with the boy several years dead, it made Call sad to think of him. He had fathered a son, but had not been a father to him, although Newt had lived with the Hat Creek outfit most of his short life. He had lived with the outfit, but as an employee, not a son. Now it was too late to change any of that. The memory of it was a sore that throbbed every time his mind touched it. Bolivar, who had not many more years to live, was so woven into Call's memories of earlier days that Call had begun to hate leaving him behind, although Bolivar was an old, frail man who could not travel hard and perhaps ought not to travel at all.
But leaving him behind had become, to Call, like leaving his own life behind.
"Capit@an, the bell! I can still ring the bell!" Bolivar said. He had a desperate look in his eye and a quaver in his voice. He saw that the capit@an was about to leave without him.
The two gringos with him were mounted, and there was a pack mule, well laden. It meant the capit@an was going, perhaps never to come back.
The bell he referred to was the dinner bell, near the livery stable in Lonesome Dove, a business that Call and his partner, Gus McCrae, had once owned. Bolivar had summoned them all to his never very appetizing meals by whacking the dinner bell with a broken crowbar. As he grew older and less in control of his mind, he sometimes rang the bell whether he had made a meal or not. He often rang it when there was no one in hearing to come and eat the meal he had made. Beating the bell with the broken crowbar took his mind off the disappointments of life. The bell rang so loudly that it almost deafened him, but he continued to beat it fiercely, nonetheless. His life had contained many disappointments, and he needed something to make him forget them, even if he was deafened in the process.
Call, and Bolivar, too, regretted that the Hat Creek outfit was gone. What they had in common now was their regret. But the outfit was gone. Some of its members were dead, and those still living were scattered up the rivers and across the plains. Newt and Deets and Gus were no longer alive, and Call had the feeling that Bolivar might not be alive, either, when he returned to Laredo.
"That old man needs a haircut," Deputy Plunkert said, as they were leaving Nuevo Laredo.
The old man's white hair hung almost to his shoulders.
"He tried to stab the barber with the scissors, the last time anyone tried to cut his hair," Call explained.
"I'd rather see him with hair down to his ankles than to trust him with anything he might hurt somebody with," Brookshire said. He remembered, with rue, that Bolivar had grabbed a shotgun out of his hand and killed the best mule with it. He was glad Bolivar was being left behind; he had been a little worried that Call might relent and let him come with them, something that would not have pleased Colonel Terry.
The fact that Captain Call immediately left Texas and crossed into Mexico startled Deputy Plunkert a bit. His personal preference would have been that they continue to travel on the Texas side of the river. He himself was not comfortable being south of the border, particularly if he was in the vicinity of Laredo itself. As a deputy, with his own badge, Ted Plunkert had participated in the hanging of several Mexicans.
He had to shoot two Mexicans personally, and had to whack various Mexicans around a good bit.
After all, it was his job, and the community expected it of him. He knew that, as a result of his very diligence, he had made himself not merely unpopular but hated, south of the border. Deputy Plunkert knew, too, that Mexican families were often vengeful, going to much trouble to avenge friends who had been wounded or killed. The deputy was prepared to make it clear to anyone who asked that he would be more comfortable on the Texas side of the river.
"There's a fair road up to Del Rio," he said, only to be immediately slapped down by the Captain.
"We're not going to Del Rio," Call said, bluntly. "I prefer to avoid settlements, when I can. There's too much gossip, in settlements. We don't want the Garza boy to know we're coming, if we can help it." Deputy Plunkert didn't answer, but he found the Captain's position discouraging. Before going five miles from his home, he had begun to entertain some powerful second thoughts.
He had never supposed that the Captain would just jump right into Mexico. Of course, he knew they might have to cross into it sometime, but he had assumed that they would be several hundred miles up the river before that happened. His own bad reputation was mainly local. Five or six hundred miles upriver, they would be less likely to run into Mexicans who might be carrying a grudge.
Now, though, they were right in the thick of the Mexicans who carried the hottest grudges.
It was going to affect his peace of mind.
Also, he'd had a few hours in which to get a better look at his traveling companions. In Laredo, he had been so in awe of Captain Call that he had scarcely been able to look at him at all. In fact, except for a glance at the beginning, he hadn't looked at him. The man's aura was such that merely hearing his name blinded most people, as it had blinded him.
Now, though, riding across the empty, dusty country, the hero's aura had dimmed somewhat. The deputy saw that he was traveling with an old, stiff man, a man who had a hard time lifting his leg high enough to catch his stirrup. Captain Call had a gray, weary look about him, the look of a man who wasn't young, and wasn't healthy.
The Yankee traveling with them was just a raw dude, of course. He looked silly in his new boots and hat and pants, loaded down with guns.
The fact that Captain Call would set out to catch a killer with such a man in tow made Deputy Plunkert wonder about the old man's judgment.
The deputy had a sudden, powerful urge to change his mind. He wanted to declare a mistake, go home, snuggle up to his wife, Doobie, and kiss her until she wiggled with desire. Now he had set out on a long journey, with an uncertain outcome. When would he get to enjoy Doobie's wiggling again? Why had he thought he wanted to leave? It had all been because the old Captain enjoyed such a blinding reputation. Doubting him was like doubting the sun.
Now that they were riding together, Call didn't seem infallible, or even very active. He just rode along, saying as little as possible. The deputy began to toy with various acceptable ways of saying that he had changed his mind. But none of the lines of talk he toyed with sounded as if they would be acceptable, either to Call or to the general community. And there was no denying, the general community posed a problem. Backing out of a chance to ride with Woodrow Call could ruin a man's reputation forever, with lawmen and citizens alike, along the border. But his reputation might survive. He just had to come up with some honorable reason for needing to go home. A lame horse would do it, but to his irritation, the horse he was riding showed no trace of lameness.
As Deputy Plunkert was happily contemplating returning to his eager wife, Captain Call suddenly turned in his saddle and looked hard at him.
"Do you want to quit, Deputy?" he asked.
It seemed to him that the deputy had developed a faltering manner, and developed it quickly. If the man was going to quit, he wanted him to quit now.
It wasn't admirable, but it wasn't a crime, either. Like Pea Eye, the deputy had a wife.
They were going in pursuit of a youth who might kill them all. The man had not hesitated in making his decision. Now, he probably had second thoughts.
"Quit?" Deputy Plunkert said, stunned.
The old man had suddenly read his thoughts.
"Yes, that's what I asked," Call said.
"Do you want to go back to your wife?" "Doobie? Why, she'll get along fine without me, I expect," the deputy replied.
"Then you don't want to quit? You're sure?" Call asked.
"Why, Captain, no. I signed on and I'm staying on," Ted Plunkert said. It amazed him that he couldn't seem to help lying.
What he heard himself say to the Captain was exactly the opposite of what he had just been feeling, the opposite of what he had planned to say. But he couldn't help himself. Saying the truth wasn't possible, not when Captain Call was looking at you, hard.
"What do you think, Brookshire?" Call asked. Though skeptical of Brookshire at first, he had come to respect the man's judgment in some areas. He might be a fool about hats, but he wasn't such a fool about people.
One of Brookshire's boots was rubbing his heel so badly that he wasn't capable of giving much thought to anything else. He was wondering whether he'd have a heel left, when they got to camp that night. Also, he was suffering from a touch of his blowing-away feeling again. He had supposed that he had that feeling well under control, for it hadn't afflicted him since they reached the brushy country around San Antonio. But they were not in San Antonio now. They were not in the brushy country, either. To his eye, Mexico looked even emptier than Texas, emptier, and more forbidding.
The night before, he had slipped over to Nuevo Laredo and purchased a few minutes with a Mexican girl, and the experience had been a disappointment. The girl had been inexpensive, but she had also been skinny and had a sad look in her eye during their brief commerce. The poverty in Nuevo Laredo had been a surprise to him too. He had read about Juarez, and Emperor Maximilian, and had expected at least a little splendor. Even in Canada, a country he disliked, there would occasionally be some splendor, at least in Montreal. But there seemed to be none, in Mexico. There were just sad women and children, and old men who gave him unfrly looks.
"You're buying their daughters, or it might be their wives," Call had said, when Brookshire mentioned the unfrly looks.
Now the Captain was soliciting his opinion about Deputy Plunkert, and the fact was, Brookshire really didn't have one. The man had been a hasty choice, in his view, but that didn't necessarily mean he had been a bad one.
"It's your expedition, or your Colonel's," Call reminded him. "Do you think we ought to keep this man, or send him back?" "Captain, I can't go home!" Ted Plunkert said. He was nearing panic. It was as if his deepest thoughts were suddenly being held open to public discussion, a fact that appalled him.
Once the Captain had fixed him with the hard look, Ted Plunkert remembered who he was: a deputy sheriff, well respected in Laredo, Texas. Now that he remembered himself, he had begun to feel irritated at Doobie, his wife. It seemed to him that it was mainly her fault, that he had wavered that morning. She had cried so, at the thought of his going, that it weakened him and made him less resolute than he normally was. If Doobie had any serious consideration for him, she should comport herself a little better when he had serious business to attend to. And there couldn't be business more serious than attending to whatever Captain Call might require of him.
Doobie had nearly caused him to make a mistake of the sort that could ruin him forever as a lawman, and he meant to speak to her sharply about it, when he got home. He himself might consider that Captain Call looked old and stiff, but that wasn't the general opinion, along the border.
Most people, of course, never saw the real Captain Call, the very one he was riding with into Mexico.
Most people only knew the man by reputation, as the Ranger who had protected the border south of Laredo for so long.
Captain Call had protected the border from bad Mexicans, bad Indians, and bad white men, too. Life was changing, along the border.
It was becoming more or less settled. For many years, though, the thought of Captain Call had enabled many people to sleep better at night. They would not soon forget him, and most of them would never know that he was a man who had trouble lifting his leg high enough to catch his stirrup.
Now that he had strongly reiterated his desire to go, Ted Plunkert couldn't imagine how he could ever have contemplated quitting, although, in fact, he had contemplated exactly that very thing, not ten minutes earlier. He had never quit anything in his life, unless you counted cotton farming, and that was not a job he had chosen. He just happened to be born on a cotton farm.
"I came to ride the river with you, Captain," he said. "It's something I had always hoped to do.
I sure ain't going home now." Call turned back in his saddle, and let the matter go. Many men wavered, as they were riding into danger. They thought about their own deaths too much, or imagined injuries and pain that might never come.
That was what excessive thinking could do, even to men who were moderately brave. Often, the same men, once in a conflict, settled down and fought well. Pea Eye himself had always been a reliable, if not a brilliant, fighting man. Yet he was the most nervous man in the company until hostilities commenced. He was almost too delicate for the rangering life. Call had concluded as much on more than one occasion, but had never quite gotten around to letting the man go. On the trail of Indians or bandits, Pea was prone to headaches, heartburn, upset stomachs, and runny bowels, all of it from nerves, Call was convinced.
Call felt a brief anger, because Pea hadn't come with him. But he knew that his anger was wrong, to a degree, and that he needed to let it go.
Pea Eye had long since done his share, more than his share, of dangerous traveling with Call. If he now preferred his wife and children and dirt farming, that was his right.
That night, they camped on the monte, ten miles south of the river. Call had made a snap shot at a small javelina and hit it, so they had young pig to eat. After eating, he sat a little apart, thinking about the task ahead. He had not yet made up his mind where to take up the hunt-- take it up seriously, that is. He thought he should probably cut up the Rio Grande, past the great bend, and start hunting there. The boy had bought his fancy rifle in Mexico City, and he had stopped a train in Coahuila, and another in Van Horn, Texas. That showed a remarkable propensity for travel, in a boy so young. It also showed that Joey Garza could cover country. The boy was said to be from a village north of Boquillas, a poor village, it was said. Not many Mexican boys from poor villages would travel to Mexico City to secure a German rifle. It took some thinking about.
"Do you ever get upset before a fight, Captain?" Deputy Plunkert asked. He addressed himself to the Captain, although the man sat apart, because he did not feel comfortable talking to a Yankee. So far, he had addressed only a few words to Brookshire, mainly yes and no, when the man asked him a question.
"No, I can't say that I fret much," Call said.
"Now, that's brave," Brookshire said.
"When I was in the War, I was scared all the time.
I was only in the hospital corps, too, I wasn't shooting at anybody. But I kept having them bad dreams." "What'd you dream?" the deputy asked. He himself was often afflicted with bad dreams.
"Mainly of having one of them big shells come in low and knock my head off," Brookshire said. "That very thing happened to a man I know. He was from Hoboken and his name was Johnny Lowe." "Bad luck, I suppose," Call said.
"Yes, I'd say it was bad luck," Brookshire said. "The man gave me his biscuit, the morning it happened. He said he was too nervous to eat. He was afraid his stomach would gripe him, if he ate the biscuit.
Johnny drove the wagon we hauled the wounded in. Off he went, while I stayed by the mess and ate his biscuit. While I was sipping coffee, General Grant rode by. That was the one time I saw General Grant. Then, me and Jackie O'Connor went down the road in a buggy, squinching down as best we could. The shells were just whistling around us like ducks. Most of them hit in the trees. They broke off a world of limbs. We weren't five minutes down the road, when we saw a bunch of the boys standing around the wagon Johnny had been driving. We thought maybe they were looking at a dead Reb, but no, it was Johnny, and his head was gone. There was just a red bone, sticking out between his shoulders." "Oh, Lord," Ted Plunkert said. "That's awful. It was just a bone?" "Yes, a red bone," Brookshire said. "I suppose it was the end of his spine." "Oh, Lord," Ted said, again. "His neck bone?" The detail he didn't like was that the bone was red. Of course, all the bones were inside you, where the blood was, but he still felt himself getting queasy at the thought of red bones.
Call listened with some amusement--not that the incident hadn't been terrible. Being decapitated was a grisly fate, whether you were a Yankee or not. But then, amusing things happened in battle, as they did in the rest of life. Some of the funniest things he had ever witnessed had occurred during battles. He had always found it more satisfying to laugh on a battlefield than anywhere else, for if you lived to laugh on a battlefield, you could feel you had earned the laugh. But if you just laughed in a saloon, or at a social, the laugh didn't reach deep.
In this case, what mainly amused Call was the contemplation of how amused his old partner, Augustus McCrae, would be if he could see the crew he was riding out with on his manhunt.
Augustus had a well-developed sense of humor, too well developed, Call had often felt. Yet he missed Augustus's laughter as much as he missed anything else in his life.
Gus enjoyed the predicaments of his fellowmen, and would have laughed long and hard at the spectacle of Call, Brookshire, and lanky Ted Plunkert.
"Joey Garza shoots a rifle, not a cannon," he observed. "If he takes your head off, he'll have to do it with a knife or a saw." Deputy Plunkert ignored the part about the knife and the saw. Captain Call was only joking, probably. So far as he knew, the Garza boy had not cut any heads off, but there were plenty of other, less dramatic injuries to worry about.
"They say that rifle of his will hit you between the eyes even if you're a mile away," the deputy said. Several people he had talked with claimed that Joey Garza made kills at a distance of one mile.
"Half a mile, about," Call said. "I doubt the part about hitting between the eyes. If he's sensible, he'll shoot for the trunk. It's a bigger target." "Well, half a mile, then. How do you expect to beat him?" Ted asked.
"I expect to outlast him," Call said.
"He's young, and he's likely impatient.
There's three of us, and he's alone. He might get impatient, and make a big mistake." "The truth is, he's killed several passengers at a distance of about five feet, with his pistol," Brookshire reminded them. "Oh, I've no doubt he can shoot the German rifle. But he's done damage with some short shots, too." "Why, he robs trains and makes people get off and hand over their watches and tiepins," Ted Plunkert said. "Some of the passengers are armed men. Why don't one of them try to shoot him?
Then, the rest of them could jump him." "I've wondered about that myself," Brookshire said. "You'd think somebody would try him, but they don't. They just stand there like sheep and let themselves be robbed." "That's the effect of reputation," Call said.
"Once you get one as big as this boy's, people think you're better than you are. They think you can't be beat, when the fact is, anybody can be beat, or make mistakes. I never met an outlaw who didn't make mistakes. I guess Blue Duck didn't make many, but he was exceptional." "Joey Garza hasn't made any mistakes, not one," Brookshire said.
"Why, I'd say he has," Call said.
"He broke the law--your Colonel's law, particularly. That was his mistake, and now he's got us hunting him." "I guess I was talking tactics," Brookshire said. "He just seems to know when to show up, and when not to. If there's a company of soldiers on the train, he don't show up." "That's just common sense," Call said. "I wouldn't show up, either, if I saw there was a company of soldiers on the train. That don't make the boy General Lee." Deputy Plunkert was still thinking about the red bone, sticking out of the dead soldier's neck.
Once he got such a troubling picture in his mind, he sometimes had a hard time making the picture go away. It was as if it got stuck, somewhere in his thinking machine. It might be a good picture that got stuck; several having to do with Doobie's young body got stuck just before they married.
But it was the bad pictures that seemed to get stuck the hardest, and stay stuck the longest. Being sucked down into quicksand was one bad picture Ted Plunkert had trouble with. There were patches of quicksand in the Rio Grande, and the deputy had a deadly fear of them. Not being able to breathe because quicksand was filling up your mouth and your nose was a bad picture, but not as bad as the picture of a red bone sticking out of a man's neck. He wished Brookshire had never told the story. It was just like a Yankee to talk about things civilized people would have the good sense to leave undiscussed.
"How did General Grant look?" Call asked. He had always had a curiosity about the great soldiers: Grant and Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Sherman.
