A Village With No Name
A Village With No Name
** 8 **
“What about his sister?” Gideon asked when they reached Watkins’ office.
Watkins closed the office door behind them, dropped his hat onto his desk, and then walked over to the potbelly stove. “What about her?” Watkins spoke across his shoulder as he stuffed a few small wood cuttings into the burner and prodded at the smoldering ashes with a metal poker.
“I’m talking about the doctor, Sheriff. You said he’d lost good men on his table. Will she recover with no enduring problems?”
“She was fine when I looked in on her this morning,” Watkins said. “I’ll check with Theo when he gets back.” He made a fresh pot of coffee and placed a mug in front of Gideon when he returned to his desk. He flopped down into his chair, grinning as he said, “I didn’t think you were going to allow Scott to visit his sister before he rode out.”
Gideon returned that cheeky grin. “I’m not that bad, Sheriff,” he said. “I thought it best to send the mayor with Scott to ask the doc to take a look at Scott’s wounds. I didn’t mean to hit him that hard, but the young fool made me angry.”
When Gideon turned to the window, Theo Evans was leading Scott away from the doctor's rooms. They huddled together in conversation as they across the gravel street to where Scott’s horse stood tied to the railing post outside the saloon. Evans stood watching Scott as he rode out of the village, then turning abruptly on his heels, he marched with an austere look on his face back up the street toward Watkins’ office.
“We’ll all be dead by noon, Ben,” Evans gasped, sweating and red-faced as he swung open the office door. He turned to Gideon with eyes filmed with fear, and Gideon knew that Scott had got to him for his body shook like a ruffled leaf on a tree. “All we wanted was a peaceful settlement, but no, you had to shoot Kane’s boys and whip his son.”
“Calm down, Theo.” Watkins rose to meet him. “We knew the consequences when we hired Gideon. We knew it wouldn't be easy.”
“He’s killed four of Kane’s men in less than twenty-four hours.” Theo Evans said and dabbed at the sweat on his brow. “What have we done, Ben? Kane will have us hanging from a tree before the sun goes down.”
“Only three,” Gideon reminded him, “Jackson killed one, and don’t forget if there’s a reward out on him, the money goes to Jackson and his family.”
Evans raised his shoulders and blew hard. “You’re talking about money at a time like this. Scott’s on his way back to report to his Pa as we speak. Who knows what, Mister Kane, will do when he arrives?”
“Oh, and one other thing,” Gideon interjected again. “I met two of Scott’s boys last night when I returned to Grandma’s place.”
“What!” Evans blurted out with atheism. “You went back up there?” His cheeks turned snow-white, his eyes as wide as the blotch on the rear of a mule deer buck.
“Yes,” Gideon assured him. “They rode me out of the village a few miles before I managed to overpower them.”
Evans clamped his forehead in the palms of his hands. “Killed them, you mean!” he mumbled through tight lips.
“Calm down, Theo,” Watkins said again. “We knew this would happen. What we need is to stay focused and make plans for when Kane arrives.”
Evans sucked in a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “Scott has given us a way out, Ben.” The words seemed to dribble from his mouth, and his chin dropped to his chest. “If we get, Mister McCraw, to leave before he returns with his pa, all will be forgiven. Scott promised me this.”
“And you believe him?” Gideon rose from his chair to stand beside Watkins. “Yesterday, you were all for the idea, but now with the first bit of trouble, you falling to pieces. Pull yourself together. You sound like a jittering child.
Watkins took Evans by the arm and led him to a chair. “Sit, Theo, and breathe deeply. Let me think.”
Gideon unpinned the badge from his shirt and dropped the six-point star onto the desktop.
At the knocking sound of tin against the wooden surface, Watkins swiftly turned from Evans shaking his head forcefully. “No!” he pleaded. “We need your help. Give Theo a moment to settle down. He’ll stand with us.”
