This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank Fronash
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the established consent or written permission of the copyright holder.
...is my specialty.
Tutt Strawhan stumble-swore his way off the coach wreck to his horse and from there, on into the desert.
He angled himself toward the Royal Road, or tried to. His arm was chewed up, blood like glue down his side. He was thirsty, his head ached and no matter how much he turned, he couldn’t make out if the demon was on his trace.
He’d slept in the saddle then and dreamt of grand promise on the horizon. The demon came for him often, appearing at his ear, black mouth open to swallow his head. He fell twice coming awake and the second time stayed where he was.
Next morning the horse hadn’t wandered far and they set out again. He couldn’t see the road anymore. He’d gotten turned southeast, by his reckon. The sun had been up and wrung him out where he lay. He’d leaked out every pore, down his back and into the crack of his ass. He’d pissed himself, too.
Another bolt of pain shot up the side of his neck. His shoulder was a polished rock, the arm like timber. He tried digging out some of the shot with his penknife, ‘til he dropped it. Got two of the little balls but there was another couple still in. Chewed him up nice, that demon did.
He creaked in the saddle, tugging his brim down for the sun. He had them pointed west again, maybe a bit south, too. Road had to be there somewhere.
Once he hit it, another what, fifty miles to the border? Had to be something before then. Some station or somewhat. Maybe even troops from over in Selden. Somethin’ had to give. Little rest and he could be on his way.
“Sam Sanome. Samolay.” He nodded. “Sanomay.”
He couldn’t quite fathom what the exact plan had been – Vasquez’s brother owned San Salome, or part of it. He was making some local play with the Federales or banditos or maybe some other burg down there. Either to march across the border or just expand his own piece, who fuckin’ knew.
Straw wasn’t one for politics, himself. All he knew was anytime his crew brought cash, they had a place to hole up. More they brought, longer they could stay. The old man’s gold, they’d have been set for life. Whole fuckin’ empire down there, Vicente had. No more Marshals, no more shitty bank jobs, none o’ that.
Straw had never been down there more than a few weeks. Once the cash was gone, they had to follow it or Vincente would have his way. Bad way, too. Late at night all manner o’ shit came to a man’s ears from them dungeons.
He shivered and wiped his face. It was cold and his hand shook. The sun kept at it.
“Sal Sanome,” he muttered. “Samonalay.”
Valdez could stay down there long as he liked, and often did. Him and his brother, plotting it up. When he’d caught up to Straw this last time, it was with that new plan. Vicente needed real cash for some scheme, worth five times what it used to be. It was five thousand minimum for a month. Now, they’d get five months on the same. Bank netted thirty grand and between his five man crew, that was six months a piece. Food, women and wine, for half a year.
So they’d done the bank and shoulda just kept-to. Hit the border and that was that.
But there was no way to reasonably ignore that old man’s gold. A whole mountain of it, who wouldn’t make the play?
“Who fuckin’ wouldn’t?!” Straw shouted.
He leaned down to stare his mount in the eye. Its head drooped, hooves barely scraping.
“Fuckin’ right y’would.”
Just a little something for his tribute, that was all he needed, now. Something to get him in the door and he’d kiss Vincente’s feet. He’d have to tell the man his brother was dead but shit, that wasn’t on him. His own crew was gone, too.
“I’ll fight, shit,” Straw said, his own head lolling.
He smacked his lips and tried to swallow.
Wouldn’t go. His tongue was huge, like a wad of cloth. Desert wasn’t having it today. No visitors.
The horse thocked across the flat, snorting dust and shaking its mane o’ flies.
If he could scrape up some cash between here and there, he didn’t see a problem. Hell, he’d just tell the man where they’d left the fuckin’ hoard.
Had to still be there, probably all over the place after that fire. One bag o’ that, shee-it, Vincente woulda killed his brother hisself.
If Straw brought some cash with, that’d be the play. Yer brother’s done, but it was a good cause. We found gold. Whole mess up in Copper Drop. Here’s cash for a few days o’ rest, then I’ll lead you right on. Right to it, right fuckin’ to it!
He nodded and barked out a laugh and looked around suddenly. Shadows out there, up ahead. Six or eight and he drew his iron.
Or the demon had friends.