"Well, he looked drunk and he was drunk," Brookshire said. "He won that War, and was drunk the whole time." Call said nothing, but again, he remembered his old partner, Gus McCrae. Gus, too, could fight drunk. Sometimes he had fought better drunk than he had fought sober.
"I'd feel better if somebody could steal that rifle from that boy," Deputy Plunkert said.
"A mile's a long way to be killed from." "Half a mile," Call corrected, again.
Brookshire was wondering if Katie's legs would be any fatter when he got home.
"I'd still like to know who the second robber is," he said. "The one that struck that train out in New Mexico." "I'd like to know that too," Call said.
In Crow Town, Joey lived with three whores. He didn't use them for his pleasure-- he never used women for his pleasure. The white whore was named Beulah. She had come south from Dodge City with a gambler named Red Foot. The nickname resulted from the fact that another gambler had become enraged and tried to stab Red Foot in the heart. But, being drunk as well as enraged, he took a wild swing, toppled out of his chair, and finally managed to stab Red Foot in his foot.
Red Foot was very drunk too, and didn't notice at first that he had been stabbed completely through his foot. He only noticed the injury when someone pointed out to him that his right boot was full of blood. He looked down, saw that indeed the boot was full of blood, and fainted.
A few days later, he and Beulah left Dodge City and moved to Crow Town. The place was said to be booming; it was going to be the next Dodge. Red Foot and Beulah planned to open a whorehouse and get rich. But when they arrived, they saw at once that Crow Town was not booming. The rumors they had heard were lies. The population was low, and the few people who lived there were clearly too poor to support a whorehouse, or any other business, except a saloon.
Unable to face any more travel, Beulah and Red Foot stayed. Red Foot drank too much, and he had a tendency to pass out at inopportune moments. He had even passed out when playing cards, and cards were his profession.
Joey Garza was a different story.
Beulah, twenty-eight years old and well traveled in more ways than one, had never seen a male as beautiful as Joey. His walk, his teeth, his hands, were beautiful. Red Foot was aging, and unreliable. Beulah hoped that Joey would take an interest in her, and he did. He asked her to come and live in his house, or a house he had taken as his. In Crow Town, houses often came to belong to the best shot. Joey didn't have to shoot anyone to acquire his house, though. A killer named Pecos Freddy passed through Crow Town the week before Joey arrived, and he ended up killing three Mexicans--the father, mother, and brother of the two young whores who ended up living with Joey and Beulah. The young whores, Marieta and Gabriela, were so saddened by the deaths that they didn't care, at first, whether they lived or died. They knew they would die soon, if they continued to live in Crow Town, but they had no money, no means of travel, and no hope.
When Joey appeared, they simply gave him the house, a two-room hut with low ceilings, and hoped that he would let them stay. He did, and he soon let Beulah stay, too, but he didn't share his bed, or even his room, with any of them.
The three women slept on the floor in the larger room. Even that was better than sleeping with Red Foot, Beulah decided; another of Red Foot's unreliabilities was that he frequently wet the bed. He said it was because a horse had kicked him once, in a bad place.
Beulah didn't know about that, but she did know that she was tired of waking up in a bed full of piss. The floor in Joey's house might host an occasional scorpion or centipede, but at least it was dry.
Joey let the women stay because he needed someone to cook and wash clothes. Beulah cooked, and Marieta and Gabriela kept his clothes clean.
Joey Garza was by far the cleanest person in Crow Town. He insisted that his clothes be washed frequently, a difficult demand in a town where there was little water. Every three days, Marieta and Gabriela tied sacks of clothes and bedding onto a small donkey someone had lost. Then they trudged eleven miles through the sandhills, to the Pecos, where they washed the clothes, hung them on chaparral bushes to dry, and took them back to Joey. Often, they had to return to Crow Town by starlight.
Marieta and Gabriela were chubby girls, and they didn't expect much. Both had been whores since they were ten. Walking to the Pecos and washing Joey's clothes was an easier life than either had hoped for. It didn't bother them that Joey didn't want them. He was a g@uero, and g@ueros were often strange.
Beulah, though, was bothered by Joey's indifference. In her experience, if men didn't want you, they left you. Joey was the only person in Crow Town who had money. If he left, what would she do? Red Foot hated her now. He was a jealous man, and he would undoubtedly try to have his revenge the minute Joey Garza left. In his bitterness, he had already told her he would tie her to a tree and leave her tied until the crows pecked out her eyes. Beulah didn't really believe that crows pecked out people's eyes, but she didn't take Red Foot's threats lightly, either. He was perfectly capable of doing something horrible to her, and he probably would, if he got the chance.
It occurred to Beulah one day that Joey's tastes might be complex. She had known men whose tastes were complex; the most common complex taste, in her view, was for extra women in the bed.
Maybe that was what Joey would like--all three of them in bed at once.
If there was even a chance that it might work, Beulah wanted to try. She talked it over with Marieta and Gabriela, both of whom were skeptical.
"Three women at the same time?" Marieta said. "He don't even want one woman." "No, but he might like three," Beulah insisted.
Gabriela, the youngest, didn't like the idea at all. Whoring was bad enough. What Beulah suggested only sounded worse. Gabriela had become a whore when she was ten, but she didn't look at men. Once, her own uncle had forced her to look at him. He twisted her arm and beat her until she looked at him, but usually, she just looked away and pretended she wasn't there.
Sometimes, while she was looking away, the men stole back the money they gave her. Gabriela never got to keep much of the money, anyway. Her father had taken it, while he was alive, and now Marieta took it.
"If he don't want us, he won't feed us," Beulah said. In her experience, that was how men were.
Later, the two girls talked it over. They didn't want to disappoint Beulah, who had been good to them, in their time of grief. The girls didn't like Crow Town. The wind blew very cold in winter. It was always dusty, and the men were rough. But in Mexico, they had nothing. Neither of them wanted to go back to Mexico.
"If he don't want us, he won't feed us," Marieta said, echoing Beulah. She was willing to defer to Beulah's judgment. Beulah was older, and knew more about men.
The next night, at Beulah's suggestion, they all got undressed except for nightgowns.
The girls' gowns were only of thin cotton, but Beulah's was silk. She had bought it long ago, in Kansas City. When they went in to Joey, he was cleaning his fine rifle with a rag.
The look in his eyes, when he saw them come in, was not friendly. He didn't speak.
"You could have us all three," Beulah said, timidly. From the look he gave them, she knew that her idea had not been a good one. She had mentioned it to Red Foot, to see what he thought, and Red Foot certainly liked it.
"I'd take three whores over one whore anytime," Red Foot said. "I'm a man that likes whores." That was true. The whores in Dodge City had profited greatly from Red Foot's interest.
Joey was different, though. He was a colder article, Beulah thought.
"I don't want three fat women," he said, to Beulah. "You cook. Marieta washes clothes. Gabriela don't have to do nothing." "Well, why don't she?" Beulah asked, stung. She had already begun to be a little jealous of Gabriela, and now she felt even more jealous.
"Because she's pretty," Joey said, closing the conversation.
"He's in love with you," Marieta said to her sister, later. "He's rich, too. He has a cave full of money." Joey did like to look at the young whore Gabriela. He liked it that she was so modest.
That was the way women should be. But, other than admiring her looks and her modesty, he had no need for her.
During the day, Joey often sat for a while in the town's small, dirty saloon. At first, the gamblers who passed through always pestered him. They had heard of his robberies and knew, or thought they knew, of his wealth. They wanted him to go robbing with them, so they could have wealth, too. Joey was successful, far more successful than any of them.
He was feared, and they, too, would have liked to be feared. They tried to be friendly with him, to suggest robberies in which he could share. Each of them knew of a bank that would be easy to rob, or a stage office, or something.
Joey ignored all their offers. He didn't trust any of the men. Also, he didn't need them.
There was a boy in Crow Town who was slightly lame, but active. His name was Pablo, and he was twelve. Twice Joey took Pablo with him, so he would have someone to hold his horse during the robberies. He didn't like to tie his horse, and he didn't trust it to stand, either. If he had to leave in a hurry, having to untie a horse or look for one that had walked off would not be good.
Pablo was his solution to the problem of the horse.
Pablo liked Joey. Being chosen to go with him was the happiest thing that had happened to Pablo in his life. He did a good job, too, always leading Joey's horse to the handiest place for him to mount. Pablo thought Joey was the greatest man alive. He would have been proud to give his life for him.
Except for the services of Pablo and the three whores, Joey wanted nothing from the people of Crow Town. They were a rough lot, and also dumb. In his view, only smart people had a chance in life, and only smart people deserved a chance. Most of the men who stopped in Crow Town stayed drunk the whole time they were there. The cawing of the crows drove them to it. Joey didn't mind the cawing, for he liked the crows. They were smarter than most people, in his view. Newcomers, maddened by the sound of cawing or the smell of crowshit or the wheeling of the thousands of birds, sometimes went berserk and tried to shoot the crows. They emptied pistols at them, or rifles. They missed, of course. Even when they tried shotguns, they missed. Not once did Joey see a crow fall. They were so smart that they didn't even lose a feather when the crazy men shot at them.
When Joey was in the saloon he sat alone, at a small table near the door. He wanted to be able to leave quickly if some of the stupid white men began to stab one another, or fire guns.
Joey drank coffee, when he sat in the saloon. Occasionally, he would put a spoonful of whiskey in the coffee, on days when the dust made him cough. He had taken a fine fur coat from off the gentleman who had the private car, and when the wind blew cold, or the dust was blowing, he pulled the fur collar of his coat high around him and was warm. Men envied him the coat. If he had not been watchful, one would have killed him for it. But he was watchful, and he liked it that he was envied.
Besides the coat, he also had a good blanket that had belonged to a cowboy he shot at a great distance. It was the longest shot he had made, since coming back from the City of Mexico with his gun. When Joey rode over to rob the corpse, he measured the distance; it was nearly six hundred yards. It gave him a good feeling, to be able to strike a gringo dead at such a distance. Finding that the cowboy had a fine blanket made him feel even better. The man was not young. He lay with his mouth open, when Joey reached him. Joey noticed that his teeth were false, so he took the false teeth, along with the blanket.
The cowboy had been about to ride into Presidio, when Joey killed him, and the shot was made at the last light of the day. No one in Presidio had noticed that the man was coming, and no one saw him fall. Joey waited until it was dark to measure the distance and rob the man. The bullet had taken off much of the cowboy's skull.
The man wore a large pistol, which Joey used to smash the skull open a little more. Then he took a cup from the dead man's saddlebags and filled it with his brains. When it was darker still, he walked into town, holding the cup full of brains. He went to the jail and carefully set the cup inside the door. The deputy who had only one ear was there, but he had his boots off and was sleeping soundly. Joey planned to cut the man's throat, if he woke up, but he didn't wake up, and on impulse, Joey stole his boots.
He left the dead cowboy's false teeth in the cup of brains. Then he rode off happily.
What he had done was not as bad as some things he had seen the Apaches do to dead white men. His only nagging worry was that he had seen a cat in the jail. The cat had opened its eyes and looked at him when he set the cup inside. It occurred to him that the cat might eat the brains and spoil the surprise he had planned for the hard sheriff and the one-eared deputy.
Later, in Crow Town, Joey learned that the cat had not eaten the brains. The one-eared deputy woke up, looked in the cup, and puked on the floor of the jail. Later, in the street, the deputy puked some more. The deputy thought at first that it might be the work of Apaches, but there were no Apaches anymore. The Federales had killed all the Apaches in Mexico, and those in the United States had been removed to Indian territory. Many people on the border had even forgotten Apaches, and what they did to people. When Joey left the dead cowboy's brains in the jail in Presidio, people began to talk about him as if he were the devil, not just a g@uero, a Mexican boy who was almost white. Only some of the older men and women remembered the Apaches, and how they cut.
One day, when Joey had been in Crow Town three weeks, Beulah came in with an antelope haunch she had bought from the old hunter Ben Lily. The old man walked the West endlessly, killing bears and cougars. He had started his lifelong hunt in Louisiana, and was now in west Texas, killing bears and cougars as he went. He ate what he could, and sold the remainder in order to buy cartridges with which to kill more lions and bears. His aim was to kill all the lions and bears between the Gulf Coast and Canada. By his reckoning, he was not yet half done. Thousands of lions and bears still lived, in the great West, and Ben Lily meant to kill them all. Antelope didn't interest him, but antelope made good eating, and could also be sold profitably in rough villages such as Crow Town.
Beulah looked scared, when she came in with the haunch. Her hands were shaking as she got ready to fry it.
"Why are you scared?" Joey asked.
"I saw old Ben," Beulah said.
"He only hunts, he won't bother you," Joey said. He was hungry, and he wanted Beulah to settle down and cook his meat.
"It ain't Ben," Beulah said. "Wesley Hardin's here. He showed up yesterday and killed that nigger that worked for the blacksmith.
Wesley put a gun to my head, once. I was in Fort Worth then." "Why?" Joey asked. "So he wouldn't have to pay you?" "He didn't do nothing to pay me for," Beulah said. "He just likes to see people look scared. It don't matter to him if it's a man or a woman. He just likes to see people look scared." Later, Joey went to the saloon, carrying his rifle. He never left his rifle. In Crow Town, all the people were thieves, and he did not intend to risk his fine gun.
A skinny man was sitting at the table next to his. It was the only other table in the saloon.
The man wore a dirty black coat and had ugly skin, blotched and red, and it peeled in places from the sun and the wind. The man had thin, brown hair. Joey could see scabs on his scalp and on his hands as well. The man's foot twitched as he sat at the table, drinking whiskey. He didn't have a fine rifle, either, just a plain revolver, stuck in his belt.
Nonetheless, the killer John Wesley Hardin was the first gringo Joey had met in a long time whom he didn't take lightly. The man didn't even look at him, when he came in with his rifle. Wesley Hardin was not impressed, or even interested, which was unusual. Few people in Crow Town, or even travelers passing through, missed any chance to steal a look at Joey Garza.
But Wesley Hardin, the killer, didn't look. He was chewing tobacco and spitting the juice on the floor, although the saloon was provided with two brass spittoons.
Joey had barely sat down, when John Wesley Hardin looked up, but not at him. He looked up at the local blacksmith, whose name was Lordy Bailey. Lordy walked in the door, a large hammer in one hand, and went straight to Wesley Hardin's table. The blacksmith was a large man with a heavy black beard that was so long, he had to tuck it into his overalls while working his forge. He was not afraid of anyone, including Wesley Hardin. When he walked up to the table where the famous killer sat, Lordy was frowning, though John Wesley Hardin looked at him pleasantly.
"It's costing me fifty cents to get a grave dug for that nigger boy," Lordy said. "You shot him. I think you ought to pay the fifty cents." "Why bury a nigger?" Wesley Hardin said.
His voice had a tone in it that Joey hadn't heard before. It was a crazy tone. Wesley Hardin's eyes were cool, but he was scratching his scabby wrist with his other hand. Joey thought the blacksmith was very foolish, for speaking to the killer so brusquely. He would probably be murdered for his rudeness, and it would serve him right. His prices were high, and his work was not particularly skillful.
"We all need to be buried," Lordy said.
"Do you think my nigger ought to just lay there and stink up the town?" "Drag him off a ways," Wesley Hardin suggested. "That big pig might come along and eat him for you. It would save you the fifty cents." "I paid fifty dollars for that nigger," Lordy said. He began to flip the big hammer up in the air, and caught it when it came down, without even looking at it. He made the big hammer seem light as a twig.
"I figure that's fifty dollars and fifty cents you owe me," he added. "Fifty dollars for the nigger, and fifty cents for burying him.
Give it over." "You're a fool if you paid cash for a nigger, in these days and times," Wesley Hardin said. "You don't have to buy niggers, anymore. It's not even legal. Abe Lincoln freed them. All you have to do now is take a nigger, if you see one you want." "I paid for this one and you owe me," Lordy insisted. "Give over the money." "You're an ignorant sonofabitch, and you don't know the law," Wesley Hardin said. He began to get worked up. His twitching foot twitched faster.
"Here you buy a nigger you didn't have to buy, and because I killed him, you come in here disturbing my morning," he went on. "I could kill you seven times before you could drop that goddamn hammer on your toe. Don't be playing with that hammer in here. The ceilings are too low. Go outside if you want to play with your hammer." He took the plain revolver out of his belt and pointed it at the blacksmith, but the blacksmith was too angry to back down.
"You owe me, give over the money," he repeated, for the third time.
"You sonofabitch, I heard you," Wesley Hardin said. "If you want to live, get gone.
If you'd rather die, flip that hammer again." "I don't think you're the killer you claim to be, Hardin," Lordy said. He was wondering if he was quick enough to smash the man's head in with the hammer before he could pull the trigger.
"I don't claim nothing," Wesley Hardin said. "I don't claim one goddamn thing.
Last time I was in jail, they kept me in nine years and whipped me a hundred and sixty different times. I stood it, and here I am. They whipped me because I wouldn't submit, and I won't submit. I hated the goddamn jailers, and I could kill you and nine like you and never even belch. I've left about forty widows so far, I guess, and I've killed a few bachelors, too. You're welcome to try me any time you want to try me." Lordy decided that, after all, the risks were unwarranted.
"I'd like to smash in your goddamn skull, but I'll leave the pleasure of killing you to Captain Call," Lordy said. "I don't know if he'll choose to bother about a scabby old turd like you." "Woodrow Call?" Wesley Hardin asked.
"Why would he want to kill me? He arrested me once, but it was just because of a little feud I got into in Lampasas. Call ain't the sheriff of Crow Town. He don't even live here." "No, but he's coming," Lordy said.
The news seemed to excite Wesley Hardin, the killer. His tone got crazier.
"Coming to Crow Town, Captain Call?" he said. "Why, that's bold, for an old shit his age." "He's coming, but he ain't after you," Lordy said.
