Monday, March 19, 2012

Ride a Dark Trail: 2 On the Trail North

AS I rode north the next few days I had sometimes thought back on that incident. There's probably folks who think I did wrong, but no matter how I thought about it I couldn't make it out that way. That boy was out to bully me, and there was at least four people there with more reason to care more than I did for him, but I was the only one who tried to talk him out of it. Maybe he was as irritating to everyone as he tried to be to me. Maybe the war, maybe losing his father, had turned him bitter. It did plenty of other people. Hell it had hurt me enough. That's probably why I was riding north when everyone else: Commanches, soldiers, settlers, cattlemen, and railway workers were all just stirring with winter's early end. I'd had enough of most people, and enough of killing. I liked being alone in the foothills of the high country, even knowing that a little turn of the weather could bring a blizzard that I'd need shelter from. Seems like I'd needed a lot more alone time the past few years.
It wasn't like that when I was growing up back in Missouri. I liked being around people, talking with them, even arguing with them. One thing that was still the same is that once I decided I was right I wouldn't give in, no matter how small the matter, or how big the consequences. My older brothers, especially Franklin, would talk me down, or kick my butt -- the way somebody shoulda done for that boy in Arizona -- but eventually they weren't around. By my late teens I had my share of enemies, and allies. As you know, the years before the war were contentious times. A lot of the things we did weren't clean. They were for a good cause, but they weren't good.
I'd grown up around a negro couple, and I just couldn't stomach any argument that made out that colored folks were any way less than any other folks. Couldn't keep my mouth shut about it nuther.
Anyway, the time came when doing the right thing put me on the wrong side of the law. Franklin got me a job hunting for some railway builders, and I headed west out of Missouri two jumps in front of the law. Seems to me the law always ends up on the side of them that has the most money or the most friends. The only time I ever stood completely on the right side was the three years I spent in the Union Army. Even though we was mainly right, we did a lot of things that was really wrong.
Most a the time I been outside the law, riding a dark trail and deciding for myself what's right and wrong. But I can only seem to stay really right by staying away from people.
So I warn't none to happy with myself as I rode north, but I was glad to be out in the wilderness where everyday I could see eagles, bears, deer, buffalo, and other critters starting to move with the springtime, and not a one of them was worrying about right or wrong.
I did not know that that blond boy's death had started something in motion that would change the outcome of events still to come, making some folks lives, mine included, different, and ending a few prematurely.

Ride a Dark Trail: 1 He couldn't let it go

The blond boy with the straggly new mustache gave me a glance and then a hard stare when he and his mates first came in, but it took a couple belts of the rot-gut that passed for whiskey in that no-name Arizona territory hamlet, and a half-a-dozen more hard stares, before he got to it. I was concentrating on eating my stew, knowing that one way or another I wouldn't be there too much longer.
"Something stinks in here," he announced to the room; only he and his four mates, the proprietor and a young half-breed waitress, and I were there. He came off the bar, sniffing at the air, and came toward me like a dog with his hackles up. The hard stare settled on me again. "It's you," he said.
I gave it a beat. "Mebbe, I'm just off the trail, too hungry to wait for a bath. But I don't know how you could tell, son; you got cow-pie all over your boots."
He looked down. There was some dung on one. When he looked back at me, my mild smile didn't calm him any. "You think I'm a joke, Old man?"
"I think you should go back to your friends, and I should eat my stew while it's hot."
"Take off that blue-belly rag! We'll put it in the garbage where it b'longs."
So that was it. I shoulda knowed. I was still wearing my blue wool Union calvary coat. Down in Juarez it was warm enough for the winter & still warm enough as I'd started North again in mid-March. Five years old, but still good enough, and paid for with blood and sweat.
"My Daddy died fightin' blue bellies! Take that coat off!"
"Son that fight's been fit," I said. "Too many good men died fightin' it, an' I got tired a killin' for it many a year ago.
Ain't you got a reason to live?
This stew here," I gestured with my left hand, "and that purty gal," I waved it toward where the owner was moving her behind himself, "are enough reason for me. Why don't you go back with your friends and ask her to bring you some, and I'll finish mine?
"God damn you!" He swung at me, telegraphing it.
I pulled my head back, and grabbed his wrist in my right hand as his fist came past my face, pulling him further toward me. I kicked out hard, left toe up at his right shin, and got my left hand behind is neck, helping him fall face-first into my plate.
What with beaver-trapping, buffalo-skinning, wood-cutting, cow-punching, and every other kind a work a man with more muscle than brain has to do to live on the frontier for the ten years I spent mostly out here, when I get a grip on something it mostly goes where I want it to go, or stays where I want it to stay. I did have to kick him a couple more times to keep him from standing back up. I looked over at the crew he came in with. "If any a you fellas is a true friend to this boy, you'll get him outa here now, and not wait til you hafta carry him." None of them moved, but none of them looked inclined to get into the fight either. "You've probably had a taste a the stew by now, boy." -- he coulda drowned in it if I hadn't already eaten so much -- "sure you won't go back and have some?"
He was swearing, trying to stand, and scrabbling with his left hand for the gun on his right hip.
I whipped a couple hard kicks again with my left leg. On one my toe went right into his arm, discouraging the reaching. On the other, with his arm outa the way, I connected to his ribs, probably not hard enough to crack one, but he lost his wind and more of his gumption.
Crossing my left hand past my right, I taken hold of his, digging my thumb into the tender spot near the base of his, and giving the arm a good twist. That gave me a chance to shove his hat off and get a fistful of his hair. I used those grips to walk him back over as I stepped out of my seat. I kept my grip, and the twist on his arm, put another boot into his rib cage, and thumbed a coin onto the table for the stew.
"Boy, I'm leaving now. That's all you wanted when you started bullyraggin' me. Go back to your friends, or go lick your wounds. Don't do anything stupid. Every man that died in that God damn war would give a limb for the chance you got right now. Live!"
But he couldn't bring himself to do it. Before I made the door, and without even getting up off his knees, he went to pull his pistol. Just as he managed it out of the holster I turned and shot him in the face.
Then, since he was with a local outfit and I was just passing through, I went to the livery stable, tacked up my horses and headed back out on the trail north.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007