He caught his breath and tried to let it out slow. No, demon was behind, not ahead. ‘Less he’d turned himself back north. He get turned around?
“You fuckin’ turn us around?!” he screamed at the horse. It wheezed and began to sway beneath him. Straw jammed the barrel back of its head.
“That what you fuckin’ did?!”
The shadows tightened up, came together in a long line and he heard ‘hyah!’ in the distance and the crack of leather.
That was it, then. Demon done reached down to Hell and pulled up minions.
Straw clapped the horse on the skull with his piece, whack! whack! and screamed, trying to pull the reins the other way.
“Fuckin’ turn!” he shouted. “Turn us back!”
The horse whinnied and thrashed its head for another whack, then Straw was pulling the trigger, blasting its brains out on the sand and following it down.
He grunted and rolled and tried to come up but the gun was gone. He tore his hat off looking and kicked up scuffs of dust around the carcass.
The shadows rode for him under a swirl of dust and lashing rain, lightning crackling out of fat, growling clouds. The demon grew huge beneath ‘em, stalking over the horizon.
That black mouth opened wide.
“Please! I’m fuckin’ sorry I swear to Christ I didn’t mean it!”
Straw screamed as it closed around him, teeth big as boulders smashing down. He burst like a sack and squirmed with a scream. He felt himself explode in a warm mouthful of blood and gasped as he was swallowed down to darkness.
O’Shea had Charity at a good trot before the sun got too high. It felt around nine in the morning with at least ten miles behind them, but already the ape could feel how the day would go. Another hour or two and they’d need shelter until late afternoon. Charity for water as well and O’Shea to eat. Stopping to pull up thistles and scrub wasn’t doing it.
The gorilla stared out from under his broad, pancake hat, wide shoulders shifting in the dusty frock coat. His hands and legs were bandaged with strips from fine, silk shirts, bloodspots dried through. Bandoliers across his chest, holsters in his armpits. Guns at his hips too, bullets glinting in their slots.
He kept a half mile outside the Royal Road, running its last seventy miles to the Mexican border. The ape had looked often at the old man’s map of the territory, tracing routes and paths along it whenever he’d mentioned to O’Shea the subject of leaving the cabin. So he knew about Ft. Selden, knew it could only be another fifty miles or so.
Little good it would do him. He’d get a few drinks from their well, anyway, before he was shot or thrown in chains. What else would good soldiers do to something like him? It’s what anyone had ever tried to do.
Why the hell would you want to go back to that, old man?
‘East’ had been Masters’ plan. Back into the ‘civilized world’. O’Shea could’ve told him – and tried with his limited gestures – to explain there was nothing inherently civilized about anything in any direction.
He supposed it was why he’d never tried speaking with his friend. Not words, of course, but even pointing to words in books. But then, words meant arguments and they’d had plenty of those without. And if he didn’t have to express his love, then anger went the same way.
O’Shea supposed his hope had been to keep things simple and intrigue the old man. Keep him from needing to go back into ‘civilization’. What did anyone need but a friend, a little food, maybe a view? But the old man was still, a Man.
And Men needed more than that. Some wine for the food, a companion to pour the wine. A view, yes, but from a big window in a stone tower in one of their cities. O’Shea would never understand it, but pretending to not even know it was a reality had been foolish. Selfish. He might’ve tried speaking to Masters. Pointing to a few of those words. At least to let him know how he felt before he watched him leave.
Which is how it would’ve gone. The gorilla would never go back to the crowds and the chaos of ‘civilization’. He was in the World of Men now, true, but this far west was at least still empty enough, honest enough.
Cruel enough, to suit him.
Indians dotted the horizon again and drew back. O’Shea figured it was Indians, anyway. Apaches, if that was the case. Only things crazy enough to be out in the Jornada Basin save for the snakes and flies.
Charity huffed beneath him and the ape patted her neck. The Old Man’s map had been marked with wells and waystations between their home in Copper Drop and Ft. Selden. He took trips, the old man did, out into the desert of a time or two, to sort his head, he said. ‘Take it all in’, whatever that meant.
O’Shea couldn’t figure just where the next well was, but it had to be close. Close enough to help a man coming down the Royal Road. Maybe trying his luck on reaching Mexico. Soldiers too, on patrol from the fort might need something. The ape understood such men traveled with what they needed but things had a way of happening. Luck took a turn and before you knew it, some little X on a map was all you could hope for.
