A Border Reckoning
This is a work of Fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Northern Mexico, 1901
This land is desperation and hardship.
Everywhere the cracked red earth springs forth thorny reflections of violent resilience, as if creation itself is nodding its weary head to the inevitable conclusion of the despair that surrounds it.
In a canyon named resortes rojo, a large black seep in a red rock wall drained slowly down into a watery pool creating an oasis in multiple stands of juniper, cottonwood and pinyon trees. Shaded from the tortuous sun, this place is a momentary reprieve for both the sparse resident and weary traveler alike, including four Texas cowboys and forty-three head of stolen mexican mustangs. As the horses watered behind a well-made thorny picket line and the men set up a small overnight camp, a pair of young dark eyes hidden in a small cave far above them watched their movements intently.
The eyes belonged to a fourteen-year-old lipan apache boy, wiry and tall for his age, his muscles stretched over his long frame like taut steel cables while his clay colored skin was already rough-hewn, his pores blasted by relentless sand and wind, the moisture of youth crucified long ago.
His coal-black hair was shoulder length and unkempt, his bangs long enough to partially cover the crimson-purplish scar on the left side of his face that began dangerously close to his eye and ended at his chin. As the boy traced the long scar with his finger, in his mind flashed the image of the man who had put the scar there two years ago.
The man had whispered into the boy’s ear like some deranged drunk lover that this was going to be a“forget me not” scar, a warning never to steal from him again. The boy remembered the bastards holding him down as the red-hot blade seared deep into his face, the smell of his own burnt flesh still fresh in his nostrils and nauseating him to this day.
The boy waited until well after sundown until the men were fast asleep and snoring like a pack of hogs, save a sentry armed with a repeater perched on a high shale ledge overlooking the camp.
With a three-quarter moon overhead, a broad carpet of soft white light enveloped the red canyon walls and created luminous shadows that danced in the firelight like mischievous children. The boy moved quietly, always in a deliberate fashion until he was out of the canyon and atop his bay mare, Cricket.
He then raced back to the band of lunatics he called family who were camped several miles away on the western side of Montana del lobo.
Upon entering camp the boy reported what he had witnessed to the leader of the group, a mexican army deserter named Diaz. It was Diaz who had found the boy wandering the western tablelands weeks after the Texans had murdered the boy’s family.
Often at night the boy considered how the smallest choices can often make the biggest impact in one’s life. If his father would not have insisted he go hunting that morning, the boy would have joined his ancestors that day as well. When he returned from the hunt late that evening with a doe and sow pig hung over the back of his horse, he found the entire camp had been rode through and burned.
His father and uncle had both been shot through the head and strung up upside down on a tall cottonwood with their arms hacked off and their eyes gouged out.
Their dick and balls had been cut off and stuffed in their mouths. His poor grandmother had been stretched over a wagon wheel and then set on fire with coal oil.
It took the boy a while to find his mother, the bastards had drug her away from camp with a rope around her neck. She had been gutted like a pig, the six-month old fetus inside of her that had been the boy’s sister had been ripped from her womb and impaled on a sharpened paloverde pole made into a roasting spit.
The charred remains of the fetus and the bloody black umbilicus hanging from it were a grim reminder that human life was cheap here, and regardless of age or innocence, it held no sentimental place of reservation.
Diaz quickly called a haphazard council and an ambush was planned for just before dawn, only a few hours away. The group’s number currently stood at ten fighting men, with one man injured. The boy was not counted and considered a half-ass scout at best. Their real scout, a Comanche named Parsons, had taken the boy under his wing and when out on the trail, showed him how to cut and read sign.
Tick, a black french creole from the swamps of Louisiana had been wounded in the leg during a mail-coach robbery a few days prior and was laid up and useless for fighting.
The rest of the men were petty thieves save two white men. Grissom, a former US Army cavalry Sergeant and Spoon, a cow puncher from New Mexico. After the meeting had broken up, the boy walked over to Diaz’ shanty where he found him sitting outside cleaning a German mauser by the light of a lantern.
“You reckon these cowboys are the ones that killed my folks?” The boy asked.
“That was over two years ago kid, I seriously doubt it.” Diaz replied without looking at him.
The boy studied Diaz by the light of the lantern. He had a large flat face with a squashed nose and large black eyes. His hair was long and greasy.
“If you want to shoot one of the bastards, I will let you, makes no difference to me, so long as I get thirty horses out of the deal!”
Diaz smiled widely, proud of the good fortune that had seemingly fallen into his lap. The boy tried smiling back, but just looked down at his feet awkwardly, unsure of how to feel, but feeling anger and loneliness all the same.
After a small supper of beans and tortillas, the boy laid down by the fire and drifted off to sleep. He dreamed he was at a river, him on one side and his family on the other.
His father was motioning for him to cross but he was scared. The current was too swift. His father kept calling out to him but he could not hear his words for the roar of the rushing water. A hawk called above him and when he looked up, the sun blinded him. He tried to see his father once more and then suddenly, he was awakened with a swift kick to his side.