"You ain't important enough, anymore. You're just an old killer waiting to die." "Why's he coming, then? Does he expect to clean out the town?" Wesley Hardin asked.
"He's coming for the g@uero," Lordy said.
"He's coming for Joey, here." Joey didn't smile, or even indicate that he had heard the conversation. But he felt pleased.
Billy Williams had told him many tales of Call's exploits. He had no fear of the man, though. No old gringo, however famous, was likely to interfere with his plans, not for long, anyway. But it interested and pleased him, that he had robbed enough and killed enough so that the Americans were sending their best bounty hunter after him. That was satisfying. It meant he had scared the Americans, and hurt them by taking their money.
John Wesley Hardin had noticed Joey come in. He was certainly a pretty boy, too pretty to last, Hardin thought. His clothes were too clean. In such a place, it was irritating to see a boy with clothes that clean. The rifle he kept with him was certainly exceptional, though. John Wesley had never killed with a rifle. He usually killed at close range, with his revolver, firing two or three shots right into the midsections of his enemies. He liked the way the heavy bullets kicked the life out of them. He liked their looks of shock, when they fell down and saw the blood spreading underneath them. He also liked to be looking at them when they died. That way, they would know that John Wesley Hardin had killed them personally. He had never killed a man from ambush, or from any great distance at all.
The notion that Woodrow Call would come all the way to Crow Town for this boy, this g@uero, was interesting, though. The boy must have vexed the rich men a good deal, for them to call out the old Ranger.
He looked at the boy and met a pair of cold, blue eyes.
Lordy Bailey, the blacksmith, was still standing there, with his hammer. Joey thought the man was a complete fool. He should go, while he was alive.
"You still owe me," Lordy said. "There's no reason I should give you a nigger to kill." "I hate idiots like you," John Wesley Hardin said. He cocked his revolver and shot the blacksmith right in the gut. Then he shot him again, at about the point where his beard tucked into his overalls. He cocked the gun a third time, and shot the man in the gut again.
Lordy staggered backward, but didn't fall.
He felt surprised. Hardin had seemed to be calming down. Lordy had not really expected him to shoot. Now he had been shot three times. He felt puzzled; he had meant to leave, but had waited a little too long. He didn't feel anything, just puzzled.
Joey Garza didn't move. It did not surprise him that the scabby old man had shot the blacksmith. He himself would have done it much sooner. But he knew better than to call attention to himself while the scabby killer had a gun in his hand.
"Wait--don't die," Wesley Hardin said, to Lordy Bailey. "You forgot to tell me how you knew Call was coming." He was mildly annoyed with himself for having shot the man fatally before securing that piece of information.
Most men, once shot a time or two, were so shocked to find themselves dying that they lost their power of speech.
"Famous Shoes told me," Lordy said. For a moment, the fact that he could still talk reassured him. Perhaps he hadn't been shot, after all. It was such a comforting thought that he believed it, for a second. He dropped his hammer, and reached down to pick it up. But his hand wouldn't grip. He could see the hammer, but he couldn't grasp it. At that point he sat down, being as careful as possible.
All he wanted to do was pick up his hammer and leave.
"Don't sit there and die, you damn bastard," Wesley Hardin said. "Go outside and die.
Nobody wants you dying in here." "Oh," Lordy said, disturbed to have been caught in a breach of etiquette. He started to sit up, but instead, slowly toppled over and lay on his side, on the dusty floor.
"I thought I told you not to die in here, you ugly sonofabitch!" Wesley Hardin said. His temper was rising. The blacksmith had done nothing but vex and disobey him.
"If you weren't already nearly kilt, I'd take a bed slat to you--it might teach you some manners," he added.
Lordy Bailey realized he had made a serious error, bringing the black man to a town Wesley Hardin frequented. He was well known to dislike black men.
"Ought not to have ..." he said, but then his tongue stopped working, and he felt a great loosening inside himself. He rolled on his back and stared upward until the light became dark.
Patrick O'Brien, the bartender, walked over and looked at Lordy.
"He's dead, and we're without a blacksmith," Patrick said.
"Good, I disliked the bastard," Wesley Hardin said. "He thought I ought to pay for his nigger, the damned idiot!
"Drag him out, boy," he said, addressing the order to Joey. "He'll soon stink up the place if we leave him long." Joey met the scabby man's look, but didn't speak.
"Goddammit, is everybody stubborn in this town?" Wesley Hardin asked, his face splotchy with anger.
Patrick O'Brien felt a little worried.
Many of his customers had killed a man or two, but not since he'd opened the bar had he had two men in it who were as dangerous as Wesley Hardin and Joey Garza. Between them, they had killed a fair number of men. It was early in the day, but already a man lay dead on the barroom floor.
It occurred to the saloonkeeper that Wesley Hardin, a selfish fellow who didn't take much interest in other people, might not realize how dangerous Joey Garza was.
"This is Joey Garza," he said. "He's the one they sent Call after." Joey looked Hardin straight in the eye.
He wanted to study the man, and would rather not have to kill him. But that was up to Hardin. He would kill him, if it became necessary, with his bowie knife. He had watched Hardin shoot the blacksmith. Hardin had managed it, but he was quite slow, Joey thought. An Apache would have killed the man with a knife, in half the time or less, and Joey modeled himself on the Apache when it came to killing. Joey knew he could slip behind Hardin and cut his throat with one move and one stroke.
But he didn't want to kill the man, and he also knew it would not be wise to underrate him, just because he was a scabby old gringo. Wesley Hardin had killed many, many men; the fact that he had been a little slow with the blacksmith didn't mean he would be slow if his own life was really at stake. The blacksmith had posed no threat. But Hardin was a killer, like himself. He should not be underestimated.
Wesley Hardin got up, picked up the blacksmith's legs, and slowly dragged him outside. The crows set up a cawing the minute the door opened. The blacksmith was a heavy man. Hardin had to stick his revolver back in his belt and use both hands, in order to drag him out.
"O'Brien, get your donkey and drag that heavy bastard off," he said, when he came back. He was winded from his effort, and his face had gone pale.
"Wes, you need to hold your temper," Patrick O'Brien said. "That was the only blacksmith within a hundred miles." Wesley Hardin didn't take kindly to censure. He frowned at the Irishman.
"I might shoot every man, woman, and child in this stinkin', nigger-bird town, and then you wouldn't need a goddamn blacksmith. How's that?" he asked.
Wesley Hardin turned to Joey with an angry look.
"You could help me wipe this nigger-bird shithole off the face of the earth, if you're such a killer," he said to Joey. "You kill the men, and I'll take care of the women and the brats." "Wes, there's only two children in town, and they're mine," Patrick O'Brien said. He had meanwhile taken the precaution of arming himself with a shotgun. When Wes Hardin was in one of his irritable moods, it was wisest to be armed.
"I wasn't speaking to you, you damn pig!" Wesley Hardin said, giving the man a violent stare. "I was speaking to the notorious young killer, here." For all Hardin's jumpy manner, his eyes, when he looked at Joey, were clear. He might twitch, but he wasn't really agitated, not in the part of himself that sized up men and situations.
The boy, the g@uero, gave back an empty gaze. Joey let his eyes meet Hardin's, but in Joey's eyes there was nothing.
Only distance, a distance deep as the sky.
"Why would they send Woodrow Call after a pup like you?" Hardin asked. But he let no insult into his voice.
"Because I steal money from Americans," Joey said.
"You're right--it's the money, not the killing," Wesley Hardin said. "They don't care who gets killed, out here in the baldies. It don't cost the damn pigs a cent for us to kill one another out here. Why would they care? Out here west of the Pecos, it's fine to kill, but you better not steal from no trains coming from the east, where the damn Yankees keep their money.
"How much did you get?" he inquired, in a calmer tone. "I heard it was a million, and I heard it was the army's money." Joey looked at the man coolly, with his distant eyes. Did the old killer really expect him to tell how much money he had stolen?
In fact, he had buried the payrolls only a few miles from where he stole them. He didn't know how much he had taken, he just knew that the money was too bulky to carry very far. He was not such a fool as to bury it all in one place, either. He hid it in snake dens; the Apaches had taught him how to find them. They often ate snakes, when they could get nothing better.
He didn't have the time to carry so much money to his cave, nor did he want to. The money was not very interesting to him. His cave was for beautiful things. Everything he stole, he wrapped well.
He had taken two hundred gunnysacks from a hardware store in Piedras Negras, to the puzzlement of the man who owned the store. The man could not understand why anyone would take gunnysacks, when there were guns and axes to steal.
Joey took the sacks because he needed them to wrap his treasures. That was also why he had taken the fancy sheets from the rich man who had the fur coat. He didn't want to sleep on the sheets; he wanted them for wrapping, so that his many silver objects would not grow dingy in the cave.
At another hardware store in San Angelo, he found some excellent wooden barrels, and he hired an old man named Jose Ramos to help him take the barrels on donkeys into the mountains. He left them in one cave, an empty one, to fool old Ramos, and later came back and carried them, one by one, to his own cave, which was three days away.
Then he packed his well-wrapped treasures in the excellent barrels, where they would be safe from rats and varmints. He already had more than one hundred watches, and nearly as many rings. One of his regrets was that there were so few women on the trains, because women had nicer things than men. They had beautiful combs of ivory, and necklaces and bracelets, even jewels to hang in their ears.
Joey kept all the women's things together. When he went to his cave, he would spend whole days unwrapping his treasures, one by one, holding them and letting the light play on them. They were far more interesting than the money.
Knowing that he had the treasures and that he could go there and enjoy them, was a deep satisfaction to Joey. Lately, he had begun to steal things with little value--ladies' hairbrushes, or letter openers--simply because he liked to touch the ivory or shell that they were made from.
The quality of his treasures was not something he intended to talk about to a killer such as Wesley Hardin, though. He decided he didn't like the nosy old gringo, who asked the kind of questions his mother asked. The killer was a man to be watched, that was all.
"I guess you're feeling closemouthed today, are you, boy?" Wesley Hardin asked. Of course, he had not expected the g@uero to tell him how much money he had taken from the trains.
"You'd do better to talk to yourself, Wes," Patrick O'Brien said. "My ears get tired, just from listening to you cuss, when you're in a temper." "Be glad you can hear me--it means I ain't shot you yet, Pat," Hardin said. "I can cuss old Lordy now, as much as I want to, but he won't hear a whisper." Joey picked up his rifle and started to leave.
He would rather look at the pretty young whore, Gabriela, than at the scabby old killer with the splotchy face.
"Hold on, I'll offer you a little free advice," Wesley Hardin said. "They say you have a tendency to steal, which is a more dangerous habit in these parts than the habit of killing.
One thing you ought to be careful of, when you're out stealing, is to stay clear of Roy Bean. He can't abide a thief. If he catches you with money on you, he'll hang you promptly and keep the money. He's hung five men that I know about, for no better reason than that they had money in their pockets, and he wanted it." "He won't hang me, but I might hang him," Joey replied. He said it merely to meet the challenge in the old killer's voice.
But once he began to consider it, the idea grew on him. Roy Bean was known to be a hanging judge. Roy Bean cared little for justice, or so Joey had been told by Billy Williams.
Joey cared little for justice, himself. He couldn't blame the judge for that, and he didn't care that the judge wasn't fair.
"I think I will hang him," he repeated.
"It might be pleasant." John Wesley Hardin was startled, and he wasn't a man who startled easily. This pup of a boy had just had an idea that he should have had himself: hang Roy Bean. That old fart had it coming to him, had for years.
"Why, that's original," Wesley Hardin said. "I expect that would make the newspapers.
Old Call might get fired, for letting it happen." "Do you know Famous Shoes?" Joey asked.
The old man was a tracker, a Kickapoo.
No one knew where he lived; somewhere in the Sierra Madre, it was thought. Billy Williams had known Famous Shoes for many years and thought him the best tracker who ever lived.
He even knew how to track birds, as they flew. Even the Apaches respected Famous Shoes, and the Apaches yielded up little respect when it came to tracking. They considered themselves the best, but admitted that if anyone was better than they were, it was Famous Shoes. Some Apaches thought that the reason Famous Shoes was such a brilliant tracker was that he was part eagle.
Someone had seen him bringing the eggs of an eagle down to his camp, where he ate them. It was because of the eagle's eggs, some thought, that Famous Shoes could see so well. No one in the West could see farther, or more clearly, than the old Kickapoo. In earlier days, he had been employed up and down the border by whites, Mexicans, and Indians alike, to help recover children who had been stolen, or sold into slavery. Famous Shoes never failed to find the children, even when he was put on the trail months late. He could not always recover the children, for his skill was only in tracking. But he always found the children. A man who could track the flight of birds and even follow eagles to their roosts, in order to take their eggs, would have no difficulty in tracking a raiding party that had come to take slaves.
"I have seen Famous Shoes a few times," Wesley Hardin said. "If I see him again, I'll kill him, and if I'd known he was around I'd have been out hunting for him yesterday." "Why?" Joey asked. "He's an old man. You wouldn't need to fear him." "He's an old man, but his eyesight ain't failed him," Hardin said. "Suppose I kill the wrong fellow, someone who ain't just scum, and the law comes after me again? If they hired old Famous Shoes, they'd find me, too, and if there's more of a damn posse than I could shoot, I'd be back in prison again. And next time, they'll beat me to death." He suddenly turned his back to Joey and pulled off his coat and shirt. His back was crisscrossed with scars, every inch of it.
"The time I went for the warden and tried to knock the sonofabitch's head in, they gave me five hundred lashes. I wasn't awake for but about two hundred of them, though." "They will not do that to me," Joey said.
Wesley Hardin stuffed his shirttail back in his pants. He turned to Joey and smiled.
"If they get you in jail, then they can do anything they want," he said. "If they want to beat you with a damn whip, they will." "They won't get me in jail," Joey said.
The sight of the man's scarred back had impressed him.
"Then you better kill Famous Shoes, and kill him next," Wesley Hardin said. "That's my recommendation." "Why him? I don't even know him," Joey replied.
"He's a hired hand. He tracks for anybody that'll pay him," Wesley Hardin said. "Woodrow Call might pay him to find you.
If he's set to find you, he'll find you.
Famous Shoes don't miss." Joey Garza smiled. "I don't miss, either," he said. Then he took his fine rifle and left.
When Famous Shoes decided to take a walk, it was usually a long one. He didn't like to walk where there were Federales, because the Federales killed Indians. The presence of Federales distracted him, and took away some of the pleasure of his long walk. To avoid them, he walked north through the Madre until he was out of Mexico, before turning east. He had decided to go to the Rio Rojo and live on it a few weeks, as his people had once done. He was an old man, and one day soon, he would have to give up his spirit. He thought it would be fitting to go to the Rio Rojo, where his people had once lived. It was his view that the Kickapoo people would be living along the Brazos and the Rio Rojo still, if the Comanche and the Kiowa had not been so hard to get along with.
But the Comanche and the Kiowa did not like the Kickapoo people, or any other people, and it was not easy to live with the Comanche or the Kiowa if they disliked you. They killed so many Kickapoo that the old men decided the tribe had better move, or soon there would be no tribe.
Now the Comanche were gone, and the Kiowa, too.
Famous Shoes could go visit the land of his fathers without unpleasantness. He walked east, toward the pass of the north. In a few days, he would be on the great plain. He wanted to visit the several forks of the Brazos--the Salt, the Clear, the Double Mountain fork and the Prairie Dog fork-- to see if the river had moved far from where it had been when he was a boy. He had known the Brazos when he was young. He liked to watch it wander, and make itself new channels.
While Famous Shoes was walking east near Agua Prieta, he crossed a track that frightened him so much that he wanted to crouch down. It was a track he had not seen in many years: the track of Mox Mox, the manburner. The Apaches called him The Snake-You-Do-Not-See, for his habit of catching people unawares, and burning them.
Particularly, he liked to burn young children, but he would burn anyone he could catch, when he wanted to burn.
Mox Mox, The Snake-You-Do-Not-See, had stopped to urinate along the trail Famous Shoes was walking. Famous Shoes thought he had better hurry on to the Rio Rojo before Mox Mox found him. He walked for two days, sleeping only a few minutes at a time.
When he came to the Rio Rojo, he walked east along its wide, sandy banks for two weeks. On the old river, he felt better.
The Snake-You-Do-Not-See had not struck him.
He wanted to make contact with the spirit of his grandfather, if possible. His grandfather had lived and died on the low, sandy banks of the Rio Rojo.
Though Famous Shoes walked for days along the river, he did not meet the spirit of his grandfather. The old man had not liked the Comanche, and Famous Shoes decided that his grandfather's spirit had become impatient for the Comanche to be taken; so impatient that his spirit left its home and went to live somewhere else. Probably, he would make contact with his grandfather as he walked south, amid the forks of the Brazos. But that might not work, either. His grandfather had been an unpredictable man, and all his wives had complained of his impatience and unpredictability. He left when he felt like leaving, and told no one where he was going or when he might return. He was apt to walk south and then change his mind and walk north. There was no confining the man. Famous Shoes, too, was in the habit of walking where he chose and when he chose.
He might get up one morning and walk for three months.
Once, when he was younger, he had decided to walk north, to the place the ducks and the geese came from and returned to every year. He knew the birds could travel much faster than he could, and that he would have to get a big jump on them if he was to visit them in their home in the north. He started early in the spring, thinking he would be in the place the birds returned to, when they returned. He had been told that they nested at the edge of the world.
An old Apache man who, like himself, took an interest in birds, told him that. The old Apache believed that the ducks and geese, and even the cranes, flew to the edge of the world each fall, to build their nests and hatch their young.