“I’m not leaving,” Gideon told him. “But I’m not staying because of you or the mayor. I’d be dead if it weren’t for Jackson, shot in the back by one of Scott’s men. No, I’m staying because of them.” Gideon left the tin badge lying on the desk, crossed the room to the office door, and stepped out onto the wooden plank-walk. He could hear the two men at odds with each other in the office, but he paid them no mind and stepped down into the main street.
Gideon stood in the heat of the morning sun, looking up at the homes of the misfortunate nestled on the ridge above the village. The thought of moving on still scratched at the back of his mind. But if I leave, Scott will have many of them whipped by nightfall. The thought sickened him. He was still looking up at the compound when Watkins joined him in the street.
“They all belong to Kane, every one of them,” Watkins said.”
Gideon stared at Watkins as if uncertain of what to say. Then he broke the silence. “The entire community?” he asked.
“The ones up there on the ridge, yes,” explained Watkins. “That was Kane’s original gold miner’s camp. Back then, he had a partner. No one knew where their gold mine was, not even their workers. Each morning Kane and his partner would bundle the poor souls into a closed-cart-wagon and take them out to the mine. Rain, storm, or hale, they didn’t mind. By then, the greed had its grip on the two men.”
“Many a good man has fallen to greed,” Gideon agreed. “It twists the mind and bites deep into a soul, a place of darkness and danger. Some men never return from their dreams.” He said it lightly, but he remembered the bitter memories that lay in his past. When he was only eight years old, his father had left home in search of gold. “No longer than a month,” his pa had told them as he rode away. Months turned into years before his mother finally accepted his father would not return. For comfort, she told herself that her husband had died from a rockfall or at the hands of ruthless men. No God-fearing man would leave a woman alone, with a young child in a wild and Indian infested land. He was ten when his mother died of Tuberculosis. The next two years of his life, he had spent in an orphanage before thrown out because of overcrowding.
“In those days, there was a fence surrounding the compound.” Gideon was listening to the voice of a troubled man, gripped with concern and pity. The years of watching the pain and anguish of the misfortunate had taken its toll on him, and now he was expressing himself freely. “Some tried to escape, but none ever made it to the borders of the village. I’ve heard talk in the saloon that Kane had them shot and then buried out there somewhere.” Ben Watkins frowned as he looked back up at the compound. “You must understand, Gideon, all this happened years before I arrived. I had no part in it.”
“Where is his partner now?” Gideon asked. “I’ve heard no mention of him.”
“He up and left a few years ago, according to Kane. Said he bought Taylor out. He owned the ranch to the south of here bordering on Kane’s farm, the one that Theo now owns. I’ve also heard some strange stories about his disappearance,” Watkins added without wavering.
“So, you want to turn this village into a town?” Gideon asked, and Watkins bobbed his large head eagerly.
“Back then, the village was a lot smaller. As people passed through this way, some stayed behind, and slowly it grew into what it is today. Kane knew he had to keep a tight hold on its growth or lose control of the village and his workforce. I’ve known Kane for two years now,” Watkins continued in a measured tone. “I can tell you from my heart, Gideon, he’s an evil man. He would die before he gave up his gold.”
“Most men would,” Gideon agreed. “Where is this gold mine?”
Watkins stuck out his arm towards the mountains in the west. “Five miles out,” he said. “It’s not a secret anymore. Now with his money and hired guns, he has no reason to keep it hidden. According to Scott, his father has a good relationship with the bank in Tombstone.”
“That’s miles from here.”
“Near to a day’s ride,” Watkins answered. “He often travels up to Tombstone guarded by his hired guns, towing a closed wagon behind them.”
“He digs out that much gold?”
“No,” Watkins managed a short chuckle. “It’s for bringing back his supplies and liquor for the village.”
Just then, an elderly, Mexican gentleman greeted them as he shuffled past clutching one end of a dried and crooked stick, the other end scraping through the dusty earth, taking the weight of his body off his twisted and withered leg. Watkins walked over to him, spoke to him in Spanish then returned to Gideon. “Another one of Kane’s casualties,” he said.
“What happened to him?”
