A Western Novelette
(Part 2 of the Border Trilogy)
Patterson Farm, A Few Miles Outside Shafter
After finishing his third helping of beef stew, Creed pushed himself away from the table, full as a tick. “Ma’am that was the best meal I have ever had, thank you!” Sarah Patterson smiled as she cleared the dinner plates and carried them over to the sink. “Well I hope you saved room for coffee and apple pie!” Sarah asked smiling. Eve sat across from Creed, doing her best not to stare, but her mother noticed right away. “Eve, Honey would you please help me with the pie and coffee?” The question broke Eve out of her hypnotic trance and she jumped up. As the women were busy, Creed got up from the table and walked into the living room.The home was a modest one story ranch style four bedroom with a large den area, dining room and kitchen. Creed walked over to the mantle above the fireplace and admired the pictures sitting there. One of them showed a man with Mrs. Patterson and small child in front of some type of construction.”That is my late husband, Thomas, with Eve and me. It was taken while we were building this house.” Sarah said as she came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Eve followed her, bringing in a coffee platter with three plates of Apple pie. “How do you like your coffee Mr. Le Voyant?” Eve asked as she sat the platter down on the coffee table. “Black is fine.” Creed replied smiling as he tried to not be so obvious in admiring her. Sarah smiled as she recognized the magnetism between her daughter and Creed. “Please have a seat Mr. La Voyant.” Sarah asked. “Please, call me Creed.” Creed asked as he sat down, trying to be as casual as he could. “How and when did your husband pass if you don’t mind me asking ma’am?” Creed asked, trying to be delicate. “Thomas died in a mining accident six years ago.” Sarah replied, picking up the picture and dusting it off with the towel. “John Randolph had my father killed.” Eve said flatly. Creed noticed Sarah give Eve an exasperated look, but Eve ignored her. “My father started his own mine without John Randolph as his partner and Randolph killed him for it” The bitterness in Eve’s voice was readily apparent. “We don’t know that for sure Eve!” Sarah replied sadly, placing the picture back on the mantle. Creed felt the uncomfortable silence in the room but his curiosity was piqued. “Please forgive me for prying, but if you had proof Randolph killed your father, why didn’t you go to the law?” Eve walked over and took a plate of apple pie and a fork and sat down next to Creed. “Randolph owns everything in this town, including peoples loyalty. The last man that tried to speak out against Randolph had his store bankrupted and was run out-of-town as a debtor.” Sarah replied, looking out the window. “Creed, I am begging you, stay out of the mining business and stick to cattle, it is much healthier in the long run.” Sarah looked over at Creed, her eyes wet with tears. Creed took a deep breath. He could not believe what he was hearing. Eve got up and took the picture of her father down off the mantle and handed it to Creed. “My mother spoke those exact same words to our father six years ago.” Sarah let out a gasp and began to sob uncontrollably. “I Know! I know! It is all just too much!” Sarah exclaimed as she ran into the back bedroom and slammed the door. Creed’s mind was spinning and his heart awash with emotion. He had been led here not by happenstance he believed, but by fate, to a family who was suffering from the injustice of powerful and corrupt men. As Creed shifted his gaze from the picture to Eve’s dark eyes, suddenly time stood still and he was transported into a great whirlwind. Up above him, in the vortex, a dark cloud burst and thunder rolled so loud it was deafening. The whirlwind sat him down on cracking earth in the midst of a powerful earthquake. There in the midst of it all, in the pouring rain and the lightning flashes, Creed saw his father, dressed in ceremonial garb, beside him stood his unborn sister. She spoke Apache, but the thunder was so loud, Creed could not make out the words. He moved closer to hear, her dark eyes a flame that illuminated her entire face like a candle does in a dark room. When he got close enough the words carried on the wind and echoed in his ear, as if in a large canyon: “John Randolph must be stopped, he is a blight upon the lives of these good people…” Creed awoke several minutes later on the floor to Eve and Sarah gently shaking him. “Are you alright Creed? You fainted and were mumbling something in a strange language.” Creed quickly got up off the floor and brushed himself off. He was embarrassed beyond belief.. “I am so sorry for that! Thank you for the meal Mrs. Patterson, I must be on my way…” And before the women could say another word, Creed was out the door and on his horse, riding hard for town.