Famous Shoes wanted to see it. In his dreams, he saw a place where all the ducks and geese came to nest. It would be noisy, of course; so many birds would make a lot of racket. But it would still be worth it.
What defeated the plan was that Famous Shoes did not really enjoy cold weather. It was cold enough in the Madre, and even colder on the plains, north of the Rio Rojo. But those colds were as nothing to the cold Famous Shoes began to encounter as the fall came, in the far north. He had walked to the top of the plain, and into the wooded country. As the days shortened, he began to see strings of geese overhead, and thought that he must be getting close to the great nesting place at the edge of the world.
But then, it seemed to him, he reached the edge of the world without getting to the nesting place. He passed through the great forests, and came to a place where the trees were only as tall as he was, and Famous Shoes was not tall. Ahead, he could see horizons where there were no trees at all, and only a few plants of any kind.
There seemed to be only snow ahead of him. He survived by knocking over fat birds and slow rabbits, but the snow was becoming painful to his feet, and the diminishing vegetation worried him. With no wood to make fires, he knew he might freeze. Also, it was only fall. The real cold was ahead.
Reluctantly, Famous Shoes stopped when he reached the place of the last tree. He looked north, as far as he could see, wondering if the edge of the world was only a day or two away. A day or two he might risk, but he knew it would be foolish to go to a place without wood, when the great cold was coming. Overhead, the sky was thick with ducks and geese, going to the place Famous Shoes wanted to go. He heard them all night, calling to one another as they neared their home. He was annoyed with the geese, for he felt that they should appreciate how far he had walked, out of an interest in them, and that some great goose should come down and help him go there. The old Apache man claimed that he had once seen a white goose big enough for a man to ride. Famous Shoes didn't know if the story was true, for the old Apache man had been a little crazy, and was also fond of mescal. He might have been drunk, and the liquor might have made the goose grow into a goose that a man could ride. But if there was such a goose somewhere, it too must be on its way home.
Famous Shoes waited a whole day by the last tree, his feet aching from the snow, hoping the great goose would see him and recognize his appreciation of the greatness of birds and alight and fly him to the big nesting place. Also, while he was there, he meant to look off the edge of the world and see what he could see.
But no great goose came, and Famous Shoes was forced to turn back, before his feet were frozen.
A few days later, by great good luck, he killed a small bear. He made moccasins from the bear skin and hurried south, hoping to get to a place where there was good firewood before the blizzards came. Three days later, when he had just made it into the forests, a great blizzard did come. Famous Shoes had carried much of the meat of the little bear with him, and he ate it while the blizzard blew.
Months later, when he was still far from his home in the Madre, Famous Shoes saw the geese and the ducks overhead, flying south again. It seemed to him that their calls mocked him, as they flew above him. For a time, he became bitter, and decided he didn't like birds, after all. They didn't care that he had walked a whole year, just to see their nesting place. He resolved to take no more interest in such ungrateful, unappreciative creatures.
But once back in the Sierra Madre, watching the great eagles that lived near his home, Famous Shoes gradually lost his bitterness. In the presence of the great eagles, he became ashamed of himself. Two or three of the eagles knew him, and would let him sit near them; not too near, but near enough that he could see their eyes, as they watched the valleys far below. Their dignity made him feel that he had been silly, to expect the ducks and geese, or any birds, to take an interest in his movements. He knew himself to be a great walker--he was not Famous Shoes for nothing --but what was that to any bird? The geese and the great cranes could fly in an hour distances it would take him a day to cover. The eagles and the hawks could see much farther than he could, and even the small birds, the sparrows and the cactus wrens, could do the one thing he couldn't do: they could fly. That was their greatness, not his, and his walking must seem a poor thing, to them.
Famous Shoes was grateful to the eagles for letting him sit near them and recover himself from his long journey. He needed to recover from the vanity of thinking that he was as special as the birds. He did not deserve to see the great nesting places, nor to look off the edge of the world. He was only a man, of the earth and not of the sky, and his skills were not the skills of birds.
It was on his return from the Rio Rojo, across the Quitaque, that he came upon the track of a horse carrying his old friend Pea Eye, in the mud of a little creek. Famous Shoes had known Pea Eye for a long time, since the days when the Rangers rode the border. He could tell Pea Eye's track anywhere, because Pea Eye favored his left stirrup and the horse track went deeper on the left side, particularly on the rear hoof. It puzzled him to discover Pea Eye traveling south, for he understood that Pea Eye had a woman and several children, and a farm.
Yet, he was leaving. Famous Shoes knew that Pea Eye's woman was a teacher. He meant, someday, to have her teach him to read the strange tracks in books. Those were the only tracks he had never been able to master. For many years, he had carried a small Bible with him. It had been given to him by an old man who carried many such books in a wagon, and gave them to Indians.
The old man's name was Marshall. He had come among the Apaches when Famous Shoes was there, trying to persuade an old medicine man named Turtle to give up a little white girl he had captured in a raid. Turtle wouldn't give up the girl. His own wife was shriveled and had no interest in him, and he needed a young girl. The money Famous Shoes offered, money provided by the little girl's family, was not as important to Turtle as the little girl herself. Turtle patiently explained this to Famous Shoes, who understood it well enough. His own wife had lost interest in him, forcing him to find girls at a time when he would rather have been concentrating on other things.
But he had been younger then, and in those days, lack of a woman often caused his concentration to wander.
So he accepted Turtle's explanation, and did not try to take the girl, even though her family missed her and had paid him well to find her.
Mr. Marshall, the white man with the Bibles, did not accept Turtle's explanation as to why he needed the little girl, although it was a valid one, in Famous Shoes' opinion. Marshall tried to buy the girl from Turtle, despite the fact that Turtle had told him plainly that he would not sell her.
When Marshall saw that he would not be allowed to buy the white girl, he became angry. He began to say bad words, and make the Apaches feel bad. But a young Apache named Long Thorn lived up to his name by taking a bayonet he had picked up after a battle and sticking it all the way through Mr. Marshall, who soon died. It was agreed that Long Thorn had acted properly. The white man had become abusive, and deserved to be stuck with a bayonet. The Apaches could eat the horses that pulled the white man's wagon, but the load of books with meaningless tracks in them was a different matter. Marshall had told them that the books came from the god who made all the whites. There were many whites, and they were rich; the god must be powerful, if he had made them all. It might anger him if the book with his tracks in it was not treated properly, but the Apaches had no idea what they would have to do to treat the book properly. By accident, someone tore a few pages out of one of the books and threw them on a campfire. They burned so well that the Apaches decided to keep the books and use them to start fires. If the god who made the whites was offended, they would have to live with his wrath. But after a few days of starting fires with the pages from the Bibles, the Apaches decided that this god was too busy making whites to care what they did. After that, they relaxed and soon forgot the god altogether. They even forgot about Marshall, although they ate his horses and found them to be tasty.
Famous Shoes was given a Bible, in lieu of the little white girl. He would rather have had the girl, but he took the Bible and pored over it for years, in his spare time. He had never seen tracks as strange as the tracks in his Bible. After much study, he could see that the little tracks were individual, as were the tracks of all animals.
Even worms and snails made tracks that were unlike those of other creatures.
But in the end, Famous Shoes could make nothing of the tracks that were supposed to lead the whites to the spirit world. Famous Shoes would have liked to see a picture of the white man's god, but there were no pictures of him in the book. What this god's ways might be, Famous Shoes could not imagine. If he was wrathful, like his minister Marshall, then Famous Shoes was not interested in knowing too much about his ways.
One time, Famous Shoes showed the Bible to the old judge, Roy Bean, a white man who enjoyed hanging people. Famous Shoes had always kept to the law and had no fear of Roy Bean.
He didn't steal, and it was well known that Roy Bean was harshest on thieves and had a tendency to be tolerant of murder. Famous Shoes had rarely murdered, either, only a time or two when he was younger and had less control over his passions.
Now that he was older, he had his passions under control to such an extent that it was not really accurate to call them passions anymore. If he had a passion left, it was for the flight of the eagles. Fortunately, near his home in the Madre, there were many eagles whose pure, beautiful, soaring flight he could study at his leisure.
"Why, this is the Bible. It tells you about Jehovah and his angels," Roy Bean said, when Famous Shoes handed him the book. Roy Bean was drunk; this was often the case, and he was not really eager to enter inffconversation with a talkative Indian.
"What is an angel? I have never seen one," Famous Shoes replied.
"Nobody ain't. That is, they ain't if they're alive," Roy Bean informed him, testily.
"Where is heaven?" Famous Shoes asked.
"It's the place you go to when you die, if you've been good," Roy Bean said. "You ain't been very good, and I ain't, either, so I doubt either one of us will ever see an angel." After a little more questioning, Roy Bean let slip the exciting fact that angels were men with wings.
Famous Shoes had always suspected that there might be men with wings, somewhere. If he had been willing to risk freezing to death when he was near the edge of the world, he might have looked over the edge and seen these men with wings, flying around. Perhaps they would have helped him grow wings himself, so that he could fly off the edge of the world, as the great eagles flew off the cliffs of the Madre.
Then Roy Bean got so drunk, he couldn't talk. Before his tongue grew too thick to manage, Roy Bean became irritated with Famous Shoes for referring to the words in the Bible as tracks. It did seem to Famous Shoes that they resembled certain tracks, such as the track of the centipede, or of certain delicate birds who skimmed the water's edge for their prey.
"They're words, not tracks, you damn Indian!" Roy Bean insisted. "They're words, like I'm saying to you, now." "But words are made from breath. How can they live in such a thing as this book?" Famous Shoes asked.
He might as well have asked his question of an eagle, or of the moon, for Roy Bean had not only lost interest, he had lost consciousness as well.
Famous Shoes kept the book for several more years, but he never learned to make much of the little tracks. Finally, he left the book on the ground, and a golden eagle came and tore out many of its pages to use to line its nest. That was a good use for such a book, Famous Shoes thought.
Later, though, he learned from the great Captain Marcy, for whom he had scouted when he was younger, that Roy Bean had been right: the little tracks in the book were words. Even when he learned this, Famous Shoes didn't regret giving the book to the golden eagle. The eagle had made better use of it than he had.
Seeing Pea Eye's track made him remember that Pea Eye's woman was a teacher, who well understood the words in books. This gave Famous Shoes an idea. He might go and stay with Pea Eye for a few weeks, and ask his woman if she would teach him how words got into books, and how to know one word from another, simply by its tracks. It should not be too different from knowing each animal or lizard by its tracks. It might be that Pea Eye's woman could explain words to him, and even help him understand the ways of the god of whites. Among his people, the Kickapoo, respect for the gods caused most people to behave well, at least to behave well most of the time. But the same did not appear to be true of whites, most of whom behaved as if they knew no god and had no guidance stronger than their own passions, when it came to deciding how to behave.
When he found Pea Eye's track, in the little creek on the Quitaque, Famous Shoes saw that Pea Eye was about a day ahead of him. He knew that, as a traveler, Pea Eye was rather lazy. He was timid about snakes, and did not really like to move around in the darkness, which was necessary if a man wanted to cover much country. Also, once Pea Eye went to sleep, he didn't wake up quickly. Thus, though Pea Eye was mounted and had a day's start, Famous Shoes reckoned to catch him somewhere near the Clear Fork of the Brazos. And he did.
He walked quietly into Pea Eye's camp early one morning, when the stars were still out and the moon was about to go to sleep. Famous Shoes did not like to disturb anyone, so he sat quietly until Pea Eye began to stir. As was common with whites, Pea Eye had made a much larger campfire than was necessary. Several coals were still glowing. Famous Shoes fed twigs and small branches to the coals, until the fire itself woke up and burned again.
When Pea Eye heard the fire crackling, he managed to open his eyes. Famous Shoes sat beside the campfire, looking at him. He was a tiny old man and was wearing the same dirty bandanna around his head that he had been wearing the last time Pea had seen him, several years before.
"Would your woman help me learn to read?" Famous Shoes asked, to get the conversation started.
"Well, more than likely," Pea Eye said.
"She's been meaning to teach me, but I've got so much farming to do that I ain't learned yet. I know my letters, though." "I will go home with you, then," Famous Shoes said. "We can learn to read together." "You sure did slip in quiet, didn't you?" Pea Eye said. "I guess if this was the old days and you was a Comanche, I'd be scalped by now.
"There's coffee there, if you want to make some," Pea Eye added. Famous Shoes was not a Comanche, nor a bad Indian of any kind, and he himself was in no danger of being scalped. The thought made him feel so relaxed that he figured he might just doze for another minute or two, while Famous Shoes made coffee. He did doze, but when he finally woke up, the sun was in his face and he had the feeling he might have dozed for more than a minute or two. A jackrabbit was cooking on the fire, and he himself had certainly not provided any jackrabbit. Famous Shoes must have caught one, skinned it, and cooked it, a process that would have taken more than a minute or two, although the old man had always been efficient, when it came to camp chores.
"If you are chasing somebody, I don't think you are going to catch up with them, unless they are crippled," Famous Shoes said. "When you eat this rabbit, we should go." "Okay, you can come with me," Pea Eye said, hastily shaking his boots, in the hopes of emptying out whatever bugs or scorpions might have crawled into them during the night. It would have been safer to sleep with his boots on; but when he did that, he got cramps in his legs, often such bad cramps that he had to get up and stamp around in order to loosen the cramps.
"The thing is, we'll have to put off the reading lessons for a while. I ain't headed home," Pea Eye said. "I'm going to look for the Captain. I got a late start, and don't have no idea where he is. You'd be the perfect compa@nero because you could track him if we ever cross his tracks." "He likes to keep his money," Famous Shoes said. Captain Call had never paid his scouts very liberally. "I'm not sure he would pay me, if I help you find him. He might think I'm too old to need money." "It wouldn't be his money, though. He's working for the railroad now," Pea Eye said, uneasily. "There's a Yankee with him. I expect the Yankee would pay you." Pea Eye did remember that the Captain, though respectful of Famous Shoes' great skill in tracking, thought the man put too high a price on his services. There had been more than one dispute over money, and in the end, Famous Shoes stopped tracking for the Rangers.
Memories of this old conflict made him feel uncomfortable, and just when he had been enjoying a feeling of comfort, the first he had experienced since leaving Lorie and his children. It would be nice to travel with Famous Shoes; he didn't mind doing the cooking, and he would be a great help in locating the Captain.
Still, there had been that friction, in the past. The Captain might not be altogether pleased to have him show up with Famous Shoes.
"Where do you think the Captain is?" Famous Shoes asked.
"On the border, somewhere," Pea Eye said.
"He's supposed to catch a bandit named Joey Garza." "Oh," Famous Shoes said. "Maria's son." "Whose son?" Pea asked.
"She is a woman in Ojinaga," Famous Shoes said. "Joey is her son. I think he went bad." "I guess he did," Pea Eye said.
"Charlie Goodnight says he's killed over thirty people. If Charlie Goodnight says it, I expect it's true." "I was in Ojinaga when the Federales killed Maria's first husband," Famous Shoes said. "She is a good woman, but she does not have good luck. I'm afraid the hard sheriff will kill her someday." "What hard sheriff?" Pea Eye asked.
"Does the woman live in Texas or Mexico?" "In Mexico, but the hard sheriff doesn't care," Famous Shoes said. "He kills many people who live in Mexico. He wanted to hang me once for stealing a horse, although I don't ride horses." "Why'd he think you stole it, then?" Pea Eye asked.
"I was eating part of it when he caught me," Famous Shoes replied. "A snake bit the horse on the nose, and its nose closed up and it died." "I'd need to be half starved before I'd eat a snake-bit horse," Pea Eye said.
"I didn't eat its nose," Famous Shoes said. The whites, even nice ones like Pea Eye, had absurd prejudices. The only danger the dead horse had caused him came from Doniphan, the hard sheriff.
Doniphan had marched him back to Presidio, meaning to hang him, but a fire broke out and burned up the saloon and part of the church.
Doniphan had been afraid that the fire might burn his jail. It was a windy day, with smoke blowing everywhere. In the smoke and confusion, Famous Shoes escaped. It was Maria Garza who had given him a little jerky, so that he might hurry back to the Madre, where the hard sheriff would never come.
"Where'd you get this rabbit? I didn't see one all day yesterday, or I would have shot it," Pea Eye said. It was a tasty rabbit. He thought about the border. It was far away, and he had to pass through some bleak country, too. It would be real handy to have a traveling companion such as Famous Shoes, a man who was adept at catching game, and cooking it too.
There was another factor to be considered, too, and that had to do with his own deficiencies as a tracker and a plainsman. Charlie Goodnight told everybody he met that he had never been lost, day or night, rain or shine. But this was certainly not a claim Pea Eye could make.
He himself had been lost all too often; in particular, he had a tendency to lose his bearings on cloudy days. In truly rainy weather, he was even worse. He had even been known to confuse north and south, on rainy days. He thought he could find his way to the border simply by counting the rivers. But once he got to the border, then what? He would have no way of knowing which direction the Captain was headed, or even whether he was in Mexico or in Texas. In normal times, he could locate the Captain simply by asking the locals. The Captain was a man people noticed. But along much of the border, there were no locals. If the Captain was in Mexico, Pea Eye had his doubts about his skill in finding him. That problem had made him anxious from the moment he left home. What if he had left the farm and upset Lorena and the children and still didn't manage to locate the Captain in time to help him? What if the Garza boy outsmarted the Captain and wounded him or something, while Pea Eye was still miles away, looking in the wrong place? The Captain might even be killed, and if that occurred, Pea knew, he would never forgive himself.
