Authors: R.J McCabe
Joel Blackwater led the gang of twenty men, all seasoned gunslingers, to the Apache village in the early morning sun. He knew it could be a suicide mission if things weren't done right. They were going to be heavily outnumbered and if the situation got out of hand, they could all end up with more holes in them than a pair of second hand long johns. Joel had to get it right, had to be tactful but he also had to make sure that their stubborn chief understood how things were gonna be.
Joel had a natural talent for getting stubborn folks to see the lay of the land and become much more flexible. Joel’s father, Jack, would give his son grief for being too ruthless, too careless but in these times when all men were carrying steel at their waist, along with a chip on their shoulder, you had to stomp out the potential pains in the ass early on and the Apache chief, Eskadi, certainly fell into that category.
Eskadi was an old man now, exactly how old no one seemed too sure but he had earned a reputation as a hell of warrior during his lifetime. Nicknamed the “Iron Dog” some said he was the best the Apaches ever had.
Rumour had it that Eskadi had so many scalps of the white man hanging in his home at the village, that the walls weren't visible. It was probably horse shit, Joel had thought but he guessed he might find out soon enough, though he sure didn't plan on his, or any of his mens scalps joining that collection.
The old chief was a problem, the trouble with him being that he didn't want to recognise the new ways of living and he refused to back down for the white man even though, on this occasion, he and his tribe were never going to win.
Blackwater Industries was the most powerful firm in the South, untouchable given their finances, numbers and contacts. The Apaches on the border of Sundown had no chance if it were to come to war but the Iron Dog just didn't want to accept it.
Jack had asked Joel to handle it and that is what he intended to do. Joel had wanted to play a bigger part in his fathers firm and he hated being stuck out on the railway seeing to the seemingly never-ending moans and gripes of the workers. Joel thought of Sundown as a dry, dull, pain in the arse but his father had grown up there and thought highly of the place and had, on many occasions, said that a piece of his heart would always be there in that little town, which was funny as a lot of people thought his father had no heart but Joel knew better. Jack Blackwater was a ruthless man when he needed to be, but he could be both humane and merciful when the circumstances called for it, he was also a nostalgic son of a bitch and that was a trait Joel didn’t share.
Jack was always interested in any news that came out of little old Sundown and always seemed to want to help if he could which was one of the reasons the railway was happening. He thought by extending it and making it more accessible, that more business would come the way of Sundown and the people of the town could travel out and see more of America. Sure there was some kind of financial incentive involved, which Joel himself didn't really understand, but he knew his father felt that he was giving back to the town he was from.
Joel just couldn't see what his father saw in Sundown, he hated the place and wanted out of there as soon as possible and he hoped that by sorting out this Apache business, it would enable him to get out of the railway camp and back to Huntersville, the place he was from and the place where his father conducted his Blackwater business.
Joel enjoyed getting his hands dirty, but he also knew that his father wouldn't be around forever, and when Jack’s time was up, Joel wanted to take things over without being out of his depth.
He had a good knowledge of kicking ass and making folks pay what they owed, but his knowledge of the financial workings of the Blackwater business wasn't anywhere near on the same level. That gave Joel a feeling of imbalance, whereas his father had struck the balance well, putting fear into folks as well earning respect from his peers and a shit load of money in the process. Joel wanted to be the same way, even though he would be doing it with a colder heart.
How the Apache chief was going to react to him was yet to be seen as they were a moody, unpredictable bunch at the best of times. It was either going to be a meeting of quiet respect, or it could go tit’s up and become a slaughter house. Part of Joel wanted it to come to that, wanted to show the ‘Iron Dog’ what was what and wanted to see the fear in those eyes. He had heard stories in the past of how, on numerous occasions, old Chief Eskadi had stared death in the face, but had never shown a sign of fear. Some said that he had no fear of anyone or anything and some even said that the elderly Apache could not be killed. Well, Joel was more than willing to put those little theories to the test if need be.
The village came into view and it was bigger than Joel remembered. He, and some of his men had come to the place when the Apaches had caused trouble as the new railroad camp was being prepared. The Apaches hadn't done anything physical, but workers were complaining of feeling unnerved because they were being watched. The Apaches would ride to the top of a hill which looked down on the railway camp. They would just sit and watch, sometimes for hours, just watching.
A lot of the people who were in the camp were labourers and tradesmen, not soldiers. They had never seen an Apache, let alone fought one. They were intimidated and some refused to work, threatening to leave the site and return home. Word had gotten to Jack Blackwater and he decided to send his son Joel to overlook the camp and to make sure the people laying the track felt protected and able to work in peace.
When he and his men had first arrived at the camp from Huntersville, the Apaches were turning up on almost a daily basis. Joel had to admit that the first time he saw them, that army of savages, their silhouettes visible with the sun behind them, they were quite a sight to behold.
Joel had only seen native Apaches on one other occasion. It was when he, and two of his fathers gunslingers were taking a bath in a river on the other side of Texas. Joel was only eighteen years old at the time, but had already killed more than a handful of men.
Four Apache’s had approached them and, without a word spoken, had begun taking the white men’s belongings as the three of them stood butt naked in the water, their mouths open in shock at the sheer cheek of the ballsy intruders. Joel then managed to scramble to the nearby bank and get his gun belt, which he always kept close, and from there a shootout ensued.
