A Village With No Name / Chapter 12 / 13
A Village With No Name
** 12 **
Gideon ruffled the lapels of his duster coat to release the hot air trapped between the fibers and his body. It was another one of those days in Arizona where the temperature soars to one-hundred-degrees or more. In such heat, a man’s exposed flesh turns a rosy pink, and then the moisture beneath the skin begins to boil, causing little water welts to appear beneath the surface. The morning breeze had gone, and the soft dust it stirred in the street had settled. But despite the blistering heat, Gideon stood in the main road waiting for Jackson’s return.
When Jackson appeared, he was riding hard, his horse at an ungainly angle as he rounded the bend to the village, almost hidden from the dust that rose from the hoofs as his mount slid, and jarred and then regained its footing. Jackson pulled the appaloosa to a skating halt outside Watkins' office. When he had completed his report, he joined Gideon in the street.
“I’ll stand at your side, Mister Gideon.” Jackson breached a bullet into his Henry sixteen-shot .44-caliber rimfire rifle. “You can’t stand out here alone. Mister Kane will shoot you down like a rabid coyote.”
“No, Jackson,” Gideon responded sternly. “If Kane doesn’t kill me, Grandma will. I want you off the street.”
“You don’t know the man,” Jackson protested. “Not like we do.”
“I’ve heard enough about Kane to make my judgment of him, but I agree with you, Jackson, he’s not a man to take lightly.” Gideon took a moment to study the large black man standing at his side. He had never seen a man quite as tall and wide as Jackson. However, despite the size of the man, there was a gentleness about him not found in many young men west of the mighty Mississippi River. He stood rooted in the street, showing no fear of the danger that Kane might bring.
“How far out is, Kane?” Gideon asked.
“Ten, fifteen minutes,” Jackson replied, fondling the stock of his Henry rifle.
“That's a fine sixteen-shot-repeater you've got there, Jackson," Gideon said, looking down at the well-kept and oiled long-gun. “I’m impressed.”
Jackson held the rifle at an arm stretch. “I got it six months ago from a gentleman who rode into the village. His horse was in poor shape, had a bad dose of the worms, and he wanted to trade it for another to get him up to Tombstone. Said he’d had enough of the ways of the west and was going back east, but didn’t have enough money to pay for another horse. He offered the rifle as a trade. I took it and his appaloosa. Chewing tobacco mixed in with his feed got rid of the worms, and after a good rest, he was fine.” Jackson pointed to the black and white appaloosa standing outside the sheriff’s office, stomping the earth as it impatiently waited for its rider. “He’s a fine animal, Mister Gideon. I wouldn't trade him for anything.”
Gideon raised a hand toward the animal and closed one eye. “Magnificent beast," he said. "Sixteen hands?”
“No, Mister Gideon,” Jackson stated proudly. “He’s a half-hand taller than most. Almost seventeen.”
Gideon smiled and nudged Jackson lightly in the side. “Come,” he said and started up the street. “By now, Kane should be close to the river. In an odd way, I’m looking forward to meeting the man. How many riding with him?"
“Seven,” Jackson informed him. “They were too far away to tell if Scott and Sam were riding with him.”
Gideon cocked his head. “Who is Sam?” he asked.
“Kane’s, right-hand man. A half-breed. Watch him, Mister Gideon, he’s a bad sort that one, and quick with his handguns.”
When the two men reached the office door, Jackson pointed to the far end of the village. A lookout stood in the center of the main street, waving his hat frantically above his head, trying to attract their attention. “Kane’s here,” Jackson said, unflinching, and raised his hand in acknowledgment to the lookout's signal.
“Tell me —” Gideon probed. “When you arrived back here in the village, Carlos was riding with you. Where did he go?”
“I sent him to the livery. I don’t like Michael alone down there when Mister Kane’s boys are in the village. They don’t like Michael. They call him a troublesome black skunk.”
Gideon shook his head and frowned as he opened the door to the office and ushered Jackson in before him.
Watkins stood at the window, checking the live rounds in his Colt. “I told them to signal us when Kane arrived.” He slipped the Colt back into its holster and moved over to his desk. From the bottom drawer, he took a box of .44-40 Winchester shells, and then from the rack on the wall behind him, he removed a 78' Winchester rifle. “What do we do now?” he asked, looking across the desk at Gideon.
Suddenly becoming aware that the mayor was not in the room, Gideon asked, “Did you find the mayor, sheriff?”
Watkins puffed his cheeks with frustration when he rested the barrel of the Winchester against the desktop. “I don't know where he is.” Watkins shook his head. “When I left you, I went back to the saloon looking for him. Theo left his belly gun with Pablo, the barman, but he didn’t say where he was going.”