With Famous Shoes along, some of that anxiety would be removed. Famous Shoes could find anybody, anywhere in the West, and could find them more quickly than anyone else. Even the Captain, who thought Famous Shoes too expensive, was quick to admit that the old Indian was without equal, when it came to tracking.
"I think it's eyesight," the Captain said.
"He can see better than us." That remark had been made on a nervous occasion, when everyone in the Ranger troop thought they saw Indians kneeling in the prairie grass far ahead. Everyone, including the Captain and Gus McCrae, had peered hard across the prairie and concluded that there were Indians ahead, preparing an ambush. Famous Shoes took only one quick look and shook his head. "Not Indians," he said. "Sagebrush." And so it had proved to be, when they reached the point where they thought the ambush had been planted.
"Come with me to the border," Pea Eye said.
"If the Captain won't pay you enough, maybe I can trade you reading lessons or something, when we get back." He said it, hoping that Lorena wouldn't mind too much, when he actually showed up with the old man.
"Good," Famous Shoes said. "If your woman will teach me to read, I won't take wages from the Captain." It was such a relief to know that the matter of the expense had been settled, or settled, at least, until Lorena had her say in the matter, that Pea Eye finished the tasty jackrabbit and was saddled and ready to go within ten minutes. It was a bright day, and the gray plain south of him for once didn't seem so bleak.
Famous Shoes, as usual, walked far ahead.
"I didn't like the War," Brookshire said.
"I never understood why it was happening. Nobody ever explained it to me. They just stuck me in uniform and sent me off. My mother cried, and my sister cried, and my father told them to dry up, I was just doing my duty." They were camped far out on the monte, in Mexico. Call had decided to swing west, toward Chihuahua City. They had run into a small troop of Federales, who told them Joey Garza had been seen in Chihuahua City. Call didn't necessarily believe it, but he swung west anyway, to put some distance between his party and the river. Too many people traveled the river country, or lived in it. Even in the long, hundred-mile stretches where there were no villages, there were still people--Indians, travelers, prospectors. In his lifetime on the border, Call reckoned that he had run into at least fifty people, lost souls mostly, who were looking for Coronado's treasure. Call didn't know much about Coronado, just that he had been the first white man to travel through the region. He had made the trip a long time ago, and Call had never been certain that he knew exactly where Coronado had gone. Some reports put his route as far west as the Gila, but others thought he had just gone straight up the Rio Grande. A few even argued that he had started at Vera Cruz and come out at Galveston.
Whichever route the man had actually taken, Call doubted that he had come up with much in the way of treasure. He might have collected a little silver, if he got into the Navajo country, but Call himself, in nearly forty years on the border, had encountered mostly poor people who had no treasure.
Avoiding the river made sense to him. Also, he had never traveled very deeply into Mexico, and he wanted to see it. Brookshire worried, and the more he worried, the less Call hurried.
He kept an eye out for tracks. Deputy Plunkert tried to help, but it soon became evident that he was no tracker. About all he had ever tracked, before the expedition, was lost milk cows. More and more, the deputy missed the comforts of home; in particular, he missed Doobie's biscuits, which she made every morning and had ready for him, hot and buttery, when he got up.
"How come you to miss the War, Captain?" Brookshire asked. The likelihood of combat, sometime in the near future, had stirred old memories. He remembered the screams of the men whose limbs had to be amputated, quickly, on the battlefield. He remembered the sound the saw made, as the surgeons cut through bone, and the dull groaning of the men in the hospital tents as they awoke every morning, to face another day without an arm or a leg, or both legs, or an eye, or whatever part was missing. Those memories had ceased to trouble him, during the quiet years in Brooklyn.
"Somebody had to stay around and keep the Comanches in check," Call said. "Otherwise, I guess they would have driven the settlers back to the sea. They drove them back nearly a hundred miles as it was, with us after them all the time. There was trouble from the south, too." "Still is. We should just take Mexico and be done with it," Deputy Plunkert said. "If we owned it, we could make the people abide by the law." Call ignored the remark. He thought it ignorant.
"I wish I could have fought in the War," Deputy Plunkert said. "I would have been happy to kill a few Yankees." "That's not polite, there's a Yankee right here at this campfire," Call said. "Mr.
Brookshire fought for his side. You can't blame him for that." "Why, no, I meant other Yankees," the deputy said. It embarrassed him that the Captain had dressed him down in front of a fat little Yankee such as Brookshire. The man had lost a little bit of his girth, once the diet had dropped to frijoles and not much else. But he hadn't lost any of his Yankeeness, not in Plunkert's view.
"That damn Abe Lincoln oughtn't to have freed the slaves, neither," the deputy said. He was feeling aggrieved because no one was taking his side, not even the Captain, the man he had left home to assist.
"What was your opinion on that question?" Brookshire wondered, looking at Call.
"Oh, I grew up poor," Call said.
"We would never have had the money for a slave." There had been a time when Gus McCrae had wanted to abandon the Rangers and rush back east to fight Yankees, for he had gotten it in his head that Southern freedoms were being trampled, and that the two of them ought to go fight; this, despite the fact that they had more fighting than they could handle, right where they were.
Call himself had never caught the fervor of that War. The best man he had working with him at the time was black--Deets, later killed by a Shoshone boy, in Wyoming. He had known people who had owned slaves and mistreated them, and he would certainly have fought to keep Deets from being owned by any of the bad slaveholders; but he could not have fought with the North, against his region, and was content to stay where he was, doing what he was doing. No one in his right mind would have wanted fiercer fighting than the Comanche were capable of. Gus McCrae's problem was that he liked bugles and parades. He had even tried to persuade Call to hire a bugler for the Ranger troop.
"A bugler?" Call said. "Half these men don't have decent saddles, and we're lucky if we have forty rounds of ammunition apiece. Why waste money on a bugler?" "It might impress the Comanche. They've got some sense of show," Gus retorted. "That's your problem, Woodrow, or one of them. You've got no sense of show. Ain't you ever heard of esprit de corps?" "No, what is it, and how much does it cost?" Call asked.
"I give up! You don't buy esprit de corps, you instill it, and a good bugler would be a start," Augustus said.
The argument had taken place north of the Canadian River, when they were chasing a party of Comanche raiders who were, to put it plainly, smarter and faster than they were. The Rangers' horses were winded, and the men so hungry that they were wading around in the icy Canadian, in February, hoping to catch small fish, or frozen frogs, or anything that might have a shred or two of meat on it. Two days before, they had eaten an owl. The men had been cutting small strips of leather off their saddles and chewing on them, just to have something in their mouths. Gus was standing in zero weather, with a norther blowing so hard they could barely keep a campfire lit, talking about buglers.
They didn't catch the raiders, who were carrying two white children with them, and they never hired a bugler, although Gus McCrae was still talking about it, nearly ten years later, when the Civil War finally ended and the Indian wars were beginning to wind down.
As for the great and terrible Civil War, Call's main sense of it was derived from seeing people who came back from it. Several Rangers who had served under him left to go fight Yankees. But those who returned were blank and mostly useless.
One boy named Reuben, who had lost an eye and an arm at Vicksburg, did more than anyone to make that conflict vivid to Call.
"Captain, you don't know," Reuben said, looking at Call sadly with his one eye. "When we get into it with the Comanches, maybe it's ten or fifteen of us, and fifteen or twenty of them, all of us shooting at one another. But in the big fight I was in, it's thousands and thousands on both sides, and cannons and smoke and horses running around half kilt. I seen one horse come by with just a leg in a stirrup, no rider--it's terrible. I got one eye left, and one arm, and I'm one of the lucky ones. All but three of the men I started soldiering with are dead." Brookshire had been worrying a good deal about the train robbery in New Mexico. Who could the second robber be? He had no answer, and neither did Captain Call.
"The other robber could be anybody," Call told him. "This is a free country. Anybody can rob a train if they can make it stop.
Trains travel through some lonesome country. If I was a mind to be a criminal, I can't think of an easier way to start than robbing trains." "I've always tried to be honest," Deputy Plunkert said. "I stole some pecans once and cracked them with my teeth, but I was just a boy then." There was something about being so far into Mexico that made the deputy feel hopeless. He had never been very good at finding his way in new country, which was one reason he had made his life in Laredo.
The town was well supplied, and there was no need to go anywhere. Now that he was married to Doobie, there was no need even to cross the river for girls.
But he had been swept away by his desire to be a Ranger, something he had always dreamed of being, and now he was deep in the middle of a country he didn't like, with two men who weren't nearly as easy to get along with as Doobie. And one of them was a Yankee, to boot. Sometimes, riding through the empty country, where in a whole day they might not even see a bird or a rabbit and had nothing to eat but a little jerky and frijoles, and had even been instructed to parcel out the water in their canteens, the deputy wondered if he would ever get back to Doobie, or his friend Jack Deen, who liked to hunt wild pigs. Something had carried him away; something he hadn't expected.
He hadn't even known Captain Call was in Laredo, or that he was hunting Joey Garza. It was like a wind had swept through Laredo one afternoon, carrying him away with it. Would there be another wind, to carry him back home? In his sad moments, Ted Plunkert didn't think there would be a homing wind. He felt that he had made one simple, wrong move, but one that could never be corrected.
He resolved to be very careful, to give himself the best possible chance. But he didn't know, and he didn't feel hopeful.
They rode into Chihuahua City on a freezing, windy day, when the streets were nothing but swirling dust. The old women in the marketplace, where they stopped to secure provisions, were wrapped in long, black shawls, and the shawls were spotted with dust. One old woman had killed three lizards and was offering their meat for sale. It revolted Ted Plunkert, that a people would be so degraded as to eat lizards, and he said as much to the Captain.
"I've eaten lizard," Call said. "I've eaten bobcat and I've eaten skunk." The deputy had lived in settlements all his life, and had no notion of what sorts of things men would eat when they were hungry, really hungry.
Brookshire rode over to the telegraph office. Call found a barber, and he and the deputy both had a shave. Call enjoyed his, but Deputy Plunkert was nervous. Allowing a Mexican such a good opportunity to cut his throat was not easy for the deputy. But the Mexican shaved him clean and didn't offer him any trouble. Of course, Chihuahua City was a long way from Laredo. Around Laredo, any Mexican barber would have been glad to cut his throat.
That was another strange thing about travel. You went among people who had never heard of you. Ted Plunkert had lived in Laredo all his life, and everybody in Laredo knew him on sight, even the Mexicans. He had been living there when Doobie was born, and kept on living there until she grew up and got old enough that he could marry her. Being in a place where people didn't know him was unusual, but so far, no injuries had resulted.
When Brookshire came back from the telegraph office, he had six telegrams, and he looked sick.
"Your color ain't good," Call observed.
"I guess if I was your doctor, the first thing I'd advise you would be to stay away from telegraph offices. Every time you go into a telegraph office, you come out looking sick." "Yes, and there's a reason," Brookshire said. "There's a bunch of news, and not a word of it good." "What's the worst?" Call asked.
"The worst is that my wife died," Brookshire said. "Katie died. ... I never expected it." Before he could get a grip on his feelings, he found himself crying, even dripping tears on the telegrams. He hurriedly thrust them at the nearest man, who happened to be Deputy Plunkert. Katie was dead; pneumonia had carried her away. She was already buried, too. He would never see her, nor speak to her, again.
"I swear," Call said. "That is bad news. I'm sorry to hear it. I wish now I'd sent you back from Amarillo. You might have been a help." "It's too late. ... Katie's gone," Brookshire mumbled. It was the most shocking thing that had happened to him in his life. He and Katie had discussed his death several times, for he was fourteen years older, and it would only be natural that he die first. That was what they had expected, what they had discussed. He had supposed she would go right on being alive, doing her sewing, putting up with the cat, and making meals for him when he got home. On Sundays, they often ate out.
That was how Brookshire had supposed it would be. Someday, he would pass away. If Katie missed him for a while, that was natural, but in all likelihood, her distress wouldn't last long.
She would soon take his death in stride and be able to continue with her life in fairly good order.
Certainly, she would be a help with her sister's children, for they themselves had none. Often, her sister's children had stayed with them, and on three visits out of four, there would be emergencies or crises.
Katie was never more useful than at such times.
She knew how to judge the seriousness of fevers, and never gave a child the wrong medicine.
Brookshire was not nearly so useful in crises involving children. Katie was never more irritated with him than when he gave a child the wrong medicine or misjudged the dosage. She felt strongly that he ought to learn to dose children correctly, even though they didn't have any children of their own.
Now all that had been turned upside down.
Katie had died, not he, and he had no choice but to receive the news in a gritty, cold, Mexican town, where he had been sent by Colonel Terry, to do a job he was in no way fit for.
"You're my overseer, Brookshire," the Colonel told him, the day he left. "See that the Captain doesn't waste time and doesn't waste money. I want the Garza boy stopped, but I don't want unnecessary expense. You're a competent accountant, and I'm depending on you.
Keep your ledgers neat." The Colonel, who had lost an arm in the War, did not shake hands with him when he left.
The Colonel rarely shook hands with his employees. He had the notion that people caught diseases by shaking hands. He avoided it, unless he was with the President, or the governor, or the mayor of New York, or some such higher-up.
Now Brookshire had gone too far from home, and he had tried to do his exact duty, only to have Katie catch something and be the one to die. She would never again complain of his erratic dosing, when her sister's children were ill. It was a hard thing to accept, real hard. Brookshire struggled to regain control of himself, but he couldn't. He wept and wept.
Deputy Plunkert quickly handed the telegrams to Captain Call. He was surprised to see that a Yankee would cry so, over a wife. He had heard that all Yankees were cold with their women, but this one, Mr. Brookshire, had tears running all down his face. The old Mexican women in the market, wrapped in their shawls against the sand and the wind, were watching the man silently, as if they, too, were surprised by his tears.
"If you like, we'll stop for a day. It's hard to travel when you're grieved. I've done it," Call said.
"No, read the telegrams," Brookshire said. With Katie dead, the only thing he had to cling to was duty. He had to keep thinking of duty, or he would be lost.
Call took the telegrams from Deputy Plunkert and read them. In the last years, he had improved his reading considerably. Charlie Goodnight had books in his house, fifteen or twenty, maybe. Call had been inside the Goodnights' house just once, to visit them.
He had not paid much attention to the books, but Goodnight had one that had just come in the mail a few days before. It was called A Texas Cowboy, or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Pony--on its cover, it had a picture of a man sitting on a pony that was clearly not Spanish. The book was by Charlie Siringo, a kind of ne'er-do-well who had cowboyed a little and rangered a little, while gambling and drinking steadily, at least in the years when Call had been aware of him.
It was a surprise that such a man had written a book, but there it was.
"I want you to read it and tell me if you think there's anything true in it," Goodnight said.
"I think it's all yarns, myself." Call read the book and agreed with Goodnight. It was all yarns, but what else would anyone expect from a braggart like Siringo?
Reading Siringo's lies had improved his reading, though. He had even thought of stopping by Goodnight's house to borrow another book, in order to keep in practice. He had heard that General Crook, whom he had once met, had written a book. General Crook would be far less likely than Charlie Siringo to fill a book with lies.
Call took his time, and read the telegrams carefully. Then he reread them, in order to give Brookshire time to recover a bit from the terrible news he had just received. Four of the telegrams were from Colonel Terry. The first was merely an inquiry:
Where are you? Stop. Report at once.
The second was in a similar vein:
Important that you report at once.
The third telegram was the one Call studied the longest. A train had been stopped in Mesilla, near Silver City, New Mexico. It had been carrying only three passengers, but all three had been killed and their bodies burned. A witness, a Zu@ni man, had been killed and scalped, but not burned. It was not the work of Joey Garza. A local tracker said seven men were involved.
The fourth telegram from the Colonel offered reinforcements. Call, if he accepted the job, could hire as many men as he needed, catch the Garza boy, and then go to New Mexico to deal with the new threat.
The fifth telegram was from Goodnight, a surprise to Call: first, that Goodnight would take the trouble; and second, that he could guess where Call was going accurately enough to have a telegram waiting for him. Of course, Charles Goodnight was no fool. He had not lasted as long as he had by being ignorant. His telegram was as terse as its author:
Mox Mox is alive. Stop. He's your manburner. Stop. Your deputy is on his way. Stop. Famous Shoes tracking for him.
Stop. Mox Mox burned four of my cowboys.
Stop. You may not recall. Stop. Available if needed. Stop. Goodnight.
The final telegram was the one with the sad news about Brookshire's wife. Call folded them all and put them in his shirt pocket. The one about Mox Mox he meant to study later. Mox Mox was a renegade from the country north of Santa Fe. News that he was alive, and evidently had a gang, was startling. The man had supposedly been killed some ten years earlier in Utah, by a Ute Indian. Call remembered that rumor, and he also remembered the four Goodnight cowboys Mox Mox had killed and burned, in the days when Mox Mox had been a junior member of Blue Duck's gang of roving killers. Goodnight had pursued the man then, pursued him all through New Mexico and into Arizona and Utah, but had met with one of his rare defeats. Mox Mox had vanished into the canyons. It was not long afterward that news came of his death at the hands of the Ute. Not a word had been heard of him since. Now he was alive and in New Mexico, and he had a gang and was picking off trains. It did complicate the search.
Balancing the complication, though, was the news about Pea Eye, news that Call found very gratifying. The man was loyal, after all. And, if he had old Famous Shoes with him, Call would not have to go looking for his deputy. The two of them would just show up one day.
Brookshire, though still wobbly from his tragic news, was watching Call closely. Katie was dead, and he had only his job to think about now.
He wanted to get on with it. He wanted to know what Call's opinion was about the other telegrams.
"Are we going after the new robber, Captain?" he asked.
"He's not a robber--he's a killer," Call said. "He kills men and then burns them.
