Authors: Joe R. Lansdale
Tags: #joe r. lansdale, #Western, #Texas, #Literary
I am a fast runner, but I made a note that if me and Jimmy didn’t get killed, I was going to punch him in the mouth.
Went for all I was worth, I can assure you of that, and it was fairly flat there, so I had a mighty smooth run, considering the circumstances. I knew that Bat wouldn’t fire at those Indians near that pair until necessary, because when he did, they might note I was coming. Right then they was concentrated on sending arrows and shots at them two out there on the ground. Soon as they noticed me, he would commence if he was thinking clear, and maybe not even then. I might be out of reasonable range. But when I started back, and with them coming after me, because I assumed they would, he could cut down on them then. I had no doubt he would.
I could see the limping horse and the one already down, and I seen one of the men stand from behind the dead horse, grab the injured horse’s bridle, put a pistol to its head and bring it down in such a way that a V was created with the two dead animals. That was smart thinking.
The Indians, and they looked like a small band of Kiowas, was riding up fast now, and when they seen me, an easier target than someone behind a horse, they started firing. I fired back on the run, cock-firing that Winchester until it was empty, hitting two Indians, maybe killing one, and dropping four horses, throwing their riders in the grass. About that same time Bat started shooting that Henry.
The Kiowas dropped off their horses and left them, got behind their dead ones and started shooting arrows and gunfire. By that time I was near the V that fellow had made with the dead mounts, the person who had killed the horse turned to look at me. I had already been noticed, of course, all that gunfire had drawn attention to me.
“I’m coming in,” I said.
I took a leap, landed between the two horses. A series of arrows plunked into the dead animals and their hides sputtered with bullets. When I was down between the horses, I seen the survivor was a woman. She had her hair pushed up under her hat, but there was no denying she was a woman, young, in her twenties like me. A white woman with a bit of dark hair showing under her hat.
I turned to look at her partner. He was stretched out on his back with his hands at his sides, like maybe he had laid down for a short nap.
“My brother,” she said. “They’ve killed him.”
I had already taken to pulling shells out of my gun belt, slipping them into my Winchester. I said, “Listen here, I’m sorry, but we can’t hang our thoughts on that right now. We’re going to have to run like rabbits in a second. We stay here, all them other Indians are going to be on us. They can’t get them that’s in the saloon, they’ll settle for us for now. So we’re going to run, and as we come up out of here, we got to be shooting their way, even if we can’t take time to aim. We got to make them nervous and busy ducking, and we got to move, run for all we’re worth.”
“All right,” she said.
“What’s your name?” I said.
“Millie, when I say go, do not hesitate, just go.”
“I have shot buffalo and been in some scrapes, so you don’t wait on me. I got a fully loaded Winchester, and I will not go down easy.”
“Good then,” I said.
I took a deep breath, said, “Go.”
Away we went. It was one hell of a run. I kept thinking in the back of my mind I was going to step in a hole and go down, or catch a bullet or some arrows in the back, but when we come up out of there we come up firing. As we ran, I turned and started running backwards, and firing my Winchester, and I was good at it. I used to do it on the farm for fun, run backwards like that, and I could even out-run some of the other kids running like that, so maybe Jimmy was onto something about colored being able to run, but still, I was going to punch him in the mouth. I fired at those redskins like I truly hated them, which I didn’t. There wasn’t any use in that. They was who they was, same as me. I had been whipped as a child slave for nothing more than spilling milk. I had been told if I got a cold and gave it to a white person it was worse than if a white person gave it to you. That I was second to everything in life, and that’s why I had come west. I let all that anger cover me like a shield. It wasn’t a real shield and it wouldn’t have stopped a gnat from flying through, but it was everything that had ever made my blood boil, and before I realized it I had emptied that Winchester and was cocking on empty.
I wheeled then, found that Millie was really hauling freight, was more than halfway to the doors. I run to catch up with her, shifted the empty Winchester to my left hand, drew the LeMatt, and come even with her.
Millie’s hat blew off and her black hair popped out in a long trail, like ink blown in the wind, and now there came a sound from the warriors up on the hill and behind us. They wanted Millie because they knew there wasn’t no greater humiliation to a man than to rape his women to death. It was better than cutting off their balls, far as they was concerned. So they come then in a sea of Indians, Quanah leading, riding down from the rise ahead of us, others whooping it up behind us, some rushing on foot. Out from the creek come more Indian stragglers.