The boy rose suddenly from his blanket, his fist raised to fight to find Spoon laughing. He was a tall thin white man with a shaved bald head and a black handlebar mustache flecked with grey. He said he had hired on to work for a rancher near Roswell but got into a fight in a saloon and during the scuffle, shot and killed a whore and a local banker named Peterson.
“I Did not mean to kill that whore.” he said in a mournful tone.
“But the banker? Well hell! Who gives two shits about a banker!”
He often bragged there was a five hundred dollar bounty on his head in New Mexico and Texas, but nobody believed him.
“Diaz says you can come along to help us drive them horses back, we leave in an hour, so be ready.”
Spoon handed the boy a New Service Colt revolver and gun belt. The boy took the rig gingerly as if he was handling a basket of eggs.
“Took that off one of those teamsters on that mail run. Damn fine Weapon.” Spoon smiled at the boy and spat in the dirt and clamored off toward his tent with a gourd of tizwin in his hand.
The group rode out well before dawn. The weather had grown colder, so the boy imitated Grissom, who had tied a handkerchief around his face to block the cutting wind.
As they neared the mouth of the canyon they found a shallow wash with waist high banks where some sparse cholla and whitethorn were growing to park the horses out of the wind.
As Diaz quietly hobbled the stock, Grissom unholstered a Winchester carbine from his saddle rig and handed it to the boy.
“It’s loaded and here are some spare shells.”
The boy tucked the shells away and slung the carbine across his back. Grissom held a finger up to his lips and then nodded his head toward the top of the cliff for the boy to lead the way.
The pair crawled on all fours almost the entire way until they found the entrance to the small cave, both of them praying to themselves that no rattlesnakes or mountain lions had moved in during the night.
The boy carefully peered down into the dark abyss of the canyon. The warm orange light from the campfire had died down but still bathed the red rock walls enough to reveal the three sleeping cowboys. The sentry, now fast asleep like his friends, sat on top of a large rock promontory that overlooked the horse corral, his hat tipped down over his eyes and a carbine laid across his lap.
Grissom pointed where he wanted the boy positioned to cover the cowboys while he moved to a place where he could cover the sentry. Removing one of his boots to use as a rifle rest, Grissom smiled as the boy followed suit. Scanning with his carbine the boy noticed movement down below.
It was Parsons. He wore no shoes or hat and had his face and body completely smeared black with axle grease. His bow was slung low across his back with a quiver full of arrows, and a large bowie-knife strapped to his leg. Both men watched the indian slip through the mouth of the canyon, using the shadows of the tall rocks along the flanks.
Parsons closed the distance between him and the lookout and stopped, kneeling behind a set of large rocks and pinion scrub. He took the bow from his back and notched an arrow. As the boy’s eyes were trying to focus in the low light, the small cane arrow had already flown, its flight short and straight with the only sound being a sickly wet slap as the arrow found its mark right above the sentry’s adam’s apple.
The man dropped the carbine and put both hands to his throat as if he were choking at supper, his eyes wide and frantic, searching for some kind of reprieve from the pain. Blood sprayed from the wound like a fountain, covering the brown earth and rock like some ancient mayan sacrifice.
The indian quickly closed in from behind on the man’s position, taking control of his convulsing body and bringing him down to the ground behind the large rock. A few moments later Parson’s appeared like a ghoulish specter, slowly lurking toward the campsite. His knife, covered in blood, looked black against the backdrop of the eggshell moonlight.
“Cock your rifle boy.” Grissom whispered as the pair both drew a bead on the three men below.
Parsons stopped behind a boulder and whistled, stirring one of the cowboys awake. Before the poor soul could get the sleep out of his eyes an arrow pierced his right eyeball with a swoosh. The boy jumped as Grissom shot the second cowboy through the chest as he was bringing his pistol from underneath the blanket. With that Parsons let out a war yelp and charged the remaining cowboy with knife in hand. The young cowboy panicked as he tried to get the gun out of the holster laying beside him, but it was too late. Parsons was already on top of him.
The cowboy managed to let out one blood curdling scream, before Parsons delivered the death-blow, sinking the knife deep into the boy’s heart. Parsons then stood and raised his bloody knife to the night sky, his profile illuminated by the campfire, he let out a guttural yelp that originated from a place deep within his soul, a place of pain and loneliness.
This was revenge. A deep seeded hate that boiled out like a wildfire consuming the countryside. It was a familiar sound the boy had heard many times from war parties of neighboring clans. The boy had to restrain himself from joining in, but this was not his hunt. This was not his kill. That day still awaited him.
Parsons went around and collected scalps from each of his victims, the four bloody pieces of matted hair and skin the only reminder of these cowboys’ short and meager existence in this brutal place. Grissom and the boy made their way back down to the arroyo where Spoon sat asleep in his saddle, half drunk, and Diaz sat smoking a cigar, watching the Dawn begin to break and the purplish light spread over the canyon like a familiar blanket.