South Texas, One Mile from the Mexico Border
Grissom, Tick and Rojo returned from Mexico with ten men and a string of seven ponies. They crossed the Rio Grande and made their way through a place the locals called Preacher’s Gulch. The long, narrow canyon had high rock walls and through years of erosion, had created a natural bottleneck that had been used for ambushes for decades by both the U.S. Army and Indians. The lead rider was dozing in his saddle when the lookout for Marshall Prescott’s band of killers who liked to fancy themselves a ” law-abiding posse” spotted him. The lookout signaled to the fifteen armed men that lined the top of both sides of the canyon walls to ready themselves. When the last rider entered the canyon, all fifteen rifles barked at the same time, the gunfire echoing off the canyon walls and carrying all the way into the town of Presidio. By the time Grissom heard the crack of the rifles, he was already half way to the ground. The bastards had shot his horse in the head as it crumpled from underneath him. As he rolled away from the dead animal he reached for his Winchester carbine in the saddle scabbard. Once he had the rifle he started crawling for a set of rocks fifteen feet away. The combination of gunfire and men screaming in pain was deafening. There was so much dust being stirred up he had to crawl by feel, inching his way forward along the valley floor. Grissom came across one of the dying cowboys, a young kid, not more than nineteen. He had been shot in the stomach several times, dark black blood oozing out into the red caliche soil. The boys eyes stared straight ahead and as Grissom moved past him he heard him whisper in a hoarse voice: “Tell my daddy I am sorry.” Grissom stopped for a moment and simply said “I will” and kept moving forward, bullets impacting all around him. As he crawled he wondered if Tick and Rojo had met the same fate as that poor cowboy. Foolishly, he raised his head to try to see over the carnage of bloody horse-flesh and dead men, but it was useless, he could see nothing. Suddenly he heard gunfire coming from the rocks ahead of him. As he inched closer, he saw Tick and Rojo returning fire with pistol and rifle. “Crawl faster you stupid son-of-a-bitch! What are you waiting for a goddamn written invitation!” Rojo yelled in his broken english. Grissom smiled at the old mexican bandit and started crawling faster. As he reached the relative safety of the rocks, Tick reached down and pulled him up. “Bon de te voir mon ami” Tick said in French, his black face shining. “Damn good to see you too Tick.” Grissom said through gritted teeth. As Tick pulled him up Grissom realized he had been grazed in the arm, the bullet creasing his bicep muscle deeply. As he tore a piece of shirt off to wrap his wound, he noticed Rojo had been shot in the thigh, and Tick in the arm, both of them bleeding badly. “We gotta staunch those wounds.” Grissom said flatly as he tore the sleeve off his shirt and began making two make-shift bandages. “It ain’t gonna matter, they are gonna send some men down here to finish us off soon.” Rojo spat, stopping to reload his revolver. Grissom ignored the old bandit and wrapped the cloth around the wound and tied it. Tick continued firing at the men above. “I think I got two so far” Tick exclaimed excitedly. Grissom wrapped his wound shaking his head at the crazy creole. Suddenly up above on the ridge a commotion could be heard. Gunshots. Several rifles at once. Shouting. Hooping. Hollering. Pistol Shots. Then Silence. “What the Hell is going on up there?” Rojo asked, a quizzical look on his face. In a few minutes, several riders leading a string pf ponies could be seen approaching from the trail above. As they approached Tick whispered “Those are Apaches, white men don’t ride like that!” “I don’t fuckin’ believe this” Grissom said throwing up his hands. “We are the only three to survive a damn bushwhack and now we are gonna get scalped for our troubles!” Rojo squinted his eyes at the indians as they approached. “Let me do the talking. Everybody put down your guns.” Rojo said quietly. Both Grissom and Tick looked at the old man like he had finally gone crazy, but did as he requested.
The five Apaches approached slowly with the bright mid-day sun at their backs. They all were riding bareback and were dressed in common cotton shirts and breeches. The lead rider wore a U.S. Calvary blue tunic with brass epaulets. Their long jet-black hair hung loose with each of them wearing a red-head scarf. All of the men looked to be in their early twenties except the one leading, who looked to be around forty. They were all heavily armed with Winchester Repeaters or bolt-action .30 Caliber Springfield’s. “I think this is that group that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. But the newspaper said they were like twenty of them, not five.” Grissom whispered. “Look up at the ridge-line Pendejo and you will see the rest…” Rojo whispered back. Grissom and Tick shaded their eyes with their hands and looked up at ridge-line to see a dozen or more apache rifles pointed at them. “Marie Mère de Dieu!” Tick exclaimed. “Nobody move and let me do all the talking.” Rojo calmly replied. The five indians stopped their horses short of the rocks where the men were sitting. Rojo began talking to the leader in Spanish. “He says his name is Spotted Rabbit and they are part of ‘The Big Water People’ band that escaped the Federal Prison Camp in New Mexico. They were going into Old Mexico when they heard all the shooting.” Rojo whispered. Rojo then followed protocol and introduced himself, then Grissom and Tick. Spotted Rabbit stared at the men for a few moments and then pointed at Tick and asked something. “He wants to know if these men on the ridge were trying to kill us because something the black man did.” Rojo laughed, translating. Tick and Grissom both laughed at the remark. “Tell him no, these were hired killers working for John Randolph.” Grissom replied. The apache leader spurred his horse closer and spoke up.”He ask if you are the same Grissom who with a young Apache boy killed Colonel Parker two years ago at El Lugar de las aguilas.” Rojo interpreted, looking at Grissom with eyes wide in disbelief. “Tell him everything.” Grissom replied, looking at Spotted Rabbit. After a few minutes of conversation, Rojo turned around to Grissom and smiled. “You are not going to believe this, but Spotted Rabbit is Creed’s Uncle and he wants us to take him to meet him right now.”