The tall man might know from wells out here, he might not. He’d been hurt when he’d escaped the night before, thus the ape’s route between the desert and the road. If he was delirious, he’d wander afar. If he kept his wits, he’d stick to the road. O’Shea only hoped whatever the case, the tall man kept himself alive.
No use killing you when you’re already dead.
The tall man called the gorilla a demon, ignorant of O’Shea’s true nature. O’Shea had been called worse, even by those who knew full well what he was. Not just an ape, but one who could think, could reason as well as any man. Ironically, it was that very thing which had led to much torment and cruelty at the hands of men. Men afraid of what the ape represented and what he might do if he ever tore free of their clutches.
They’d rather have murdered him there in his jungle home, but the bullet meant to end his life had grazed his brain instead. Carved it just-so and left him with a man’s thoughts. When he’d eventually found old man Masters, endless events and thousands of miles later, O’Shea was certain his days of hair’s breadth escapes were over. He would die in the desert at the hands of Man at last, under the baking sun and so bring his parade of punishments to a close.
But the old man showed only kindness and good humor and folded the ape into his life atop the peaks at Copper Drop. Digging for gold day in, day out on his mine. O’Shea was no slave though, no brute animal. He was a partner. A friend to the old man, what little Masters knew of the ape’s previous life. The beast’s true understanding of the world.
When the tall man’s crew ended that, for the old man’s gold, with the old man’s life, it was the gorilla’s turn to repay that kindness. That friendship that had come so easy. It was O’Shea’s turn to walk among Men and make things hard.
The tall man’s crew knew just how hard now, and had forever to think on it down in the ground. The tall man himself, well, he’d learn it soon enough.
O’Shea rode on and with a jerk of the reins, made straight for those Apaches.
Straw jerked himself awake back of a wagon and watched the sky for a good, long moment before alerting the world to his high n’ harmony.
“The fuck am I doin’ here?!”
Calls from all sides, a few laughs. He heard the jingle of horse tackle and the clomp of hooves. It was a march, or something like it.
He went to get up, or tried to. A hand beside pushed him down, no problem.
“Ease up,” came the voice. “Easy, now.”
He lay back and felt his insides soften. He had to piss. He rolled the back of his head to the side and glanced up a man’s blue chest, underside of a stubbled chin, brim of a cap on top. Black bandoliers and buckles and the rest, no doubt a soldier. The chin tipped down and Straw looked into dark eyes and long hair behind the ears.
“Lieutenant Beaumont Sparks, sir,” said the boy.
He felt touched on, done with. He tried to tuck his chin to his own chest and feel around. Only one arm to his power for it. His shirt was gone and his other limb was bandaged tight to his stomach. His mouth was some dry but not nearly as before. He put his head back with a thump on the boards.
“Fuck’re we doin’, son?”
“You were delirious, for a while. Found you shouting and thirsty out on patrol. We’re taking you back to main camp.”
“No sir, our regiment is detached from the post at present. Struck a main camp two days out, then our patrol was sent for Apaches this morning.”
Straw knew from the Army, the Cavalry. He’d served his own in the war against the North. Then the South, when it came time to switch over. It went like that, war times. Never knew who’d come out the big bug ‘til you did.
South of course, was the huckleberry. No one wanted niggers about town like regular folk. Put Chinamen and Jews in the mix, fuckin’ spics around the Territory though they owned it, goddamn wonder proper men weren’t warring all day long for an end of it all.
Selden then, had sent a camp out into the basin. Ride a few, camp up, then shoot out patrols for Apaches and whatnot. That was regular Army. Day in, day out. Mexican outriders along the border. Spic rioters. Anyone looking to make a play for their piece of the Territory. Even Texas or no man’s land Arizona, if they could.
Get the right Marshal to back you, fuckin’ Army did whatever they want. Not a man like Candless, o’ course, he was one o’ them. Fuckers thinkin’ the Territory could be tamed. Carved up and handed out. They had their districts and courts. Judges in spurs and tugging long cigars but they were all in the cities. Santa Fe, Albuquerque, all that. Safe and sound.
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Publication Date: 10-01-2020
All Rights Reserved