The swarm came, arrows flew, the bullets tore holes in the air. It looked like we was as good as nabbed, and I was preparing to shoot Millie, then myself, when the doors to the store opened. There came from that open doorway, and from the roof where Bat was, a withering round of Sharps rifle fire. There was screams and yells, thunks and thuds, and flurries of sod being thrown up as men and critters struck and rolled on the ground.
I was in fear of being shot down by our own bunch.
To the left of me, having circled the walls, came a handful of riders, and one of them fired a shot that tore through the top of my left shoulder, burned like a branding iron. I cross-fired with my right hand, shot his horse through the neck, and down that horse went, almost sliding into me. I can’t tell you much after that, but I emptied that 9 shooter, and clicked the baffle for the 4/10 load. We were almost through the doors of the store now. Men filled it from side to side. Me and Millie was running low. Our people was firing over our heads, just to keep a stream of lead in the air, then they parted and Millie made it through.
A crazy Indian come off from my right and was about to grab me. I fired that 4/10 load in his face. Then I was inside and the doors was being slammed, the wooden bar thrown back into place. Outside came a ferocious pounding of arrows and gun shots and fists. Bullets tore through the door and made holes that light peeked through and the room was riddled with these sticks of light.
Inside, Millie had gone to the window, was standing by Jack, firing her pistol. I knelt down on the ground and reloaded my weapons, went to another window where a man had just fallen, stuck the Winchester out and started firing, not so fast this time, and more accurately. Bullets was plunking into the walls, tearing through in places, pieces of adobe flying around, and then—
It was over.
For the time being anyway.
Them Indians had regrouped out there on that ridge, feeling good about being just out of rifle shot. One naked brave stood up on horseback, turned his back toward us, and showed us his ass. No one took a shot at him. Too far.
Then Quanah rode up, and so did White Eagle, all naked and yellow-coated with clay. They sat on their horses side by side, checking out the battlefield. What they saw was a pile of dead Indians. We had lost a few ourselves, along with Olds and that fellow out there lying dead between the V of those horses, but them Indians had taken a beating.
Bat called down from his perch, “They are chopping up that dead man at the horses.”
He meant Millie’s brother.
“Oh, the goddamn savages,” she said.
All the men had now noted that she was not only a woman, but that she was one who spoke right up and didn’t faint.
Jack said, “She shot two of them Indians with good pistol shots. I think she might have killed one of them, and the other will be lying mighty still later tonight, as he took one in the balls I think.”
It was a compliment that you gave a man, not a woman. Least not normally.
“She did all right out there too,” I said. “I think she dropped a couple.”
Millie heaved a little, like she was going to cry, but then she cinched it up.
“She can run too,” Bat called down, “sort of lopes like an antelope,” and then he come down the ladder. His hat was full of bullet holes and his face had been streaked with cuts from where shots had come close. He didn’t seem in the least fazed about having been nearly shot-up, but when he was on the ground he took a good look at Millie, and that fazed him. She was a pretty thing, and about as on the far end of womanhood from Mrs. Olds, who was still peacefully sleeping, than a buffalo is from a deer. She wore buckskins that fit her loose, but you could tell there was something nice and soft under them, and her hair was long and tumbled down her back and there was something about the way it swung that roused the blood. She looked taller than she was, as she was wearing boots, and those boots cocked her ass up nicely. It doesn’t sound very gentlemanly to talk in this manner, but none of us was gentlemanly right then. We all figured our days were numbered, so we enjoyed our last moments by really giving her the once over.
Then she knocked the wind out of us.
“Listen, you piss-ants,” she said, “I have ridden the trail and fought Indians before, and hunted buffalo, and I can ride like an Indian, shoot like Wild Bill Hickok, and drink like a fish, but I do not sell myself, and I’m not for free unless I choose it, so any of you fellows get the wrong idea, you’ll be wearing your nose on the other side of your face, if you don’t end up with a bullet in the head. Are we understood?”
We all agreed that things were well understood.
Jack, still at the window said, “Look at this.”
Those of us who could get to the windows in time and was willing to take a chance on there not being some Indians hid close, flocked over there, shoving and pushing for a look. There was a fistful of Indians dragging White Eagle off his horse. They had sticks, and when he was on the ground they went about beating the pure-dee dog shit out of him.
Binoculars was found, a couple pairs, and a bunch of us got a look, but even from that distance there was a clear view without them. You could easily make out what was going on, and what you couldn’t make out, you could figure on.
One of those who had managed a window view was Happy, a.k.a. I Have A Hand In My Hair, and he said, “They’ve decided White Eagle’s magic failing the way it did wasn’t just because someone killed a skunk or shit on a scared rock, or some such. They have decided it failed because White Eagle is full of that which comes loose from a goose, and they are teaching him a lesson.”