“We heard Parsons hoop and holler so I guess he got his scalps?” Diaz asked the boy.
The boy nodded and Diaz grinned.
“Alright then, let’s go get them horses!” Diaz remarked with his toothless grin.
When they arrived Parsons had already looted all the bodies, and took one of the dead cowboys’ mounts, a fine, tall black stud for his own.
Spoon noticed the new carbine Parsons was now cradling like a newborn babe in his arms.
“What’s that you got there, Parsons? A new repeater? What’s that writing’ on the side of it there?”
Parsons held up the gun with bloody hands, not really sure what Spoon was talking about.
“Looks like an inscription of some sort. ‘J.T.’, must have been the poor bastards initials.”
Parsons nodded indifferently and slid the carbine back in the saddle scabbard. By the time they drove the herd to the far side of montana del lobo the boy and his mount were exhausted. Tick had made some much-needed repairs to the horse corral and was waiting for them when they arrived, waving his hat and yelling at them through the gate.
That night everybody got drunk and celebrated. Parsons rode over to Valle Azul and traded a horse for food and a case of mescal. Diaz, always in fine form when loaded, hooped and hollered, firing off his revolver wildly.
Grissom broke out a fiddle and started sawing a lively tune while Tick, full of mescal, hopped on one leg like some kind of carnival act, flailing around to the music in such a wild display of tomfoolery that he finally collapsed face first in a drunken heap.
Spoon and the boy sat by the fire, watching Parsons clean and examine the new carbine he had taken off the murdered cowboy.
“Well Parsons you feel better now you killed them boys that killed your family?” Spoon asked. Parsons stopped polishing the rifle and looked at Spoon through the crackling embers of the fire.
There was complete silence between them. After a while Parsons went back to polishing the rifle.
“Damn indians, you can never figure em’.” Spoon commented as he spit into the fire.
After a moment he got up and stumbled to his tent where almost immediately the lantern went dark and snoring could be heard.
The next morning the boy awoke to a gunmetal grey dawn and the smell of frying bacon and coffee.
Grissom’s coarse voice soon broke the morning peace.
“Come on and get yourself some of this boy, we got a long day ahead of us.”
As the boy slowly made his way to the fire Spoon appeared out of his tent, looking as if he had been bushwhacked by bandits and squinting as if the morning light were a pack of unwelcome solicitors banging on the front door of his brain.
He stumbled out to the jakes and disappeared there for a considerable amount of time. Soon Diaz appeared, looking disheveled but somewhat jolly.
“Change of plans. Me, Spoon and Tick will take thirty head to the trader. I want the boy, Parsons and Grissom to take the remaining head up to that bastard Colonel Parker to trade for guns and ammunition.”
Grissom cursed under his breath and headed for the corral saying something about being a wet-nurse to savages.
By the time the boy was saddled up and ready to ride, Parsons and Grissom were already leading the string of ponies out of camp. The boy trailed two mules to haul their return load of guns.
The triplet of riders and beast rode due east with a sketch of pale blue mountains floating ahead of them and a set of small scribbled valleys in between twisting like a snake with no pattern or design.
They camped in a small stand of cottonwoods near a trickling creek at sundown. Early the next morning they started off on the final leg where narrow winding valleys and red stone cliffs gave way to long stretches of white soda flats.
The boy thought they might never see water again but Parsons managed to find a small spring where they all drank like fishes and the horses drank so much they laid down in a small stand of pinon and napped for a while.
They rode the rest of the day across the flats until sunset when they finally pulled into a silver mining camp that set at the base of some low pockmarked foothills covered with cholla and palo verde called El lugar de las águilas (The Place of the Eagles).
Grissom led the horses down a crowded street of miners and drovers to a corral that sat at the back of a two-story clapboard building marked ‘oficina and cantina.’ Parsons dismounted and nodded for the boy to do the same. The boy felt eyes from all directions studying them.
As they entered through the saloon doors, the sweet stench of whiskey and sweat hit them like a sharp slap while the din of drunken men’s voices drowned out all reason.
Grissom made his way to the bar, navigating around crowded tables of miners playing poker while consumptive whores loitered like buzzards. Above the bar a stuffed mountain lion sat watching the pitiful proceedings, indifferent to the carnival scene below him.
“Whatta you have?” The bartender asked.
He was a large white man, at least six feet, with an oxblood-colored boulder hat and arms like pine knots.
“Three rye” Grissom responded.
The bartender wiped his brow with a rag and poured out one drink.
“You can stay but the two savages have to go, Colonels orders.” Grissom paused, taking stock of the command.
Grissom looked at the bartender with contempt and then drained his whiskey in one go. Turning to Parsons he nodded for the door. Parsons grabbed the boy by the arm and led him outside.
Grissom then nodded for another drink.
“Need to see the Boss, got horses to trade.” The bartender again wiped his face and brow as he poured the drink.
“Upstairs, last door on right.” Grissom downed his drink and laid a crisp five dollar bill on the bar and set the glass on top of it.