Sometimes he don't bother to kill them before he burns them." "He burns people?" Deputy Plunkert said, shocked. "Burns them when they're alive?" He had heard of Indians torturing and burning people, in the old days, but this wasn't the old days, this was his own time.
"Yes, he burns them to death, in some cases," Call said. "I don't know much about the man. I had about quit rangering before he showed up. He killed some of Goodnight's men, but that was in Colorado. I've never been there.
"His name is Mox Mox," he added.
"What kind of a name is that?" Brookshire asked.
"Just a name," Call said. "Your Colonel wants us to lope up and catch him, after we subdue the Garza boy.
"There's some good news, too," he added.
"Pea Eye is coming, so we'll have reinforcements.
He's bringing a tracker with him--or rather, the tracker is bringing Pea. I know the old man, he's a Kickapoo. There's nobody better, but he's not cheap. I don't know if your Colonel will want to finance him or not." "Why, how much does a tracker cost?" Brookshire asked. He was weak in the legs, had a headache, and felt as if he would just like to be alone in a nice hotel room for a while, in a hotel where they could bring him brandy and where he could sleep on sheets and not have the wind and sand blowing in his hair all night, nor hear the coyotes howl. He had a sudden urge, now that they were in a city of sorts, to be inside, away from the wind and sand and sky, away from Call and the hostile deputy who never spoke to him unless he had to.
Still, he was a salaried man. Even though Katie, who had been a good wife, was dead, he was not his own master. Colonel Terry wanted action and he wanted reports. "Remember, Brookshire, I'm a man who likes to keep his finger on the pulse," the Colonel had said, as he was leaving. "Keep those telegrams coming." "I don't know how much Famous Shoes thinks he's worth, nowadays," Call said. "If he could write, he'd have his bill ready the minute he arrives. He'll be the first to tell you he don't work for free." "I'd just like a general figure," Brookshire said, wondering why the old women with the dirty shawls were watching him so intently. More and more, he wished for a hotel room, but from the look in the Captain's eyes, he knew it was not likely to be. The Captain had the look of a man who was in no mood to linger.
"Now there's two bandits and two killers," Brookshire said. "Which one do we start with?" "Joey Garza," Call said. "That's who I was hired to catch. The manburner is another story. There's supposed to be law in New Mexico now. Let them stop him." "What if they can't? Do we have to do it?" Deputy Plunkert asked. Here was another bad picture about to get stuck. The thought of burning men had got stuck in his mind; he wanted to dislodge it, but he could not. He had once helped remove the bodies of two old women who had burned to death when their house caught on fire. He could still remember how the burnt flesh smelled, and how the ashes stuck to their faces. That had been his most horrible duty since becoming a lawman. The thought that there was a killer named Mox Mox, who burned people routinely, was very disturbing. More and more, it seemed to Deputy Plunkert that he had been swept out of his life by an evil wind. The wind was blowing him farther and farther away from home. He looked at Captain Call, and he looked at Brookshire. He felt almost like a boy, in relation to the two men.
He was young, and they were not. They were even older than Sheriff Jekyll, who had been his boss. Being in a city where there were only Mexicans was disquieting too, even though these were Mexicans who knew nothing about him. He was in the path of an evil wind, and he felt that he would never get home.
"I want to buy some binoculars, if we can find any," Call said. "Then we can provision ourselves and leave." "Where will we go next?" Brookshire asked.
"I'd like to send Colonel Terry a telegram." "Presidio," Call said. "I think the Garza boy comes from around there. Famous Shoes might show up there, too. Then, we'd have Pea Eye." "How would he know to show up there?" Brookshire asked. "We didn't even know we were going there ourselves, until just now." Call smiled. "That's the tracker's skill," he said. "It ain't all just looking at the ground and studying tracks. Famous Shoes will think about it and watch the birds and talk to the antelope and figure it out. Pea's no tracker. I expect it would take him six months to locate us, on his own." In a hardware store, he purchased some field glasses. They were not the highest quality, but they would have to do. He was about to leave the store, but turned back and bought two extra rifles. He rarely burdened himself with extra equipment; a blanket and a Winchester and one canteen had seen him through many engagements. This time, though, he felt it might be wise to carry a couple of extra guns. Goodnight's telegram had made him think twice about what lay ahead. Mox Mox was a complication. Call did not intend to go after him, but it might not be a matter of going after him. Mox Mox might come to Texas, for all anyone knew.
Also, Pea Eye had never owned a reliable gun, and Famous Shoes rarely went armed. He moved too fast to be carrying weapons. The extra Winchesters would come in handy.
As they left the store, Call handed the receipts to Brookshire, who carefully folded them and put them in his shirt pocket. The day had turned cold, and the sky was the color of steel.
It was nearing evening; Brookshire still entertained the hope that they would spend at least one night in a hotel of some sort. But the Captain had not mentioned a hotel. He was securing the provisions, tying them onto the pack animals.
Ted Plunkert, for once, shared an opinion with the Yankee, who had mentioned to him, hesitantly, that it would be very nice to spend one night in a bed, inside a building.
"Yes, I don't much care what it's like, as long as it's inside," the deputy said.
But when Call was satisfied that the packs were secure, he mounted his horse and looked at the two men, both standing by their mounts.
"I guess we ain't staying the night. Is that right, Captain?" Brookshire asked.
"Why, no. Your boss wants results, ain't that correct?" Call said.
"That's correct," Brookshire replied.
"There's a full moon tonight, and we should take advantage of it," Call said. "The horses are rested. We should be able to make it to the Rio Concho." "How far is that, Captain?" Brookshire asked.
"I suppose about fifty miles," Call said. "If we don't strike it tonight, we'll strike it tomorrow." Neither Brookshire nor Deputy Plunkert looked happy. Of course, Brookshire had lost his wife; he could not be expected to recover from such a blow immediately. But there was a full moon, and Call didn't want to waste it.
"Mr. Brookshire, I think it's better that we go on," Call said. "I'm sorry about your wife, but lagging won't bring her back. We'd better go get your boss some results." "Well, that's good," Brookshire said.
"That's exactly what the Colonel wants." "I'm confident the Garza boy's not west of us, and I don't think he's south, either," Call said. "I think he's east and north. This is where the hunt starts. We haven't been in any danger, so far, but that might change in a day or two. I want you both to keep alert.
He's got that German rifle, don't forget it. We'll be going through country where there's not much cover. You both need to keep alert." "Do you think Joey Garza knows we're coming, Captain?" Brookshire asked.
"I expect so," Call said. "If he doesn't know it now, he'll know it by the time we cross the river." "Who'll tell him?" the deputy asked.
"Why, I don't know," Call said. "He's an intelligent young bandit. I expect he'll know we're coming." "What do you think? Will he try to pick us off?" Deputy Plunkert asked. He noticed that the Captain was frowning at him. Brookshire, the Yankee, had already mounted; he looked miserable, but at least he was already on his horse.
Ted Plunkert hastily mounted too.
"I don't know what he'll try. Let's go to Texas," the Captain said, turning his horse.
By the time the full moon appeared, they were well out of Chihuahua City. The moon shone on a landscape that seemed to be emptier than any of the barren country Brookshire had ridden through since coming to Texas. There was nothing to be seen at all, just the moon and the land. The wind soared; sometimes spumes of dust rose so high that the moon shone bleakly through them. At other times the dust cleared, and the moon shone bright--so bright that Brookshire could read his watch by its light. At midnight, they struck the Rio Concho, but the Captain neither slowed down nor looked back. He kept on riding toward Texas.
The blowing-away feeling came back to Brookshire, but it came to him laced with fatigue and sadness over the loss of his wife, Katie, a nice person. He felt heartsick at the knowledge that he would never see Katie again. His heartsickness went so deep that the blowing-away feeling didn't frighten him. It would be fine now, if he blew away. He would not have to face the Colonel and explain the exorbitant expenses that might accrue.
In Brooklyn, in his work as a salaried man, Brookshire had never paid much attention to the moon. Once in a while, on picnics, he might admire it as it shone over the East River, or the Hudson, if they went that far to picnic. But it hadn't mattered to him whether the moon was full, or just a sliver, or not there at all.
Once they were on the black desert in Mexico, Brookshire saw that the Captain had been right. The full moon, in the deep Mexican sky, was so bright that traveling was as easy as it would have been in daylight. Brookshire was still a salaried man, but he was also a manhunter now, a manhunter hunting a very dangerous man.
He was heading into Texas with Captain Woodrow Call, and he would probably do well to start paying more attention to the moon.
Part II The Manburner
Lorena was reading a letter from Clara when Clarie came in to tell her that Mr. Goodnight was at the door.
In the letter, Clara was urging her to make a beginning in Latin, advice that caused Lorena to feel doubtful. She thought she could do quite well with English grammar now, but she didn't know if she was up to Latin, or if she ever would be. The baby had been sick most of the time since Pea Eye left, and she had been sleeping tired and waking tired, worrying about the baby and worrying about Pea.
"Mr. Goodnight?" Lorena said. Though he had given the money to build the school she taught in, Lorena had only met Mr. Goodnight once or twice, and he had never visited her home.
"Why would he come here? Are you sure it's him?" she asked. She felt unprepared, and not merely for the study of Latin, either. At that moment, she just felt low, and her feet and hands were cold.
Usually, letters from Clara cheered Lorena, but this one made her feel more aware of her shortcomings.
She knew herself to be a competent country schoolteacher, but somehow, the Latin language felt as if it should belong to a better order of person than herself, a farmer's wife with five children, no money, and no refinements. If Latin was anything, it was a refinement.
"Learning may be the best thing we have. It may be all that we can truly keep, Lorie," Clara wrote in the letter, along with news about her girls and her horses.
Lorena read that sentence several times. In fact, she read it again, even after Clarie delivered her information. She felt her daughter's impatience, but she was reluctant to lay aside her letter, to go and attend to Charles Goodnight, the great pioneer.
"Ma, he's waiting--he already took his hat off!" Clarie said, annoyed at her mother's behavior. Mr. Goodnight was on the back steps, hat in hand. Why was she sitting there like that, reading a letter she had already read five or six times? Laurie had just taken the breast, and her mother had scarcely bothered to cover herself, even though the baby was now asleep. What was wrong with her?
"Ma!" Clarie said, deeply embarrassed.
"Oh hush, don't scold me, I've been scolded enough in my life already," Lorena said.
She buttoned her dress and put the letter under a book--Aurora Leigh it was; she had ordered it from Kansas City--and went to the kitchen door. The old, heavy man with the gray hair and the gray beard stood there, patiently. A big gray horse waited behind him.
"I was busy. I'm sorry you had to wait," Lorena apologized, opening the door for him.
She had heard that Goodnight was severe with women, but she had seen no sign of it in his behavior toward her. Despite her past, he had approved of her as a schoolteacher. Not everyone wealthy enough to simply write a check and have a schoolhouse built would have been so tolerant.
"I hesitate to bother you, ma'am," Goodnight said.
"Come in, I can offer you buttermilk," Lorena said, holding the door open.
Goodnight immediately came in and took a chair in the kitchen.
"I know you've got your duties, I'll be brief, though I would like the buttermilk," he said. "If I had been born in different circumstances, I could have made a life of drinking buttermilk." Lorena poured him a large glass. He drank half of it and set the glass down.
Clarie peeked in at the door. She couldn't resist. Everyone talked about Mr. Goodnight, but she had only seen him once before, at a picnic, and he hadn't stayed around long enough for her to get a really good look at him.
"That's a fine-looking young lady there--I understand she helps out with the teaching," Goodnight said.
"Yes, she's a great help," Lorena said.
Clarie blushed, so unexpected was her mother's compliment; she had made it to the great man, too!
"I'm shaky at some of the arithmetic," Lorena admitted. "Clarie grasps fractions better than I do." Goodnight drank the other half of the buttermilk and set the empty glass back on the table.
"I expect I could chase a fraction from dawn to sunset and never come near enough to grasp it," he said.
Then he looked firmly at Clarie. The three boys, hearing an unfamiliar voice in the kitchen, were huddled behind her, peeking along with their big sister.
"I'll have to ask you young'uns to excuse us older folks," he said. "I've got a private matter to talk over with your mother." "Oh," Clarie said. She immediately retreated, taking the boys with her. Georgie she had to forcibly drag by the collar. He had developed the ill-mannered habit of staring at guests.
Lorena felt a sudden alarm. Had something happened to Pea?
"No, your husband's fine, as far as I know," Goodnight said, seeing the alarm in the woman's eyes. He felt sympathy for her, and much admiration. It was well known that she had not missed a day of school since taking her job. She arrived every day, in her buggy, in the coldest weather and in the muddiest weather, too. He himself had always been more vexed by mud than by cold, and so was Mary, his wife. Skirts and high-button shoes were a great nuisance when it was muddy, Mary claimed, and he didn't doubt it a bit.
This young woman had strength, and she didn't neglect her duties; that he admired. He felt uneasy, though, at the nature of the inquiry he had come to make. The uneasiness had kept him at home for two weeks or more, since he had first been told that Mox Mox, the manburner, had appeared again. This woman had a difficult past; he knew that, but he didn't care. Life was an uneven business. He knew himself to be of a judgmental nature--too judgmental, his wife assured him. But with the schoolmarm, he had no urge to pass judgment.
She was not the only woman in the Panhandle to have had an uneven life, and her performance with her pupils had been splendid, in his opinion. Her past was between her and her husband. Goodnight was not a preacher, and he had no mission to save the world, either.
"You're sure he's not dead?" Lorena asked. She couldn't help it. She'd had several bad dreams, since Pea Eye left, and in all of them he was either dead or about to be.
"If he is, I haven't heard it," Goodnight said.
"Then what is it, Mr. Goodnight?" Lorena asked. "What is it?" "It's Mox Mox," Goodnight replied.
Lorena knew then why it had taken an old man, known all over the West for his abruptness, so long to come to the point. Her first urge was to run and lock her children in the bedroom, where they couldn't possibly even hear the name Goodnight had just spoken.
At the same time, she felt too weak to stand up. A rush of fear broke in her such as she had not felt for many years.
Goodnight saw it--the woman had come into the kitchen a little flustered, some color in her cheeks. But the color left her, as soon as he spoke Mox Mox's name. It was as if the blood had suddenly been milked from her, with one squeeze.
"But he's dead, ain't he?" Lorena asked.
It was the first time she had slipped and said "ain't" in many months.
"I thought so myself, but now I ain't so sure," Goodnight said. "I've never seen the man myself, and I believe you have seen him. That's why I've bothered you and took the risk of upsetting you." He paused, watching the young woman bring herself under control. It was not a simple struggle, or a brief one. She stared at him, wordless. She was plainly scared, too scared to hide it. Finally, to be doing something, he got up and helped himself to another glass of buttermilk.
Seeing Mr. Goodnight pouring himself the buttermilk brought Lorena back to herself, and just in time. For a second, she had felt a scream starting in her head, or had heard, inside herself, the piercing echo of many screams from the past. She felt cold and clammy, so heavy with fear that, for a second, she didn't know if she could move. During the hours when she had been a captive of Mox Mox and his boss, Blue Duck, she hadn't been able to move, and the terror that she felt during those hours was a thing that would never leave her. The name alone had brought it all back. Mr. Goodnight must have known it might, or he would not have hesitated.
But the man was in her kitchen, he was her guest, and there was such a thing as manners. Even though her deepest urge was to gather her children and run--run to Nebraska, or farther--she knew that she had to control herself and try to help Charles Goodnight, for the very sake of her children.
"I'm sorry, I'm bad scared, it caused me to forget my manners," she said. She gripped the edge of the table and squeezed it with the fingers of both hands. She needed something that would steady her, something to grip. But the spasm of fear was stronger than her grip. Despite herself, she kept trembling.
"It don't take much muscle to pour buttermilk," Goodnight said. "I regret having to put you through this." "Why are you? Mox Mox is dead," Lorena said. "Pea Eye heard it years ago. He was killed in Utah, or somewhere.
"He's dead. ... ain't he?" she asked.
"He's dead. Everybody said it." "I chased him to Utah myself," Goodnight said. "He burnt four of my cowboys, in Colorado, on the Purgatory River.
Three of them were boys of sixteen, and the fourth was my foreman. He'd been with me twenty years.
I chased Mox Mox, but I lost him. It's a failure I've regretted ever since. Two or three years later, I heard he was dead, killed by a Ute Indian." "Yes, it was a Ute that killed him," Lorena said. "That's what Pea Eye told me." Goodnight watched her shaking. He wished he could comfort her, but he had never been much of a hand at comforting women. It wasn't one of his skills.
He drank the second glass of buttermilk, looked at the pitcher, and decided not to have a third.
"I think Mox Mox is alive," he said.
"Somebody's been burning people in New Mexico." "Burning what kinds of people?" Lorena asked, still gripping the table. It was all she could do to keep from jumping up and gathering her children and running before Mox Mox could come and get them all.
"Whatever kind he catches," Goodnight said. "He stopped a train and took three people off and burned them. That was three weeks ago.
"There ain't that many manburners," Goodnight added, after a pause. "The Suggs brothers burned two farmers, but Captain Call caught the Suggs brothers and hung them. That was years ago." He paused again. "Mox Mox is the only killer I've heard of who makes a habit of burning people," he said, finally.
Lorena was silent. But in her head, she heard the screams.
"If I've got the history right, when Blue Duck took you from the Hat Creek outfit, Mox Mox was still running with him," Goodnight said. He spoke with caution. He had known several women who had been captives, several women and a few children. Some of them babbled about it; others never spoke of it; but all were damaged.