“A rockfall out at the mine,” said Watkins. “Grandma feeds him now, and Jackson allows him to use a room at the back of the livery. Kane will have nothing more to do with him.”
The two men walked back in silence to the office, and Evans looked up as they entered. His eyes still had the look of a troubled man, but the shaking that swayed his body had passed.
“I don’t want your badge,” he said in a soft, bothered voice. “Sorry. I lost my nerve back then.”
“Not to worry, Theo,” Watkins comforted him. “I was close to losing mine also.” He looked over at Gideon. “I took the liberty and asked that elderly Mexican to send a child to fetch Jackson. We will need someone to keep a lookout for Kane on the road leading into the village from the east.”
“Yesterday when I rode in, I don’t remember passing a homestead, cattle, or any horses – not even a fence,” said Gideon.
“You wouldn’t have, Kane’s ranch is far south of the eastern trail. A good half-hour ride from the village.” Watkins moved over to his desk, pushed aside a few loose papers, and sat down on the corner of the wooden surface. “Tell me, Theo,” he said, remembering Gideon’s earlier question, “You were the last to see Mary Loo. How is she?”
Theo shook his thin, graying head. “I didn’t see her, but doc Sanders was well into his first bottle of whiskey – or his second.” He closed his eyes at the thought of Marry Loo, and when he opened them again, he said, “We must do something about him, Ben. What if something should happen to her?”
“I’ve been thinking about that for a while now, Theo,” replied Watkins. “I’m sure Gideon can help us with that.”
“Be my pleasure,” replied Gideon. “What did he say about Scott’s lashers?”
“Scott wouldn’t allow doc Sanders anywhere near him. He said Rosa would attend to him when he got back to the ranch.”
Gideon noticed the twinkle of light that appeared in Watkins’ eyes to the mentioned of the name. For the first time, Gideon watched the big man smile openly, a smile that softened his brow-crease and drooped his shoulders, releasing the pressure that lay trapped deep within his very being.
Watkins’ hard, suntanned face turned a salmon pink when he spoke, “Rosa is Kane’s housekeeper. We spend time together when she comes into the village on her days off.”
Gideon smiled and picked up the tin badge lying on the desk and pinned it back on his shirt. “Go across the street and break every bottle of whiskey you can find in Doc Sanders’ office,” he told Evans. “Where does he live?”
“He’s got a room at the back of his office,” Evans replied.
“Check there also, and when you’re through, let the saloon know he’s not welcome in there anymore.”
“The man will die if you take away his whiskey, Mister Gideon,” said Evans.
“Tell him to pull himself together, or I’ll come across there and make him. I'll not take his nonsense in the village,” Gideon replied sternly.
The three men fell silent when Jackson stepped through the open doorway into the office. “You sent for me, sheriff.” He was puffing heavily. “I came as fast as I could.” Not waiting for Watkins' answer, he turned and spoke directly to Gideon. “You saved my family a lot of pain this morning. I thank you.”
Gideon grinned with delight. “And you saved my life, Jackson. I would be dead if it weren't for your fancy knife throwing."
Jackson returned the grin, and the bruising on his cheek surrounding the plaster radiated like the moon covered by an angry cloud of deep purple and turquoise green.
“Michael’s working on that shoe, Mister Gideon,” he said. “He’ll have it done for you by noon.” Jackson looked back at Watkins, and his face took on an anxious look. “Is Mister Kane coming?”
“That’s why I sent for you.” Watkins rose from the desktop and walked over to Jackson. He placed his hands on those broad, wide shoulders. “No hard feelings between us, Jackson?”
“No, sheriff. You and the Mayor have always treated us right.” He waved an open palm in front of his chest, his white teeth beaming in his face.
“I want you to ride out to Pommel Ridge,” Watkins said. “We need to know when Kane is coming. Don’t interfere with them. Just count them and report back. Got it?”
“He had better take Carlos along with him, Ben,” said Evans, “Jackson might run into trouble if Scott has left a look out of his own.”
** 9 **