The La Voyant Ranch
Creed had just finished watering his horse when he saw three riders approaching from the south-west. He quickly moved inside the bunk house where he had rifles ready and loaded. He had figured Randolph would wait until he was alone to attack. Peering out the window, waiting for the group to get closer, Creed recognized Grissom as the lead rider with Tick and Rojo trailing. Creed quickly walked outside to meet them. As Grissom got closer Creed could see that he was wounded. “What the hell happened!” Creed asked as he grabbed the reigns to stop the horse. “Bushwhack. Randolph sent a hired posse of killers to hit us at Preachers Gulch. They killed all ten of the men Rojo hired and damn near killed the three of us.” Grissom gritted his teeth as he dismounted. Tick and Rojo rode up and Creed helped both men out of the saddle. “That leg needs attention.” Creed said as he helped Rojo into the bunk house and sat him down on one of the beds. Tick followed them in slowly, his face pale and his arm in a make-shift sling. Creed began examining Rojo first. “The bullet went clean through, we just need to keep clean bandages on it till’ it mends”. He then went over and looked at Tick’s arm. “Looked liked they winged you buddy.” Creed said smiling at Tick. “Oui, Oui” Tick smiled back through gritted teeth. “The wound is infected and the bullet is still in there, we are gonna have to cut it out of ya.” Creed said, a grave look of concern on his face. “Kid, we got something important to tell ya..” Grissom said as he limped into the kitchen. Finding a bottle of rye whiskey and four glasses, Grissom poured everybody a drink. “Grissom we don’t have time right now for drinking and stories, Tick’s arm is in bad shape, we need to find a Doctor for him…” Creed was interrupted by Grissom with a quick wave of the hand. “Listen to me kid! I did not get to finish my story. Twenty Apache’s who escaped off the Mescalero Reservation saved us from all being massacred by Randolph’s hired thugs. The Apache leader, Spotted Rabbit, claims he is your Uncle and wants to meet you.” Grissom drained his drink and poured himself another. All the blood drained from Creed’s face and he had to sit down before he fell down. “My uncle! The only Uncle I knew was killed with my mother and father two years ago!” Creed exclaimed, looking at Grissom in amazement. Creed reached over and took the glass of rye, tilting it up and draining it with a grimace. “He said his band was called The Big Water People, if that means anything.” Grissom replied. Creed’s eyes got wide. “The Big Water People were my mother’s band, they had been moved to the reservation four years ago.” Creed got up from his chair and paced. “That explains why you did not know about him then.” Grissom replied. Creed spun around and faced Grissom as an ideal flew into his head. “If there are twenty of them, one of them will be a healer I am sure of it. Tick should not ride anymore with that wound. We need to bring them here to help him” Creed walked over to get his hat and rifle. “Where are we supposed to meet them?” Creed asked Grissom. “At Sanderson Springs at nightfall.” Grissom replied, refilling Ticks and Rojo’s glasses of whiskey. “We better get going then, Tick cannot hold-out much longer.” Creed said as he headed for the door. Grissom drained his drink and quickly followed him.