Though used to plain speech, he knew that there were times when it wasn't the best way to talk. This woman, who worked so hard for the ignorant, raw children of the settlers, in a schoolhouse he had built, had been a captive, not of the Comanche, but of Blue Duck, one of the cruelest renegades ever to appear in the Panhandle country.
And Mox Mox, at various times, had run with Blue Duck. He himself had never seen either man. This woman had seen one of them for sure; perhaps she had seen both. He wanted to know what she knew, or as much of it as she could bear to tell him.
Rarely, in his long life, had Goodnight felt so awkward about asking for the information he needed. Lorena was not one to babble. What she felt, she mainly kept inside. Her fingers were white from gripping the edge of the table, and her arms shook a little; but she was not behaving wildly, she was not screaming or crying, and she was also not talking.
"Mox Mox is a white man and he's short," Lorena said. "One of his eyes ain't right, it points to the side. But the other eye looks at you, and one's enough." Goodnight waited, standing by the stove.
Lorena took a deep breath. She felt as if she might strangle, if she didn't get more air into her lungs. She remembered that was how she had been then, too, the day Blue Duck led her horse across the Red River and handed her over to Ermoke and Monkey John and all the rest.
But not Mox Mox. He hadn't been there then.
He had arrived later; how many days later, Lorena wasn't sure. She wasn't counting days, then. She hadn't expected to live, and didn't want to, or didn't think she wanted to.
Then Mox Mox arrived. He had three Mexicans with him, and a stolen white boy. The little boy was about six. He whimpered all night.
When Gus McCrae rescued her, she hadn't been able to speak, and she had never since spoken of that time to anyone--not much, anyway.
Particularly, she had never spoken about the little boy.
"Mox Mox wanted to burn me," Lorena said. "I'll tell you, Mr. Goodnight.
I'll tell it today. But don't ever ask me about it again. Is that a bargain?" Goodnight nodded.
"He's small," Lorena said. "He wasn't big, like Blue Duck, and he's got that eye that looks off. He wanted to burn me.
He piled brush all around me and he poured whiskey on me. He said that would make me burn longer. He said it would make it hurt worse.
He rubbed grease in my eyes. He said that would be the worst, when my eyes fried. He poured whiskey on me and he rubbed that grease in my eyes." "But he didn't burn you," Goodnight said.
"I'm surprised. It's our good luck and yours." "Blue Duck wouldn't let him burn me," Lorena said. "Blue Duck wanted me for bait. He let him pile up the brush, and he let him squirt and rub grease in my eyes, but he wouldn't let him burn me. He wanted to use me to catch Gus McCrae. He wanted to catch Gus real bad, but then Gus killed half his renegades, and Blue Duck left." "What about Mox Mox?" Goodnight asked.
"I guess he didn't stay for the fight with Captain McCrae, did he? He left, like his jefe." "Yes ... he left with his Mexicans," Lorena said.
"I've never told nobody this. ... I don't know if I can, Mr. Goodnight," Lorena said.
"Don't try," Goodnight said. "You don't need to. I'll tell this part, ma'am.
He didn't burn you, but he burned the boy, didn't he?" "How'd you know?" Lorena asked, looking at him in surprise.
"Because I found what was left of that boy, and buried him," Goodnight said. "Six months later, that devil burned my cowboys." "I'm glad somebody else knows," Lorena said.
"Well, I know," Goodnight said. "I found the remains. The boy's parents showed up at my headquarters about a year later. They were still looking for their child." Lorena began to tremble so hard that Charles Goodnight stepped over and put a hand on her shoulder. He had steadied horses that way; perhaps it would have the same effect with this woman.
"You didn't tell them, did you?" Lorena said. "You didn't tell them what happened, did you?" "I told them their son drowned in the South Canadian River," Goodnight said. "I usually try to stick to the truth, but these poor folks had been hunting that boy for a year. I thought the full truth was more than they needed to hear.
Anyway, the child was dead. They wanted to go to the grave, and I took them. I'm thankful they didn't try to dig up the child." "You did right," Lorena said. "You shouldn't have told them no more than you did." They were silent. Lorena was still trembling, but not so badly.
"I wasn't a mother then," Lorena said.
"I'm a mother now. Mox Mox did the same things to that child that he said he would do to me. He whipped him and he poured whiskey on him, and he rubbed grease in his eyes. Then he piled brush on him and burned him." She had said it, said it for the first time. She looked up at Goodnight, the old man of the plains.
"Were the Indians that bad, with people they caught?" she asked.
"They were," Goodnight said. "Those were bloody times, the Indian times. But you said Mox Mox was white." "He was white--a mean, little white man," Lorena said. "He whipped that boy till there wasn't an inch of skin on his body. Then he burned him." "It ain't often you find two bad ones of the caliber of him and Blue Duck, running together," Goodnight said. "But you said Mox Mox had his own gang?" "Three Mexicans," Lorena said. "They left with Mox Mox, when Blue Duck wouldn't let him burn me." Goodnight was about to speak when Lorena's voice quickened.
"I still hear that boy screaming, Mr.
Goodnight," she said. "I'll always hear that child screaming. I'm a mother now. He was about the age of Georgie ... about ... the age of Georgie." Then a convulsion of sobbing seized her, and she got up and stumbled out of the room, her arms clutched about her chest, as if her very organs might spill out if she didn't clutch herself tightly enough.
Goodnight looked at the buttermilk again, and again decided against another glass. Though he was old, and should have been used to all suffering, to any misery that life could place in his path, he had never accustomed himself to the deep sobbing of women, to the grief that seized them when their children died, or their men. He had no children. His cowboys were his children, but he had not given birth to his cowboys; it must surely make a difference. He went out the back door, into the stiff wind, and stood by his horse, waiting until the young woman had recovered sufficiently to fend for herself and her children.
A little boy came out and walked up to him.
"My more-more-mama is crying," he said, looking at Goodnight. The boy didn't seem to be particularly upset. He was just reporting.
"Well, I expect she needs to. .
Let her bawl," Goodnight said.
"My but-but-baby sister cries all the that-that-time, but I don't cry," the little boy, Georgie, stammered.
Two more boys came out, one older, one younger.
They stood together. All were barefoot, though it was cold outside. Then the large girl came too, carrying the baby. She looked scared.
"Mama's screaming in there," the girl said.
"Why is she screaming like that? She's never screamed before." Indeed, when the wind lay for a few seconds, Goodnight could hear Lorena screaming. They were wild screams. He supposed captive women must scream like that, during the worst of it. But he had never been a captive, nor a woman, and he could only suppose.
"I brought some bad news; I'm afraid it's greatly upset her," Goodnight said.
"She'll probably be better, presently." Unless she isn't, he thought. People had lost their minds over less than the schoolmarm had endured.
"I hope she stops," one of the older boys said.
"It wasn't about Pa, was it?" Clarie asked.
"No. I have no reason to think your father has had any difficulty," Goodnight told the girl. He was not used to talking to young people, and found it a strain. But in the calm intervals, between the surges of wind, he could still hear Lorena, as could the children, and she was still screaming. Then the wind would return and whisk her screams away.
"Do you ever can-can-cry, mister?" the bold Georgie asked.
"Seldom, son, very seldom," Goodnight replied.
"Is it but-but-because you have a but-but-beard?" Georgie asked. He liked the old man, though he certainly didn't have much to say.
"Yes, I expect that's the reason," Goodnight said.
There was an interval. The wind lay, briefly. They heard no screams.
"She's stopped. Do you think I should go see about her, Mr. Goodnight?" Clarie asked.
"No, let's just wait," Goodnight said.
"I expect she'll come and get us when she wants us." They were all silent for a minute, as the wind blew.
"It's chilly weather to go barefoot in," Goodnight said. "Don't none of you have shoes?" "We got a pair apiece," the older of the boys replied. "Ma don't like us to put 'em on until we get to school, though.
She thinks it's wasting shoes." "Go-go-got any horses that's for knowledge-knowledge-kids to ride?" Georgie asked. "I but-but-been wantin' a horse." "Georgie, it's Mr. Goodnight," Clarie said, mortified. Georgie had practically come right out and asked him for a horse, with their mother screaming in the house.
"That's fine, miss," Goodnight said. "A cowboy needs a horse." "Well, do-do-do you have one, more-more-mister?" Georgie asked.
Clarie resolved to box him soundly, when she got the opportunity. She had an urge to go in the house and see about her mother, but she hesitated to leave Georgie alone with Mr. Goodnight.
There was no telling what he might ask for next.
"Why, I'll have to inspect my herd," Goodnight said, amused. "I wouldn't want to give a cowboy like you just any horse." "More-more-make it brown, if you've go-go-got a brown one," Georgie said. "But-but-brown's my from-from-favorite can-can-color!" His stutter became worse when he got excited.
"Would you come back in, please? All of you?" Lorena asked, from the doorway. "I'm so sorry I drove you out in the wind." "It ain't the first breeze I've felt," Goodnight remarked. Evidence of her sobbing was in Lorena's face, but she had put a comb in her hair and seemed composed, more composed than she had been even when he arrived.
"You children go into the bedroom. You, too, Clarie," she said. "I have to talk to Mr.
Goodnight a minute more. Then, we'll try to get back to normal." "Ma, Georgie's been asking Mr.
Goodnight for a horse," Clarie blurted out.
She didn't want to go in the bedroom. She wanted to report on Georgie's misbehavior first.
"Where he's going, there are plenty of horses," Lorena said. "Don't question me now.
Go in the bedroom." The children went, obediently.
"I'm sending them off to Nebraska," Lorena said, the minute she knew the bedroom door was closed. "I have a friend there. She'll take them till this is over.
"I thought it was over, or I wouldn't have been living nowhere near here," she added. "He told me if I ever had children, he'd come and burn them, like he burned that little boy. It was the last thing he said to me, before he and his Mexicans left." "I should have stopped that man a long time ago," Goodnight said.
"You didn't, though," Lorena said. "He burned your cowboys, despite you. I won't take a chance with my children." "Don't blame you," Goodnight said.
"You've got a fine brood. I like that talkative little boy, he takes up for himself." "He's going to Nebraska, and so are the rest of them," Lorena said. "As soon as I can get them packed and on a train, they're going. Mox Mox is a bad man, Mr. Goodnight.
He's not getting a chance to torment any of mine." "I thought all the mean wolves was about killed out, in this country," Goodnight said. "I thought that man was dead, or I would have stayed after him. Of course, maybe he is dead. Maybe this manburner is somebody else." "I can't take that chance, not with my children," Lorena said. "Now my husband's gone too, and it's my fault. He ain't a killer, and he has no business hunting killers with Captain Call, not anymore." Goodnight felt a little uncomfortable. After all, he had urged the man to go, though it was none of his business. Once again he wondered when he would ever learn not to meddle in other people's business.
The woman was right. Pea Eye was not a killer, and had no business having to deal with a Joey Garza, or a Mox Mox.
"There's something else," Lorena said. "I think we ought to close the school, until this ends.
If Mox Mox showed up, he might burn all the children. He's capable of it--he might pen us in and burn us all. I won't risk it for my children or for anybody's." "What if I set a guard?" Goodnight asked.
"No," Lorena said. "If I had known he was alive, I'd never have started the school. When he's dead, and I know it, there'll be time for studying and teaching. But not until I know he's dead." "I better go myself and stop him, then," Goodnight said. "That way, when it's done, I'll know it's done, and so will you." "Let Captain Call do it," Lorena said.
"I'm sure that sounds bold. I have no right to give you orders. I've no right even to make suggestions. But you came here and asked what I knew, and I told you. I have seen that man, and you haven't. If I were you, I'd let Captain Call do it." "It was my men he burned," Goodnight said.
"It's my responsibility, not Call's." Lorena didn't respond. She felt she had overstepped as it was, by saying what she had said. She thought she was right, and had said what she felt.
Besides, part of her mind had already begun to occupy itself with the logistics of flight: getting the children's things together, finding neighbors who might take their animals, or hiring a helper to live in the house and look after things. There was no time even to write Clara. Lorena knew she would not draw an easy breath until the children were gone and safe.
Clara would be surprised, when five children got off the train expecting to live with her. But Lorena knew Clara would take them. Since her daughters' marriages, Clara had been too much alone, anyway. At least it seemed so, from her letters. Having children in the house again might not be the worst thing for her.
"I expect you think I'm too old to subdue the man," Goodnight said. He was annoyed, and surprised at his annoyance. But the definite way the young woman had come down for Call and not for him, stirred something in Goodnight; the competitor, perhaps, or just the male. In his long years as a pioneer, he had always led, no matter how long, how difficult or how ugly the task. He had always led. He had been the man to do the job, whatever that job was. He was vain enough to think he was still the man who could do the job, whatever it happened to be, although his own vanity annoyed him, too.
"No, you're not a killer," Lorena said.
"I know you may have killed to survive, but you're not a killer. Mox Mox is a killer, and so is Captain Call. Send a killer after a killer. That's why I said it. I wasn't thinking about your age.
"Besides, people here need you," she added. "This whole part of the country needs you. You're the man who built the school, and I know you've built others, too. You brought the doctor here.
You paid for the courthouse. You're needed. Nobody needs Captain Call." "Well, the rich men need him," Goodnight said.
"Yes, because he's a killer," Lorena said.
"That's why they need him. He's as hard as Blue Duck, and he's as hard as Mox Mox." "He's got that other boy to catch first," Goodnight reminded her.
"Mr. Goodnight, I've got to start packing," Lorena said, standing up. "I've got to go to the school and dismiss my pupils. They'll want to know why, and I'm going to tell them. Then I've got to hunt up somebody to do the chores here, for a while. Then I've got to pack. I want to start for Amarillo tonight. I want my children out of here, now." "You'll be in a regular lather, before you get all that done," Goodnight said. "I expect I could stop the train for you, at Quanah, and I'll send a wagon and a cowboy or two to help you get to the train." "Much obliged," Lorena said. "And could you lend me a weapon? All my husband left me with was a shotgun. Of course, he didn't know about Mox Mox. I've never even said that name to him." "I can lend you several guns, but I doubt you'll need them, once you're on the train for Nebraska," Goodnight said.
"My children are going to Nebraska, I'm not," Lorena replied.
"Not going?" Goodnight said. "Why not, ma'am? You're the one he nearly burned. I doubt that he's in six hundred miles of here, but six hundred miles can be crossed. If anyone has a right to be scared, it's you. Why not leave with your children?" "Because I have to find my husband and bring him home," Lorena said. "I should have set my heels and kept him, but I didn't. It's my place to go bring him back." "Now, that's rash," Goodnight said. "If you'd like me to lend you something, why not accept the loan of a man who knows the country and can go get your husband and bring him home?" "None of your cowboys married him," Lorena said. "I married him. He's a good man, and I need him. Besides, he won't mind anybody but me, unless it's the Captain. I'm going to go find him, and he's going to mind me, particularly now." Charles Goodnight, rarely quelled, felt quelled this time. He knew determination when he saw it. He ceased to argue, but he did promise to send two cowboys with a wagon, to get her to the train at Quanah. As he was preparing to leave, he told Lorena he wanted to provide each of her boys with a horse, when they returned.
"I do like the way that talkative little boy takes up for himself," he repeated.
"Don't forget to send me the gun," Lorena said. "I don't want to be going south without a gun."
Riding to Crow Town across the empty land, Maria began to wish she would never have to arrive. The happiest moments of her life had often been spent alone, with her horse. From the time of Three Legs, she had always loved going away alone, with her horse.
To avoid Presidio and Doniphan, the hard sheriff, she rode up the river for two days before crossing into Texas. She saw mule deer and antelope, many antelope, but no people. It was cold, and the north wind sang in her face. At night, she persuaded her spotted horse--she called him Grasshopper, because he had a way of suddenly springing sideways--to lie down, so she could sleep close to him and share his warmth.
Twice she saw trains moving across the long plain. The trains did not seem to be moving very fast; no wonder Joey could rob them. The locomotives pulled only two or three cars. They were just little trains, moving slowly across the endless line of the horizon. Maria had ridden a train only once, to go to her mother when her mother was dying. It had rattled so badly that she had been unable to think.
Grasshopper did not like the new country, and he shied at many things. Once, a tumbleweed surprised him, and he bucked a few times.
Maria was amused, that he was so skittish; she didn't think he could throw her. She enjoyed it, when Grasshopper was naughty. He was irritated with her for bringing him so far from the cornfield. But he obediently lay down at night, so Maria would be warm.
As she rode east, through the sage and the thin chaparral, Maria wondered about herself. Why was she traveling so far, for a boy who didn't care about anyone but himself? She should just let Joey go. There was a hopelessness in what she was doing, and Maria felt it strongly. She should stay at home and help Rafael and Teresa, for they were loving children.
With them, even though they were damaged, she could be happy as a mother, and they could be happy too.
But Joey was different. He would not yield her even a moment of affection. She wondered if he blamed her for Juan Castro, and for the fact that he had been sold to the Apaches.
It seemed to Maria, remembering before that time, that Joey had been a good boy. He played with other children, and she could tease him and hug him.
But when Joey came back, there was no touching him, and he never smiled, unless he was looking at himself in the mirror. Maria wondered if it was wrong to blame the change in Joey on the Apaches. Perhaps the coldness had been in him earlier. Perhaps it came from her grandfather, a cold old man who did not speak a word to his wife, Maria's grandmother, for seven years, because he blamed her for the death of their first son. What was in Joey could have come from that old man.
Maria rode on toward Crow Town, across the great, empty Texas plain. When she came to the Pecos, with its steep banks, she followed it north for two days, before she could find the courage to cross it. Since the time when the lawmen tied her to the mule and almost drowned her in the Rio Grande, she had had a fear of water that she could not control.