As Grissom topped the stairs, a thin sickly and scantily clad mexican whore was leaning on the railing.
“Ola cowboy.” Grissom ignored the woman and kept walking.
The small corridor reeked of cigar smoke, kerosene and sex. At the end of the hall a bald squat man with a long black handlebar mustache named Timmons sat cradling a double barrel ten gauge. Grissom nodded to the man.
“Here to see the Colonel?” Timmons asked plainly.
“Yeah, got horses to trade.” Grissom replied.
“Surrender your weapons.”
Grissom handed him his Colt. The man stuck the pistol in his waistband and rapped on the door.
“Enter!” a deep voice called out from the other side.
Timmons opened the door and nodded for Grissom to enter.
Colonel William Frances Parker, United States Army retired, sat behind a large custom rosewood desk with his left leg feet propped up smoking a large cuban torpedo cigar. Parker was in his late-forties, with reddish blonde hair cut short and combed over and a neatly trimmed mustache. His steel blue-grey eyes seemed to look beyond the measure of men, seeking their unspoken agendas.
It was said he had fought with Crook in the Apache wars and actually shook Geronimo’s hand at his surrender. The room was freshly painted and smelled of cedar and sandalwood. A large bookcase containing several thick volumes on the History of the Roman Empire and Roman military tactics sat in a corner with several framed military commendations and awards populating the wall around it.
Grissom’s eyes were drawn to a custom-made cedar gun cabinet with an etched glass door that took up one wall entirely. It contained a Krag ’92, a ’95 Winchester and a ’97 Winchester Pump twelve-gauge.
A large painting of a four masted Man-of-War engaged in close quarter cannon battle with a brass name plate “The Great Nile Victory, 1798” hung behind his desk.
Grissom also noticed the Colt 1900 Pistol which lay underneath a two week old newspaper from St. Louis.
“Sgt. Grissom! Well I’ll be damned!” Parker’s feet quickly came down on the floor with a thud as he stood, limping on his left leg as he came around the desk.
“I heard you were killed in a skirmish near Juarez last year!” Parker extended his hand and Grissom shook it with a soldier’s firmness.
“Yes sir, I heard that one too, but here I am, alive and well!” The Colonel let out a hearty laugh and slapped Grissom on the back.
“So you are Sergeant! So you are! Remind me again, when did you get out of the Army?” The Colonel asked, limping his way back around to his chair behind the desk.
“Around two years ago sir. Was at Fort Duncan the majority of my tour.” Parker struck two matches and re-stoked his cigar while studying Grissom closely through the blue smoke.
“Fort Duncan, nothing short of the devil’s asshole!” Parker shook his head and closed his eyes, as if trying to dissuade the memories from lodging in his brain.
“Have a seat Grissom.” Parker motioned his hand toward a chair.
He then opened a desk drawer and removed two glasses and a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. He poured a finger in each glass.
“To your health sir!” Parker said as he downed the drink. Grissom did the same and smiled.
“That’s fine whiskey Colonel!” The Colonel poured each man another.
“So Colonel is it true what I heard about you? That you killed ten Comanche in a skirmish in ’96 up at Fort Stockton before being wounded in the leg?”
The Colonel’s face grew dim.
“Yes Grissom it’s true. But the part of the tale they leave out is how we lost eight good soldiers that day. Those damn Comanches were buzzing around like flies on a carcass.”
The Colonels voice drifted off, his grey eyes staring off into a place beyond the horizon.
“So Grissom, what brings you to my fine camp?”
“Horses, Colonel. I have ten good ponies I would like to trade for rifles and ammunition.”
“Horses? How many head?”
The colonel’s eyes studied Grissom now as he took a long drink.
“Ten Head, all good stock.”
“I see. I don’t suppose you have a bill of sale for them do you?” The Colonel gave a sly smile and Grissom shook his head to the implied notion.
He knew the Colonel had set up shop here three years ago, at first trying to buy out some very lucrative mining claims and then when that failed, burning out the miners and their families and hijacking their claims with his hired army of ex-saddle tramps and mercenaries.
He had also used his shady connections in the Army Ordnance Supply chain to find out railway delivery schedules so he could conveniently rob Federal weapon supply and payroll trains and blame it on Mexican bandits or Apache’s.
“Who are you running with now Grissom? Are you still with Diaz and his band of cut-throats? Why you have not taken my offer to hire on with me is beyond everything! I will be running all the rackets in this province soon Grissom, and before long, all of Northern Mexico!”
The Colonel looked at Grissom solemnly, waiting for a response. Grissom just smiled.
“I kinda like my freedom Colonel, after a decade of Army life, not having to answer to somebody is nice for a change.”
The Colonel laughed.
“Answer!? Hell boy, we all gotta answer one way or another! Now Let’s go take a look at that stock and see what we can work out.”
The Colonel finished his drink, stuck the Colt in the army issue flap holster and made his way to the door. The guard went before him downstairs and cleared out the drunks and dregs lying in the way.