Both of his men had been killed whilst still in the water, one with a gunshot wound to the head, and the other caught an arrow through the neck. Joel managed to kill two of the Apache men but the other two had fled. He would never forget the look of fear on his mens faces that day, both of whom were more than twice his age and in Joel’s mind, it had been their fear that had gotten them killed.
There was no doubting the steel of the men he rode with now though as he and his father had handpicked some of the baddest men ever to put on a pair of boots, men who’s assholes wouldn't start twitching at the sight of a few Apaches. Twenty of them guarding the camp would be enough and if not, there were a hell of a lot more of the same sort back with his father in Huntersville.
‘Right boys.’ Joel said, turning on his horse to face the men riding behind him. ‘Now some of you came here with me before, so you know how it is, you have to be respectful, no eyeballin'. These Indians are some touchy sons of bitches and if we can help it we’re gonna keep this nice, well, nice as can be. I just need to let this old bastard know we’re not fuckin' about no more. However, there’s a right way to do that, and theres a wrong way. Im headin' this fuckin' outfit so we gonna do it my way. Is that clear?’
The band of men quietly muttered agreement.
‘Good, now if they let us in, I'll take two men with me and those men will be the Franklin brothers, on accounts that they are as tough as they come but they got that nice way about ‘em. The rest of you will stay on your horses on the edge of the village. Keep your eyes open, and some of you make sure you're watchin' that old fucks tent at all times if I go in there. You see anything suspicious, then you’re gonna make a sound.’
‘What sound’s that gonna be then?’ asked Ernie Dean, a short bull of a man with a beefy moustache.
‘Well,’ Joel thought on it for a moment. ‘What noises can you do?’ The men looked at each other, some shrugging their shoulders.
‘I can do a mountain lion,’ said a thin, long limbed man with a scar across his nose.
‘Well, come on then, lets hear it,’ replied Joel.
The man cleared his throat and then let out a shrill, strangled, roaring sound. Joel’s face twisted into a look of confusion.
‘What in the name of Jesus Christ was that?’ he asked, the look still set on his face.
‘A mountain lion,’ said the man, a slight look of pride on his own face.
‘I don’t know what that sounded like,’ Joel said eyeing the man. ‘But I can tell you what it didn't sound like, and that’s a fuckin' mountain lion. Has anyone else got any ideas?’
Again the men looked at each other until a fat man, on a horse that almost looked too small for his bulk, spoke up. ‘I got one.’ The man said before clearing his throat and doing his best Apache accent ‘White man speak with fork tongue.’
There was a quiet chuckle amongst the men and Joel’s mouth dropped open. ‘So, in what way do you imagine, that doin' an impression of a goddam Apache is gonna to help give me a warnin' when were gonna be sittin' in a camp full of goddam Apaches?’
The big man replied sheepishly, 'I didn't really think about that Joel, I just knew I could do one is all.'
Joel surveyed the men in front of him, he supposed he didn't employ them to think, he employed them because they were fearless, ruthless sons of bitches.
‘Okay so if, while I'm in the tent, you see anythin' suspicious, I just want you to shout out somethin' nice and simple like, “We got trouble Joel”. No Apache impressions, and certainly no retarded animal noises. Everyone got that?’
The men nodded and muttered agreement before Joel turned and started riding slowly towards the village.
As the men on horseback drew closer, a group of around thirty armed Apaches rode out to meet them. Some held bows with arrows already set within them, some had rifles, and others held long spears with rags and fur tied to the shafts. Most of the men were shirtless, their torso’s painted with patterns and stripes.
When the two groups of men were just outside of spitting distance of each other, the Apaches parted slightly to allow two men to ride slowly through and towards the white outsiders. The two men stopped when their horses were just three or four feet away from Joel, who recognised one of the men as Zata, the chiefs interpreter and it was that man who spoke first.
‘What do you want here Blackwater?’ said the interpreter, his manner neither friendly nor hostile.
‘I need to speak to the chief, is he around?’ Joel asked, trying to seem relaxed when inside he felt like a coiled snake, ready to strike at any moment.
‘Why you need to speak to him again? I thought talking was done.’ Came the flat tone from Zata.
Joel cleared his throat and then looked over his shoulder at his men, all eyes were on him and he didn't want to look bad, but neither did he want all hell breaking out, at least not yet. He turned back towards Zata with a smile on his face. It didn't make him look friendly or charming.
‘Well, you know how it is, people complainin' bout things going missin' durin' the night, horses being stolen, that kind of thing. I just wanted to come up here to see if any of your men had any idea about any of it, thats all.’
Zata eyed him for a moment. ‘You mean you came here to accuse us? Things are going missing so it must be the Apaches. That is how you white men think.’
Joel kept the smile on his face even though it physically pained him to do so. In his minds eye he was drawing his gun and shooting Zata twice in the face before shooting the heavily built savage sitting to Zata’s left. Instead, he just clenched his jaw and smiled.
‘We’ve bought your chief a gift in exchange for any information he can give me.’ With that Joel turned around and waved a hand to the rear of the group of men. A craggy, weathered looking man dressed in black, rode up to the front of the group leading a beautiful white horse. Joel didn't want to do this but it had been his fathers idea. The only gift Joel wanted to give the chief was a barrel full a bullets. His father had said to be reasonable at first. Joel was just following his fathers orders.