Sanderson Springs, Texas
Sanderson Springs was a ghost town that was a good thirty minute ride from the ranch. Gold had been discovered there back in the late 1870’s but like all mining towns, when the gold played out, so did the people. Spotted Rabbit had told Grissom to meet him in one of the many abandoned mine east of town. Creed soon realized why his Uncle had chosen this location. With the United States Army, Texas Rangers and Bounty Hunters all looking for him and his band, what better place to hide than underground. As Grissom and Creed approached the entrance to the mine, they could see the faint glow of a campfire coming from inside the mine. Two apaches with rifles emerged from the darkness. Creed and Grissom dismounted and approached. One of the apaches spoke Spanish to Creed. “Spotted Rabbit just wants to see you, not the white man.” Creed nodded and turned to Grissom. “I get it kid, it’s a family thing. But don’t take too long, Tick needs help.” Creed followed one of the apaches into the mine. They walked about ten yards and found Spotted Rabbit and a few braves roasting the ham of a deer over the fire. The aromatic scent of the meat filled the dank cave. Spotted rabbit stood when he saw Creed. Creed was amazed at how tall he was. Well over six feet, with well muscled arms.”Do you still remember the apache tongue or should we talk in Spanish?” Spotted Rabbit asked with a smile. “I still remember” Creed responded in the Lipan apache dialect. Spotted Rabbit smiled as they embraced for a long moment. “The last time I saw you, you were knee-high, now look at you, your Mother would be so proud!” Spotted Rabbit smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. “Look Uncle, I would love to take time and catch-up, and we will, but one of my men is badly in need of a healer and we cannot go into town. Can you come and help him?” Spotted Rabbit took a long look at Creed. “You have the caring heart of your Mother. Of course. Me and Little Bird will accompany you. We will need to gather some plants first.”
The La Voyant Ranch
When they all finally reached the ranch, Tick was at death’s door. His face was pallor in color and he was drifting in and out of consciousness, mumbling like a feverish madman. Rojo, despite his bad leg wound, was up with a cool washcloth, trying to comfort him as much as he could. “He has been burning up with fever since you left.” Rojo said in a frantic voice. Spotted Rabbit reached into his saddle bag and pulled out a mortar and pestle and began grinding various herbs and plants he had collected along the way. Little Bird walked over to the fire and took out a small brand. He then lit some ghost bush and with the thick, grey smoke wafting around Tick’s body, he began chanting an apache prayer. “Give him some whiskey, we are going to have to remove the bullet.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. Rojo, understanding the instruction, took the bottle of rye and tilted Tick’s head up so he could drink from the bottle. “Rojo you and Little Bird hold his arms. Spotted Rabbit, you hold his legs.” Creed told the men as he drew his knife. Walking over to the fire, Creed held the blade of his knife over the flame until it was glowing red-hot. He then plunged it into a pail of water by the table to cool it off. He ripped away Tick’s bloody shirt and taking a clean piece of cloth, wiped away the blood. Tick was mumbling in French, slipping in and out of consciousness, his eyes rolling back in his head. As Creed made the first cut, Tick yelled in agony, his body bucking from the pain. “Hold him still Dammitt!” Creed yelled. After another moment, Tick’s body went limp as he finally passed out into a deep sleep. Creed breathed a sigh of relief. Creed has made a deep enough incision he could finally see the bullet. Taking the point of his knife, Creed slid it under the slug and popped it out. Spotted Rabbit then took the poultice he had made from the ground up herbs and packed the wound. “Leave it uncovered tonight, but keep it moist and tomorrow wrap it in some clean bandages and change them every day.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. “For the pain, give him a spoonful of this every few hours.” Spotted Rabbit handed Creed three small bottles of brownish liquid. “Laudnum. We stole a crate of it from a town doctor in Carlsbad. Handy to have around if you don’t have a Doctor close-by” Creed took the bottles and put them in the cabinet by the sink. He then went over to his bunk and opened his foot-locker and took out an envelope.”I know I can never fully re-pay you for all you have done, but this will help.” Creed handed Spotted Rabbit five one hundred-dollar bills. ‘Take this money and go to Old Mexico and disappear Uncle, Please. If you stay in Texas, they will surely catch you and hang all of you.” Creeds eyes were wet with tears as Spotted Rabbit slowly took the money. The old indian smiled at Creed. “You have your mother’s giving heart, and her gift for visions too. I see it.” Electricity shot through Creed and made his hair stand on end. “Has she been guiding you?” Spotted Rabbit asked. “Yes she has. My father and my unborn sister have been too. She has told me I must stop a powerful man from hurting others. The same man that killed our ten men and almost killed Tick and Rojo.” Creed looked up at his Uncle, his eyes clear and bright. “Then you must do it.” Spotted Rabbit replied flatly. “But you still have not answered my question Uncle. Where will you go?” A look of concern flooded Creed’s face. “My path is not your path nephew, so it is not your concern. We all must be true to what we are called to do and what I have been called to do is bring war against the white man. We are tired of being under the white man’s thumb in that awful, dry place they have put us. We would rather die fighting than go on living one more day as slaves.” With that, Spotted Rabbit embraced Creed and then turned for the door. “Wait! When will I see you again Uncle?” Spotted Rabbit stopped but did not turn around. “You will see me again nephew, I promise.” And with that Spotted Rabbit and Little Bird walked out the door, mounted their horses and rode off into the dark Texas night. Creed watched them as they rode off, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew his Uncle was not lying to him. He would get to see him again one day. Just not in this life. just not in this world.
To Be Continued…