The saloon quieted as the Colonel made his way through, each man eyeing him with a sense of both fear and reverence.
Parsons and the Boy were sitting outside the saloon on a bench sharing a piece of venison jerky when the group came out.
As they passed, the boy’s eyes met the Colonels and his blood ran cold. Those same eyes belonged to the man who had cut his face two years ago!
The boy felt heat from the top of his head down into the soles of his feet. It was like liquid fire, burning and cauterizing his insides. The boy feared he would burst from the hate growing inside of him!
So many thoughts raced through his young mind. He could kill the son of a bitch right here. No, there were too many guards around, too many witnesses. But hell, maybe he wanted a lot of witnesses so these folks would know what a bastard he was!
Best to stay calm. The boy steadied himself and took a breath. As the Colonel passed the two indians, he eyed Parsons wearily.
“These two indians are with me Colonel.” Grissom motioned for Parsons and the boy to stand up.
The Colonel stopped and inspected the two indians with a face of scorn.
“How old is this kid?” The Colonel asked Grissom.
“Not sure Colonel, I think around thirteen. We found him wandering in the desert a year or so back. Said his family got killed by Texas bandits.”
The Colonel turned his head to the street and spat and then turned and stared at the boy’s face.
“Murdered huh? How awful! Lot of bandits and cut-throats here about doing all kinds of evil”
As he was about to walk off, the gleam of the Winchester Parsons cradled in the crook of his arm caught the Colonels eye.
“Nice Winchester you got there indian, may I?”
Parsons looked at Grissom who quickly nodded his head for him to comply with the Colonels request.
As the Colonel turned the rifle over in his hands, the inscription showed in the bright sunlight.
“J.T. is that your initials indian?” the Colonel asked, those grey eyes burning a hole through Parsons now.
Parsons looked away and shook his head no.
“Nonetheless, it’s a very nice rifle, can I buy it from you? say fifty dollars American?”
Grissom’s mouth dropped open about the same time as Parsons. Before he could think about it, Parsons accepted the offer.
“Excellent!” the Colonel replied, grinning from ear to ear, his eyes quickly shooting Timmons a secretive glance.
“Timmons, pay the man!” Timmons promptly reached into his pocket and counted out five ten-dollar bills to Parsons and took the rifle.
“OK Gentleman now show me these horses!” the Colonel’s voice boomed as he started toward the corral.
Parsons, Grissom and the boy started toward the corral with Parsons examining his new fistful of greenbacks and the Colonel following close behind. Timmons then without missing a beat, promptly rapped the boy upside the head with the butt of the Winchester, sending him to the ground with a thud.
In the same moment as Grissom was turning to see about the commotion, the Colonel presented his Colt Automatic from his holster, and shot Parsons in the back of the head, the explosion of the gunshot piercing the evening stillness.
The bullet exited right above Parson’s right eye, sending a mottled combination of white and grey matter mingled with blood spewing out into a wide luminous cone, most of it ending up in Grissom’s face and eyes.
Parsons went limp and dropped like his backbone had been snatched out.
Grissom went for his revolver like a man groping in the dark for a life line but remembered in a hurried flash that he had been disarmed earlier by Timmons.
“God-dammit Colonel! What have you done!” Grissom yelled.
As Grissom wiped the last of what remained of Parson’s head from his eyes, he realized at least five rifles were drawn down on him.
The boy lay knocked out cold on the ground, the back of his head bleeding with Timmons standing over him gloating.
“Colonel! What the hell is this about!” Grissoms face was red now, spittle flying with every word.
“What this is about Sgt. Grissom is a cold-blooded bushwhack! This carbine belonged to one of my best men, James Tobin or “J.T.” as it is inscribed right here on his gun!”
The Colonel snatched the rifle from Timmons hands and held it up like evidence in a courtroom. With that the Colonel walked over to Parsons body as it lay crumpled on the ground, reached down and removed the fifty dollars from his pocket.
“That black stud right there that the indian rode in on was also J.T.’s. Now I don’t have anything against stealing horses, hell I steal horses everyday, but this was more than stealing horses Grissom. You and your band of cut throats murdered and scalped four of my men for forty-three head of stolen mexican mustangs! I should just shoot you like I did this damn indian, but you served your country Grissom and deserve to be hung like a white man I suppose. Go fetch that lazy drunk-ass sheriff and tell him to come put these two in the jail for the night.”
The Colonel spit in the road and stuck the Colt back into its holster.
“What about the boy?” Grissom asked.
“He did not take part in it, let him go!”
The Colonel looked down at the boy on the ground and spat.
“No I can’t do that Grissom. This boy belongs to a clan we tried to kill off a while back. You see that scar on that little bastard’s face?”
The Colonel pointed to the boy’s face.
I gave that little red bastard that scar and warned him and his family not to stick around this country!