Before Gideon could answer, Jackson, thrust out one arm pointing to a band of men raising dust as they cantered up the main street. “They’re coming!” he burst out but hesitated before he went on. “The … the mayor's riding with them, Sheriff. He doesn't look like a happy man.”
The two men crossed the office floor to join Jackson at the window.
“You miserable bastard, Theo!” Watkins bellowed through the closed window. “I hope you rot in hell!” And Gideon noticed the bantam shudder that rippled through Watkins’ body.
“Don’t judge him yet, sheriff,” Gideon told him. “He might have a good reason to be riding with Kane.” Then to Jackson. “There’s only five. You said seven.”
Gideon moved over to the door, opened it, and then turned back. “I’m going out alone,” he said. “If anyone reaches for his gun, shoot Kane first. That should send his pack running.”
When Kane neared the office, he slowed his boys to a walk. They moved up the street spread out across the dry gravel. Gideon stood his ground on the plank-walk watching them. With a nudge from his thumb, he pushed his hat to the back of his head, giving himself a broader view of what lay before him. The men Watkins had placed on the rooftops had taken cover behind the facade boards, and those in the street and doorways had shrunk away into the shadows. Evans rode between Scott and his Pa. Jackson’s description of the man was without error. He looked tired and broken like a man who had lost all hope. Kane raised his right hand and brought his boys to a halt, a respectable distance from Gideon.
“You must be the one they call, Gideon?” Kane said in a raspy voice and wiped the trail dust from his face. He sat astride his custom, hand-tooled saddle inlaid with threads of silver and gold, with an air of haughtiness. “I hear you’ve been busy in my village since you arrived last evening.” Kane bumped his knees against the saddle, nudging his horse closer to the sidewalk. “I believe you shot and kill four of my staff.” He beckoned toward Scott, “And whipped my son?”
“I started none of this —” Gideon told him. “Your son must take the credit for what’s happened.”
“Maybe,” said Kane. “But I wouldn’t be here if you had read the sign hanging above the entrance to Grandma’s tent. I put it there for a reason. I don’t want my workers coming to work with black eyes and broken teeth. It’s bad for production. The Mex’ are only happy when they’re drunk, and as for the whites, well, they enjoy fighting.”
“Your fight should be with your son, not with the villagers and me.” Gideon held the stare that came from those dark indigo eyes. There was trouble coming, Gideon could feel it in his bones, and he blinked as a sweat drop rolled into his eye. “You should take the time to teach your son to have more respect for others.”
“I’ve dealt with him,” Kane snapped.
“Did Scott tell you that he sent Martie and Nat to talk to me last night?”
“I heard about it,” said Kane. “You nearly killed three of my horses. I'm still looking for one. Around here, we hang a man who steals another man's property.” He moved impatiently in the saddle. “I don’t need a stranger riding into my village, causing trouble. Over the years, many have ridden through, but I’ve learned over time how to deal with trouble makers.”
Gideon grit his teeth. “I’ve eaten sand and dust for the last ten days, baked beneath the scorching sun, and nearly ran short of water. I have enough troubles of my own. I never came here looking for trouble.”
A grin appeared at the corner of Kane’s mouth, but he checked it. “Then, get your stuff and ride out.”
“I can’t do that now,” said Gideon. “Your son has made it personal.”
While the two men spoke, Evans had moved forward unnoticed, and now flung himself from the saddle landing in a heap in the dirt. Little clouds of dust rose from his hands and feet as he scrambled on all fours toward the sidewalk. Then with a steeped effort, he rose to his feet, took a few stumbled paces, and then dived onto the sidewalk, coming to a rolling stop at Gideon’s feet. “Stop him, Mister Gideon, please.” Tears flowed from his eyes as his voice tapered off to a whisper. “Please … don’t let him hurt my son.”
To the whimpering pleads, Watkins stepped out through the open office doorway and dropped to his knees at Evans’ side. He placed his hand on the sobbing man’s shoulder. “Theo,” he asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Mister Kane,” Evans wheezed through quivering lips, “sent Sam and Wes out to my ranch. He told them to hurt, Tim, and to burn down my barns.”
Watkins turned to look up at Gideon. “This is not the first time Kane has told Sam to beat a child,” he said. “A year ago, he beat an innocent young Chinese boy until he could no longer stand. His father looked on helplessly, held by two other men, but his mother broke free and raced forward to protect her child. Another of Kane’s men pulled his handgun and, without hesitation, shot her between the eyes. She fell to the ground, dead, at the side of her boy. A day later, the young boy died of his brutal injuries. The day following, because of the pain and stress of his loss, his father shot and killed himself.” He stopped to suck in a deep breath. “We can’t let this happen to Theo’s boy. You got to stop him, Gideon.”