But she knew that Crow Town was east of the Pecos; she would have to cross it somewhere. As she rode along, fearing the river, Maria felt her motherhood to be a cold chain linking her to Joey, who wanted nothing from her and had no love for her or interest in her. If she drowned crossing the Pecos, Joey might not ever know, and might not care if he did know. Why did she think she had to risk the water, in order to warn him that the famous lawman was coming after him? Was it only because she had given birth to him? Did that mean she could never be quit of the pain of such a son? Would her obligation always be so hard and so unredeemed?
Grasshopper did not like the Pecos, either. Every time she found a cut in the brushy banks and tried to force him down it, he balked, sulked, whirled, tried to resist. Because Maria was so frightened herself, she let the spotted horse defeat her, several times. They went on up the plain, following the west bank of the river.
The cold was deepening, ever deepening. The clouds were gray, like the sage grass. Maria awoke so stiff with cold that she could hardly mount.
In the mornings, the chaparral thorns were white with frost, and the water in the Pecos was black from cold.
One morning, Maria decided to cross. She felt that if she didn't cross that day, she would give up and stop trying to be a good mother to Joey and go home. It might be for the sake of her father's memory, and her brother's, that she was coming to warn Joey. He might not care himself; he might think he was a match for Captain Call. He might even feel complimented that such a famous man had been summoned to kill him.
Maria broke a limb off a dead mesquite tree to use as a whip. Rarely had she needed to strike her horse, but this morning, when he refused to take the water, she beat him with all her strength until, finally, unable to turn in a narrow cutbank, he made a convulsive plunge into the dark water. It was so cold that Maria feared she might pass out. Her fingers became too numb to hold the bridle. She hung on to Grasshopper's neck with both arms as he struggled out of the water and up the thin cut in the east bank.
On the whole journey, she had not allowed herself a fire. She did not feel it was wise to build a fire in the Texans' country. A fire might bring her someone she didn't want. It might bring her cowboys, or killers, or lawmen.
But this morning she built a fire, in order not to freeze. Sleet began to blow, and her clothes were wet. She was so numb in her hands and feet that she thought she might die if she didn't get warm. The air felt cold inside her when she breathed. She broke off small limbs of mesquite and made herself a little fire, while Grasshopper grazed on the cold tufts of grass.
Suddenly, Grasshopper threw up his head and neighed. Maria was too cold to stop him. She knew there were wild horses in Texas. Perhaps he had only neighed at one of them. She had the revolver Billy had given her in her saddlebags. She got it out, but her fingers were stiff from the cold water. She might not be able to shoot well, if she had to shoot.
Then, to her relief, the old Kickapoo Famous Shoes appeared out of the sleet. He moved, as always, at his own gait, a walk that was almost a trot.
Famous Shoes saw at once that Maria was almost frozen. He thought he had better make coffee. Fortunately, Maria had coffee and an old, bent pot with her. She was trembling from cold. She had made a fire so small that it warmed only part of her.
When Maria saw Famous Shoes making coffee, she felt relieved. The old man was peculiar; he appeared and disappeared at whim.
But he was competent. He had offered to take her deep into the Madre once and hide her from the lawmen, when they were being rough with her. Maria had refused his offer. She would not be driven from her children by any lawmen. If she ever had to go to the Madre, she would take Rafael and Teresa with her.
Then Grasshopper neighed again, looking to the north, where the sleet came from.
Famous Shoes saw Maria's concern, and understood it. There were many bad men in Texas.
He gave her a cup of boiling coffee. Just holding the hot cup would make her hands feel better, and the coffee would warm her insides.
"I am traveling with Pea Eye," Famous Shoes said. "His woman is going to teach me to read. His horse is a little slow. I was looking for a place to cross the river when I found you." "Who is this man? I don't know him," Maria said.
"He is a friend of the Captain--you remember?" Famous Shoes said.
"The Captain who hung my father?" Maria asked.
"That one," Famous Shoes said. "Now he is looking for Joey. Did you know that?" "Why would I be here, freezing, where the Texans could get me, if I didn't know that," Maria said. "I am on my way to warn Joey.
Now you bring me one of the men who is going to kill him. Why didn't you let me freeze?" "Pea Eye doesn't know you," Famous Shoes assured her. "Joey is in Crow Town, anyway. We didn't go there because if we had, one of the bad men might have killed us." The coffee made Maria feel a lot warmer.
The tin cup was so hot she had to hold it with a part of her skirt or her hands would have burned. When she realized what Famous Shoes was telling her, she grew angry.
"Why are you bringing men to kill my son?" she asked. "I thought you were my friend." "I have been to the Rio Rojo," Famous Shoes said. "I was looking for my grandfather, but his spirit had wandered off. I don't know where it lives. I was coming to Ojinaga to see you. I thought you might have some corn. Then I met Pea Eye, who is my old friend. He doesn't know where he is going. I don't want him to get sick, so I am helping him." "I don't care if he gets sick. I don't want him to kill my son," Maria said.
"How far away is he?" "He is a few miles north," Famous Shoes said. "He wanted to sit by the fire and drink more coffee. I came on to the river to find a crossing." "Here's the crossing--you found it," Maria said.
"Go on across it and go away, and take this killer with you. Don't be bringing killers to murder my son." Famous Shoes felt irritated. He had built up Maria's fire, and made her coffee. Now she was demanding that he leave. While she was talking, telling him to leave, he remembered something that had almost gone out of his mind while he was traveling. Seeing the track of Mox Mox, The-Snake-You-Do-Not-See, had made his mind too busy to work properly.
As he was nearing the Pass of the North, Famous Shoes had gone to see old Goat Woman. She was a woman who had the power to see ahead to the future. Maria knew her. When her mother had been dying in Agua Prieta, she had gone to see old Goat Woman, to find out how long her mother might live. Goat Woman went to the river and caught frogs and read their guts.
Famous Shoes found it strange, that the guts of frogs could show the future, but he knew it was true. Old Goat Woman had been right too many times. She lived with her goats in a little dwelling of sticks, not far from the river. Famous Shoes always went to see her when he traveled through the Pass of the North. It was good to stay in contact with people who could see ahead. When she had a great need to see far ahead, not just a day or a week or a month but years, Goat Woman didn't rely on frogs. She killed one of her own goats, and read its guts.
What she had told him on this visit was that Maria's son would kill Maria unless someone killed him soon. Goat Woman had seen this in the guts of a frog and had become so worried that she killed one of her own goats, to check the information. But the guts of the frog and the guts of the goat agreed: Maria's son would kill her.
Goat Woman liked Maria. She had known and liked Maria's mother, too. She did not like the news the guts gave her. Famous Shoes didn't like it, either. He wasn't even sure he believed it, although he knew Goat Woman had strong powers.
"You might be wrong," he suggested. "We are all wrong, sometimes. Maybe the guts are trying to fool you." "Maybe," Goat Woman said.
"Do they ever try to fool you?" Famous Shoes asked.
"No," Goat Woman replied. "But sometimes, I get confused and don't see what is plain." "Can anything change the future?" Famous Shoes asked. He rarely got a chance to talk to Goat Woman, who knew about many things he would like to understand.
"Yes, the stars," Goat Woman said. "The stars can change the future. But I don't think they'll change it for Maria." Now he was actually with Maria, who was wet and cold beside the Pecos. He knew what old Goat Woman knew, and Maria didn't, although it concerned Maria's own death. She didn't want him to take the killers to her son, but if he didn't do it and do it quickly, her son might kill her.
It was a dilemma that made his mind tired.
Usually the sleet freshened him, but this morning he did not seem very fresh. He didn't know what to do.
Maria was warming up, and as she grew warmer, she also grew more and more angry. She had been grateful to the old man for saving her from freezing.
But when she discovered that he was leading Captain Call's deputy, she stopped being grateful.
She wanted the old man to take the deputy far away.
"I want you to go," Maria said. "This deputy might show up any time. If he sees me here alone, he will figure it out and tell the Captain." "The Captain will figure it out anyway," Famous Shoes said. "I can't fool him.
He's the Captain. All he does is kill men." "Maybe, but you don't need to help him," Maria said. "Let him catch Joey himself, if he can." "All right, I will leave," Famous Shoes said, very annoyed.
"Thank you for your help with the coffee. Now go away," Maria said. "I don't want this man to see me. I have to help my son." "If you are in Juarez, you should see Goat Woman," Famous Shoes said. He was outraged. He had kept the woman from freezing, and now she was sending him away, all because of a boy who would kill her someday. She didn't seem to understand that he was old and had to make a living.
Also, he wanted badly to learn about the tracks in books. Pea Eye's woman might teach him, if he stayed with Pea Eye and brought him home.
But he couldn't say much to Maria, without revealing what he had heard from old Goat Woman.
"Next time you cross this river, you need to build a bigger fire," he said.
Then he remembered the tracks, near Agua Prieta.
"The-Snake-You-Do-Not-See is alive," he said. "You need to be careful. Don't let him get you and burn you." "The-Snake-You-Do-Not-See?" Maria asked. She remembered hearing that there was such a man, and that he was evil, but she didn't know much about him.
Famous Shoes turned back up the river to find Pea Eye. It was a nuisance. He had been happy to see Maria, when he found her soaking wet and freezing, but she had been disagreeable and had made him feel confused. If he took Captain Call to Joey Garza, it might save her life. But if he took the Captain to Joey, Maria would hate him, although Joey was a bad son and meant his mother no good.
It was a confusion that he didn't know whether to mention to Pea Eye. He would have to think about it when he found him.
Maria stayed by the fire until she was dry.
She thought at one point that she saw a rider to the north; perhaps it was the man Famous Shoes was with, Pea Eye. She didn't know what to do. She thought she might try to slip away quickly, on Grasshopper. But then she lost sight of the man--if it had been a man. She wasn't quite sure she had seen him. Perhaps it had only been an antelope. The air was still full of sleet, and it was hard to see clearly, very far.
No rider appeared, so Maria wrapped up in her poncho and made her way into the sandhills, toward Crow Town. The sleet rattled on the chaparral bushes, but soon, over the rattling, she heard the sound of crows, and began to see them, sitting on the cold bushes or in the little skinny black mesquite trees. The crows cawed at her as she rode. Grasshopper didn't like it.
He would have liked to go away from the crows, but Maria wouldn't let him. Soon there were crows all around them, in the trees and in the air. As she got closer to the settlement, the wheeling, gliding crows seemed thicker than the sleet.
The settlement, when she came to it, was just a few bumps on the plain. There were several low houses, none of them much higher than the hills of sand. Smoke rose into the air, mixing with the sleet, rising high with the crows.
Joey's house was easy to find, because his black horse grazed behind it, hobbled to a long rope.
There was not much to graze on, just a few little sage bushes and a tuft or two of grass. The horse lifted its head when it saw Grasshopper. The two horses had met the last time Joey was in Ojinaga. The black horse neighed, and when he did, a chubby young Mexican woman came out the door. When she saw Maria, she quickly retreated. A second later, a white woman came out. The woman was shivering; she wore only a thin housecoat. But she waited politely for Maria to speak.
"Is my son here?" Maria asked. She did not dismount.
"Joey Garza," she said, in case the woman was stupid and could not think who her son might be.
"Joey, yes," Beulah said. "He's here, but he ain't awake." "Wake him and tell him his mother is here," Maria said. "I have some news he needs to know." "You can come in. I ain't going to wake him," Beulah said. "He don't like it when people wake him up." Maria got off Grasshopper and pushed into the little house. The white woman had a smell. It must not be easy to wash, in such a place, where there was much sand and little water, Maria thought.
She did not look like a bad woman, the white woman; she was not young, and she was frightened.
Inside, two fat Mexican girls sat on a pallet, trying to huddle under one blanket.
There was another room. The low door to it was shut, but Maria pushed it open. Joey, her boy, was asleep, under many blankets. The room was dim. She could just see Joey's face, a young face, so young that for a moment she saw him merely as her son, the child she had borne, the child she loved.
He was still only a young boy. Perhaps it was not too late to save him, to help him become decent.
"Joey, wake up, you need to leave," she said, touching his shoulder.
Joey did wake up, and the moment he looked at her, the hope that had been rising in Maria sank again and vanished. There was only bottomless cold in Joey's eyes.
"This is my room. I don't like women in here," Joey said. "Get out." Maria felt anger surge up. She wanted to deliver the slap that would make him good, or at least make him realize he was in danger. She had ridden five days and crossed the freezing river for him, and all he had for her was a look that was as cold as the black waters of the Pecos. It was not a thing she could take patiently--not from her own child.
"Goddamn you, leave!" Maria yelled, slapping him. "Get up and leave. They've sent the great killer for you. Call. Go down into the Madre and go quick, or you'll be dead!" "You leave," Joey said. "Don't come where you're not invited, and don't hit me again. You're a stupid woman. You've ridden all this way to tell me what I already knew. I know about Captain Call." "You don't know about him," Maria said. "You just know the name. He took my father. He took my brother. Now he will take my son, and it's because my son is stupid, so stupid he thinks he can't die." "No old gringo will kill me, and no old gringo will make me run to the Madre, either," Joey replied.
"Then you're dead, if you think that way," Maria told him. "I will go home and tell your brother and sister that you died. They love you, even though you don't care about them." "You'll tell them a lie, then," Joey said.
"I won't die. Call will die, if he comes here. He'll die before he even knows that his death is coming." Maria turned away. She went back to the room where the three women waited, uneasily.
She saw that they were all frightened, the two fat girls and the tired, smelly woman.
"Is there any man here he listens to?" she asked. "Is there anyone who can make him listen?" "John Wesley Hardin, if it's anybody," Beulah said. "John Wesley's killed all those people. I think Joey likes him.
But John Wesley's crazy." "I don't care. Where is he?" Maria asked.
"He never sleeps, I guess he's in the saloon," Beulah said. She felt afraid of the Mexican woman. Her eyes were angry.
When she came in from the storm, her dress and her hair had been covered with sleet, but she hadn't seemed to care. She had walked in and awakened Joey, which nobody did. Maybe the woman was his mother, maybe she wasn't, but in the eyes of the three women, she was scary. Gabriela was so scared, she wanted to hide under her blanket; Marieta was too cold to care. She shivered and sniffled. Not many women came to Crow Town. A woman who appeared out of an ice storm might be a witch woman.
Maria left the house. Her head was hurting.
She felt she might be feverish, from almost freezing in the black water. In her fever, she could not control her thoughts. She didn't know where Captain Call was, but in her mind he was close, so close that he might come and kill Joey that very day if she didn't do something quickly.
She saw smoke coming from the roof of another low, lumpy building. Maybe that was the cantina. A row of crows sat on the roof of the building. The row went all the way around the low roof. Now and again, a crow would fly up, wheel, come back to the building and take its place in the row. When the crows flapped their wings, a little rain of sleet fell from their feathers.
Maria heard a snort and looked around to see a large pig following her. The pig was the color of sand. She had the pistol that Billy Williams had insisted she take. She took the pistol and pointed it at the pig. The pig was not just large, it was giant. Maria's hands felt a little warmer. She was in a better state to shoot than she had been back when Famous Shoes showed up. The pig snorted again, but it didn't charge her. She had seen pigs charge people in Ojinaga, when the pigs were angry for some reason. She didn't know whether the great sandy pig was angry, or when it might charge her.
The pig stopped and looked at her, but again, it didn't charge. Maria turned and trudged on toward the cantina. It was hard to walk. The sand seemed to fill the street. There were no horses outside the cantina, though Maria saw a glow under the uneven wooden door. Perhaps the wild man was there, in the cantina, the man Joey might listen to.
When she was almost to the cantina, she heard the great pig snort again, and when she turned, it was trotting toward her. Without thinking, she pointed the pistol at the pig and shot. She wanted to scare it away, and she knew sometimes loud noises frightened pigs. When the church bell rang in Ojinaga, the pigs and goats became nervous for a bit. She did not expect to hit the pig, with the sleet blowing. She had not shot a pistol since Benito's time. He had enjoyed shooting and would let her shoot with him, although he was stingy about bullets and did not want to let a woman use too many of them.
To Maria's surprise, the big pig slid forward on its snout, almost at her feet. Then it rolled over, a great hill of hair, and some blood ran out its nose. She waited for the pig to get up. One of its legs was twitching; then it stopped. The giant pig was dead.
The door to the cantina opened, and two men stepped out. One was skinny and had scabs on his face. The other was an older man and he limped.
Both looked taken aback. The great pig lay dead, and a woman with sleet in her hair stood over it with a pistol in her hand.
The scabby man was not pleased. The older man just looked surprised.
"You killed our pig--what kind of wild slut are you?" the scabby man asked.
"I'm Joey's mother," Maria said. "If you're his friend, I would ask you to tell him to leave and go to the Madre. Captain Call is coming. I don't know where he is, but I think he's close." "How close?" Wesley Hardin asked.
"I don't know. His deputy is over by the river," Maria answered. "Famous Shoes is taking him to meet Call." "That old Indian ought to be shot," Wesley Hardin said.
"She kilt the devil pig," Red Foot said. "I can't believe it. Hundreds of people have shot at that pig. Now this woman just walks into town and shoots the sonofabitch dead." "I guess the killer instinct runs in the family," Wesley Hardin said. "It's too damn breezy to stand out here worrying about a dead pig." He looked hard at Maria. She thought he looked crazy. He reminded her of old Ramon, when he was in one of his fits.
"Come on inside, but I'll take the gun," Wesley Hardin said, reaching for Maria's pistol.
She drew back. "Why do you want my gun?" she asked.
"I don't like to be inside small buildings with women who shoot pistols, that's why," Wesley Hardin said. "You just killed the local pig. You might do the same to me, if I get unruly." "Not if you'll help my son," Maria said.