“But did they listen? Hell no! The bastards were sitting on some of the best prime mining dirt in this territory and would not move! We tried everything but the savages refused. The next morning we went back and killed everybody there but I guess this little son of a bitch got lucky. No, the boy hangs with you tomorrow at Noon. I will send a priest over in the morning if you want to get square with the Almighty, although with the scum you’ve been runnin’ with, I doubt it will help.”
The Colonel shook his head in disgust and then walked off toward the saloon.
Directly a drunk mexican wearing a sweat stained floppy brimmed hat and a thin hammered piece of tin fashioned to resemble a lawman’s badge came and collected Grissom and the boy. The boy was still groggy from being knocked over the head and had a deep gash in his scalp which was still bleeding.
The mexican prodded the pair with a double barrel ten gauge across the street to a makeshift jail in an old run down clapboard building that had once been a freight house. The “cell” was nothing more than an oversized freight cage that smelled of stale piss and rat turds.
Grissom laid the boy down on the small bed and covered him with a threadbare blanket.
“That bastard Colonel killed my family.” The boy’s words were groggy but still filled with anger.
“Yeah kid I know, he has killed a lot of families around here.” Grissom took off the boy’s boots, then removed his own and jumped up to the top bunk and laid down.
“ We gonna hang tomorrow?” The boy’s question hung like heavy grey smoke in the room.
“Yeah kid, we are.” Grissom answered, trying to find better words that might comfort him but giving up.
“I will try to talk to the Colonel again tomorrow, see if he will see reason and let you walk.” Grissom closed his eyes and the last thing he heard before drifting off was the boy quietly chanting an apache death song.
The next morning the sunlight spilled through the small narrow window in the cell and Grissom was awoken by the clanging of keys as the hungover sheriff struggled to open the cell door.
The boy swung his feet down to the floor and started putting on his boots.
“The Colonel wants to talk to the boy.”
The mexican swung the ten-gauge around on Grissom as he waited on the boy to get to his feet.
“You stay put pendejo.” The sheriff eyed Grissom as the boy limped out of the cell.
The sheriff placed a pair of handcuffs on the boy and led him outside, prodding him with the ten-gauge all the while. The boy noticed a wagon load of lumber and several men building a gallows in an empty lot across from the jail. The sound of hammers and hand saws contributed to the usual morning din of a mining camp waking up.
As The boy shuffled across the street toward the saloon, several miners loitered outside, waiting on the mine wagon. Some were still drunk from the night before, having never gone to bed, their eyes looking like bloodshot piss holes.
The group quieted as the boy approached, some of them quickly looking down while others stared intently as the mexican prodded the boy forward through the doors and up the stairs to the Colonel. Timmons stood as the boy came to the top of the stairs.
The sheriff grunted and handed Timmons the handcuff keys and retreated back downstairs to the bar and his waiting bottle.
Timmons grabbed the boy by the shirt, knocked on the Colonels door and opened it.
The Colonel was busy shaving in a gleaming white porcelain basin. As Timmons seated the boy, the Colonel watched in the mirror.
“Leave the key with me Timmons.” Timmons walked over and placed the key on the desk.
As Timmons left the room, the boy’s gaze shifted to the gun cabinet. Rifles with ammunition. No lock with a glass front door. How Silly these white men are! The boy thought to himself.
The boy then noticed the Colt pistol laying on the desk, The same pistol that had killed Parsons and most likely the same one that had been used to kill his father and uncle too.
“You are thinking If I could only get to those guns, I could kill that son of a bitch, aren’t you boy? I don’t blame you. Hell, I would be thinking the same thing!”
The Colonel paused talking as he carefully trimmed below his lip with the straight razor while outside the large window on the street several teamsters could be heard loading a freight wagon.
The boy’s gaze stayed on the Colonel, the hatred pouring out of him in fluid waves of heat. He imagined breaking free of the chains and taking the straight razor from him and in a flash opening up his throat. The painting of the Nile receiving a fresh splash of crimson as the Colonel frantically died on the floor like the diseased pig that he was.
The sound of splashing water brought the boy back to reality. The Colonel washed his face and as he dried off with a towel walked over to the window to gaze at the already bustling town below.
“This place was a wide spot in the road when I got here. Nothing but a couple of run-down shacks and some whores. Now look at it! Because of me hundreds of men have jobs. Their families have food, clothing, housing; a future!”
The Colonel shifted his hard gaze to the boy.
“I warned you and your family to stop stealing from me and move on, but they didn’t listen. So I cleared them out and made room for progress!”
The boy’s face grew red. His heartbeat racing like a rabbit.
“You gave us no choice! For years my family hunted these lands and then you come along and in a day say it is all yours! You murdered my pregnant mother and put my unborn sister on a roasting spit you sick bastard!”
The Colonel’s face changed expression as the boy’s comment seemed to truly shock him. Anger was replaced with melancholy.
“I had no idea they did such a terrible heartless thing!” The boy sensed the Colonel was sincere in his sentiment.
The boy’s anger began to simmer down, his heartbeat slowed and his jaw muscles relaxed. The Colonel smiled and came in close as if to shake hands and offer an apology and then suddenly in a blur, he delivered a powerful right hook into the boy’s jaw.