Gideon straightened his back to face Kane. “You rotten bastard,” he snarled. “Call off your boy's.”
Kane only smiled and adjusted his broad-brimmed, high-crowned Sombrero. “Too late,” he said, nodding to the south beyond the boundary of the village toward the Evans ranch, his black shoestring tie fluttering at his shoulder as he turned. “In a short while, you’ll see a column of smoke drifting into the sky. If you follow it, Theo,” he chuckled, “it’ll lead you all the way home.”
** 13 **
Sam pulled in his horse on a tall mound overlooking the homestead. The two-story ranch house sat among a copse of aspen trees and seemed to shrink away into the shadows hiding from the fast-approaching harsh, noon sun. A ground spring bubbled from the earth, forming a little creek that flowed to the west of the house traced by short shrubs and trees and the occasional weeping willow. From one of the willow branches hung two twisted-plant-fiber ropes attached to a smoothed wooden plank. A young girl sat on the swing dressed in a full, blue dress with a large, floppy hat of yellow resting on her head, tied down into a bow beneath her chin by a trace of white ribbon. A lock of her long, fair hair fell over her eyes, and as she brushed it away with her hand, she lazily swayed her legs, drifting back and forth out over the water.
On a blanket, spread over the grass beside the swinging girl, sat a middle-aged woman and a small boy. They sang together in perfect harmony, for it was the Lord's day, and they missed their Sunday morning worship in the old Spanish Mission. The previous evening Evans had told his wife to stay away from the village, as he was expecting trouble from Kane and wanted his family to have no part of it.
The young girl suddenly thrust out her legs excitedly, increasing her height on the swing, and joined her mother and younger brother in a new lively song that drifted up from the creek to where the two men sat in their saddles silently watching them.
The main barn stood to the north of the ranch house, at the bottom of a decline that slanted away from the house, with two smaller barns standing on its eastside. A cruel smile appeared on Sam’s face when he pointed down to the buildings. “Let’s get those fires started, Wes. It will be easy to snatch the boy in the confusion of the fire and smoke.”
“All three, Sam?”
“That’s what the boss said.” Sam stopped and ran the back of his hand across his mouth. “No,” he said, going against Kane’s words. “Only the building on the far side of the barn. I’m guessing the ranch will come up for sale again soon. What good is a ranch without a barn? I could settle down real nice in a place like this.”
Wes laughed. “You settle down,” he said. “I can’t imagine you spendin' a day in the field behind a plow.”
“I can learn,” said Sam with a smile, “just like the mayor did when he took over the ranch when Taylor and his wife disappeared.”
Wes frowned. “Disappeared! What happened to them?” he asked.
“It happened a long time ago,” Sam said thoughtfully and turned back to the family singing down by the creek. “I heard Kane buried them out here somewhere.”
The sun hung high in the sky when Sam nudged his horse to the north, staying out of sight of the family and only stopped when they reached the barn. The back wall of the building formed part of a corral. Inside four horses and a mule fed on the fresh hay that Evans had laid out for them before leaving for the village in the morning.“Those are four fine-looking horses and a strong mule,” said Sam. “Open the gate, Wes. It’ll be a pity to lose them in a fire.”
Wes stepped down from his horse and led it over to the corral gate. “What makes you think the boss will sell it to you?” he asked, slapping his hat vigorously against the side of his scuffed chap to gain the attention of the animals. “How will you find the time to work the land and work for a boss? I don’t see Kane agreeing with that.”
Sam waited until the animals had passed through the open gate before he said, “Kane pays me a good wage to work for him. There’s plenty to make the bank payments, and a little leftover for one or two ranch hands.”
Wes laughed again as he gathered the reins of his horse and stepped back into the saddle. “I’ll take the post as your manager. I’ll get your monies worth out of your loafing cowhands.”
Sam only smiled and said, “Close the gate, I don’t want them coming back for the feed.”
The two men entered the structure through the side door, a square building with a high roof. The air inside was cool and dry, and the whiff of fresh hay hung trapped between the four walls. A shaft of sunlight shone through an open shutter in the roof, causing a long shaft of light to fall to the floor in a pool of bright yellow light. Theo kept a tidy shed. Farm equipment stood neatly in rows on the hard, freshly swept floor, with ropes and pulleys hanging on the walls. Sam moved over to where a kerosene lantern hung from the ladder that led up to where Evans stored his hay. "I don't want to do this, Wes —" But he took it down anyway, lit it with a strike anywhere and tossed it, without shutting the glass cover, up into the bales of hay. The dry feed burst into flames like that of the sharp crack from a lightning bolt as it strikes a dry tree, and Sam turned away, hiding his face from its heat and anger.
** 14 **