“It’s a good one too,” Jack said.
It was indeed a good lesson. Sticks was coming down on his ass so hard and fast, it looked like Chinamen hammering down spikes on the railroad. This went on until they was tired, and then they rested on their sticks. White Eagle wallowed around on the ground for awhile. Then he got to his feet, went to his horse, and tried to pull himself up on it, but that was when Quanah turned with the rifle he was holding, and shot the horse in the head, causing it to topple and nearly fall over on White Eagle, who proved spry enough after that beating to dodge the falling critter, which fell with its legs kicking and shit spewing out of its ass. I really don’t know about the last part. It was a good distance, but that’s usually how it was.
The Indians with the sticks was rested now, and so they came again, and damn if I didn’t start to feel sorry for White Eagle. It was a serious thumping.
While all this was going on, another Indian come riding up to sit on his horse by Quanah, and then another, and while they was beginning to clutch up on the hill, some more Indians took to chopping up White Eagle’s horse, and now they was all pulling out their johnsons and pissing on White Eagle while he lay on the ground.
“They sure don’t like him,” Millie said.
“Seems that way,” Jack said.
Billy was watching all of this quietly. He said, “I got a fifty, but I want to borrow one of those 50-90’s, someone’s got one to loan me. I’m going to take a shot.”
“Too far away,” Jimmy said.
“Yeah, but I’m of a mind to do it anyway,” Billy said.
Bets went around about how many yards or feet the bullet would fall short, some money, pocket knives and a cigar went into a hat.
Billy took the fifty in one hand, wet his finger, poked it out the window for a second, pulled it back, “Said wind’s not kicking, so what the hell.”
He laid the rifle on the window frame, coughed once, wiggled his ass and shifted his feet, said, “Now, don’t nobody say nothing.”
“You couldn’t hit anything up there if we was a hundred feet closer,” said Jimmy. “Give me that hat. I got more money to put in against this shot.”
“He said shut up,” Millie said. “He don’t make the shot, I’ll pull the wagon with any and everyone of you, long as I’m allowed rest time.”
Everyone shut up and was hopeful of Billy having the bad eye, all except me. I had bet on his side of the matter, but only in my head. Billy did the thing with his feet again, got his ground, leaned into the Sharps, and with both eyes open, took his aim.
He pulled the trigger. The Indian to the right of Quanah fell off his horse, and then the sound of the shot echoed against the ridge. Well now, there was a bit of excitement up there. Them Indians thought for sure they was out of range, them being about a mile away, and frankly, so did all of us, and that included Billy.
“Well fuck a hairy goat ass,” Billy said.
“That’s a relief,” Millie said, “I was already trying to figure if there was axel grease in the house. You missed that shot, at some stage here in the day or night, figured I might need it.”
“Holy shit,” Jack said. “That is the most amazing goddamn shot I’ve ever seen. Except for one I made once where I shot the Sunday hat off God’s head.”
Everyone laughed. It was like we had all bottled up something and could uncork it now.
Up there on the hill the Indians was gathering their dead man, and riding away, all except Quanah who sat on his horse and looked down at us. I know he was too far away to tell for sure, but you can bet his eyes was blazing.
Course, White Eagle was still on the ground. And while Quanah sat there, we saw White Eagle rise and wobble away, heading in the direction the others had gone. I figured he had a few more beatings to catch up with.
After a moment Quanah lifted his rifle and fired a shot in the air, let out with a whoop, wheeled his horse and was gone.
“You should have took a shot at him,” Jimmy said, now an enthusiastic supporter of Billy and that rifle.
“Naw, it was a scratch shot, and a good one, and if I missed next time, it would be said I was lucky. Which I was. I think what helped me there was they was all bunched up together, and maybe a wind kicked up at the back of my shot, pushing. But still, it was a good shot, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” Jack said, and clapped Billy on the shoulder.
We all stood there for awhile, and then Happy said, “They have had enough.”
“Maybe,” Jimmy said.
“No,” Happy said. “They are through. The magic failing, that long shot, and that was Black Buffalo Hump you killed. He’s one of the more respected Comanche. You took the wind out of their sails. With their magic coming apart like that, they think that shot is a sign from the Great Spirit that White Eagle was a false prophet as well as an asshole.”
“A sore false prophet,” Jack said. “I bet them sticks left marks.”
“Hey, Jimmy,” I said.
When he turned toward me I hit him as hard as I could, knocking him down into wherever Mrs. Olds was keeping her soul.