The boy was knocked backwards out of his chair while several teeth scattered across the floor in a bloody mix of spittle.
“You goddamn savage! I am gonna put you all on roasting spits before all of this is finished!” The Colonel yelled at the tops of his lungs.
The boy lay dazed on the floor, the Colonel’s words a distant echo as if he was underwater.
“Damn your soul to hell you worthless son of a whore!” The Colonel kicked the boy in the ribs, knocking the air out of him in a whoosh.
The boy groaned and tried to roll away like a wounded animal, searching for a reprieve from the pain. Before the Colonel could kick him again suddenly Timmons bust through the door, an expression of fear and excitement all across his face at once.
“Colonel we got visitors!” Timmons was so excited he stuttered and stumbled over his words like a retarded child.
“Looks like half a dozen armed men led by a mexican bandit!”
The Colonel regained his composure and calmly walked over to the window to inspect the street.
“Well, the Lord is certainly being gracious to me today! Instead of hanging two pieces of thieving shit, I get to hang the whole damn gang! That’s Diaz and six of his cut-throats. Looks like they came looking for this boy and Grissom. Probably thought you two assholes stole the weapons and ammunition!”
The Colonel laughed heartily, his face turning red as he slapped his desk in exclamation.
“No honor among thieves, aye boy? Timmons round-up the boys, I will try to get all these bastards in the saloon so we can take them all in one go!”
Timmons nodded his head and spun around and headed out the door.
“You just lay there and bleed you little bastard, I will be back to finish you off right and proper when I am done with Diaz.”
The Colonel eyed the boy on the ground as he stuck the Colt in his waistband and retrieved a Winchester shotgun from the gun cabinet, loading up the tube and sticking extra shells in his pockets.
The saloon and the streets were already cleared by the time the Colonel walked outside with Timmons and four other men. Diaz and Spoon were waiting patiently still on their horses.
“Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise!” The Colonels grinned as he came out of the saloon doors, the Colt stuck down the front of his trousers and the Winchester Scattergun in his right hand.
Timmons stayed at the Colonels side as the four other men fanned out evenly to the left and right, each of them armed with a rifle. Diaz seemed to ignore the Colonel and the men.
His gaze focused on an upright pine coffin sitting on the saloon’s porch. In it Parson’s decomposing body stared back, half of his head missing, one eye staring lazily upwards at the sky as his black matted hair lay plastered against his pallid skin caked with blood.
Around his neck they had hung a wooden sign with the words “Murderer and Horse Thief” in big white letters.
Seeing Diaz’ state of fury, Spoon spoke up.
“We hear you got two of our people Colonel, we came to get em’ back.”
The Colonel laughed as he brought the Scattergun around to bear on Diaz and Spoon. Reacting, Spoon drew the Schofield revolver that lay in his saddle holster and before he could cock the hammer the Colonel fired, the big shotgun roaring to life like a sleeping dragon, the buckshot tearing horse and rider apart like paper being ripped asunder by a strong breeze.
Spoon was knocked clean out of his saddle, landing three feet behind where his horse had formerly stood, his chest opened like a bloody cavern, pieces of rib bone littered the dusty street. Spoon’s horse lay terribly wounded, crying in pain and trying to get his front feet under him. The Colonel pulled his pistol and mercifully shot the mare through the head.
During the melee Diaz had been bucked off his horse and had got to his feet, at least a dozen guns pulled down on him.
“Don’t twitch a fuckin’ finger you worthless piece of shit or you will end up exactly like your friend over there.”
The Colonel’s voice was angry, but dead calm and focused.
“Timmons, go on over there and get his gun belt and make sure he ain’t got no hideout guns or knives, you know how fuckin’ mexicans are.”
Timmons walked over, holstering his gun and patting Diaz down. After finding a small knife in his boot, Timmons unbuckled his gun belt and threw it all on the saloon porch. Diaz stood there smiling.
“You want my boots too Colonel? They are nice ones, belonged to one of your cowboys I believe!”
The Colonel’s brow furrowed at the jibe.
“I am gonna hang you Diaz. You and your buddy Grissom down there in the jail are gonna hang together and twist in the wind momentarily.”
The Colonel motioned for the surrounding men to take Diaz and tie his hands and feet. As the men were taking the rope to tie him suddenly one of the men’s heads exploded like a ripe cantaloupe hitting rock, the rifle shot ringing out from above them.
The boy had managed to free himself from his handcuffs and had now taken up a firing position in the Colonel office with a Krag Rifle. At this Diaz ran and dove into a small alleyway beside the saloon. Suddenly it sounded as if the whole town exploded in gunfire at once. Some men fired wildly at Diaz while others fired at the office windows above.
About this time, more shots rang out from down the street at the jail. The Colonel and his men had not accounted for all of Diaz’s men before the shooting started. Half a dozen of them had taken up positions near the jail and had bushwhacked the drunk sheriff and freed Grissom, now Grissom along with six mexican bandits including the black creole Tick, all armed with Repeaters and bolt-action rifles, were moving on the saloon.
The Colonel seeing this yelled for Timmons and retreated back into the saloon.
“You go kill Diaz, he’s out back there somewhere unarmed!” The Colonel yelled at Timmons.
“I’ll go kill this damn apache kid and then we can take care of Grissom and the rest of those cut throats!”
Timmons nodded and headed for the back door of the saloon. Suddenly it busted open and Diaz came through blasting with a revolver. The first shot caught Timmons in the neck, and the second caught him above the right eye, sending his brain pan all over the brand new pianola the Colonel had just had delivered from St. Louis.
“Fucking Bastard!” The Colonel screamed in fear as much as anger. He let loose with the shotgun on Diaz from ten feet away, the top half of Diaz virtually disappeared in a spray of pink mist and gore, with the bottom half of his body intact and neatly folded up on the floor like an accordion.
Breathing hard, the Colonel reloaded and began to climb the stairs to finish the kid. Suddenly two of his men busted through the saloon doors, one of them gut shot and the other shot in the arm.
“Where the hell are the rest of the men?” The Colonel yelled.
“Dead!” One of the men blurted out as he made his way to the window with his revolver and began firing wildly.
“God damn all you!” The Colonel yelled as he charged upstairs.
As he was about to kick down the door suddenly several shots rang out through the cedar. Splinters flying wildly into his face. The first shot hit the Colonel low in the gut and the second hit him in the right arm, spinning him to the floor.
“You little son of a bitch!” The Colonel cried out. Dropping the shotgun he tried to pull his Colt in his waistband, but his arm would not work. Downstairs shots rang out as the Mexicans closed in on the two defenders in the saloon.
The Colonel watched as Grissom and a black creole man busted through the saloon doors and cut his men down at close range with revolvers. About that time the Colonel’s office door swung open and the Indian boy walked out, holding a Krag Rifle.
The boy’s eyes burned like two hot coals. The Colonel lay there, blood pooling on the floor from his wounds. Grissom, Tick and three of the Mexicans had found the good whiskey and poured themselves a drink as they watched the show unfold upstairs.
“Go Ahead Boy, Here I am! Get your Revenge!” The Colonel yelled wildly, spit and blood flying from his mouth.
The Boy calmly walked up to the Colonel, dropped the rifle and reached down and picked up the Colonel’s Colt. A look of disgust filled the Colonel’s face as he watched him.
“You worthless Savage!” The Colonel yelled.
“I Fuckin’ Despi—” before he could finish his sentence the boy fired three rapid shots into the Colonel’s head, sending brain and bone flying. The boy looked at the body a while before finally spitting on him.
The boy then calmly stuck the Colt in his waistband and made his way downstairs and out the saloon doors. Directly Grissom came out.
“The boys cleaned out the freight office.” Grissom said looking at the boy. The boy never blinked, just kept looking ahead like into a dream only he could see.
“We got around a thousand dollars far as I can tell in cash money plus rifles, ammunition and fresh horses and mules.” Grissom continued looking at the boy, hoping for a response.
Directly, the boy reached into his shirt and pulled out two small sacks.
“You can add this to the total. Found it under the floorboards in his office.”
Grissom took the sack from the boy and looked inside. His eyes widened as he poured out chunks of pure silver into his hand, some of them as large as a baby’s fist.
“We are heading to Texas if you want to come along.” Grissom asked, his eyes still wide from the silver. The boy walked out into the street and looked up into the blue sky, squinting at the bright sun.
There in the sky, the boy saw a huge river, a river as large and swift as the Colorado.
Immediately the boy felt a familiarity about this place and then he realized it was the same river from his dream. As he watched the water roar past he quickly realized he was not alone, his entire family was there, including a small girl he had never met before.
“Who is this?” the boy asked his father, pointing to the small girl by his mother’s side. His father smiled and placed his hand on the child’s head.
“This is your sister, Princess Margarete.” His father replied, smiling.
The boy’s heart swelled and a happiness he had not felt in such a long time washed over him like a summer rainstorm.
Before the boy could say anymore, his family turned and walked away into a sweet, glowing light that climbed upwards into the sky. As the boy dried the tears from his face, he realized something that made his heart glow even more; This time him and his family were not separated by the river, they were all together! The boy laughed to himself and shook his head, he had never felt so happy, alive and content as he did that day.
The Mexicans soon came out of the saloon, carrying with them whatever was not nailed down: crates of whiskey bottles, blankets, pictures, lamps and rifles.
By now, some of the miners and teamsters were making their way back into town from their hiding places in the mines and hills, all of them treading carefully, surveying the dead in the street.
“You coming along kid?” Grissom asked as he began walking toward the horses with the Mexicans.
The boy gave Grissom a long look, tears filling his eyes from the vision. Wiping the tears away, the boy smiled and said aloud:
“Let’s go to Texas!”