Authors: R.J McCabe
Zata regarded the beast and Joel saw in the man’s eyes that he was impressed, it was hard not to be given the size and colour of the creature. ‘Okay, you can speak with chief Eskadi, but only you, the others must wait here.'
Joel raised his hand. ‘Woah! Hold on there kemosabe. If you want the horse, then I'm not comin' in alone. There is well over a hundred of you in that camp, so forgive me if I'm a little hesitant to be in there as the lone whitey.’
The interpreter looked at the horse again and then to the big man on his left. The two Apaches exchanged words and then Zata returned his gaze to Joel. ‘Okay, as you are afraid, you can bring two men with you but no more. Any more would cause unrest.’
Joel pretended to think on it for a moment, but things had gone just as planned so far. ‘Okay, two men it is, but the horse stays here though until we come out.’
‘You think you might not get out alive Blackwater?’ Zata said with a smirk.
Joel gave a smirk of his own ‘Well, you can never be too sure about anything in this life.’
‘The horse can stay until you are done but then I hope, for your sake, you keep your word and leave it as a gift.’ Zata said, before adding ‘You must leave guns here, you cannot bring them into our village.’
‘My word is my bond’ Joel replied, putting his hand on his chest ‘The horse will be yours and takin' the guns off is not a problem.’
The two Apaches turned and rode slowly back through their group of painted warriors and towards the village. Joel looked at the brothers and gestured to them and they, in turn, rode up behind him. The three of them removed their gun belts, throwing them to another man to carry and then followed the two Apaches on horseback, flanked by the armed natives, whose eyes never left them. Joel met some of the looks with a look of his own and wasn't sure if their constant staring was curiosity or hatred, then decided it was probably a mixture of both.
The rest of the enforcers Joel had with him trotted slowly behind the Apaches until they reached the entrance to the village, once there, enforcers bought their horses to a halt. Joel and the other men continued on until reaching a clearing where the Apaches dismounted and tied their horses to wooden trunks that were set horizontally and vertically to make a solid fence. Joel and his men followed suit and tied up their own horses. Then, with the exception of Zata and the big, broad Apache, the villagers joined the rest of their people, their wives and children, but still, all eyes were on the white men.
‘Come,’ Zata called to Joel and waved a hand in a ‘follow me’ gesture. The three men followed the interpreter and the big Apache through an array of tents, until they came to the largest of all tipi’s.
‘Wait here!’ Zata said and went inside, the young strapping Apache followed.
‘All this starin' is making me fuckin' nervous Joel,
said Bud, the older of the two brothers.
Joel spat onto the floor before replying. ‘We would be the same if three of these feather wearing fucks came into Huntersville. Just ignore it or take it as a compliment. The way I see it, the men are looking at me because I make them nervous and the women are looking because they never had a white man before and they wanna piece.’
‘I tell you somethin' said Bart, the younger of the brothers, ‘Some of these Apache whore’s ain’t half bad. I wouldn't mind giving them a bit of my c…’
Bart was interrupted by Zata coming out from inside the tent. He held the curtain back in order to allow the men access, ‘Chief Eskadi will see you now.’
‘Honoured,’ replied Joel and led his two men through the gap into the Chief’s home.
Inside, Chief Eskadi was sitting on a large chair towards the back of the tent. Joel flicked his eyes from side to side examining the material walls but saw no sign of any scalps. There were paintings of bears and wolves in red and black but the hair and skin of the white man was nowhere to be seen. The chief was smoking a pipe and stared at Joel and his men as they entered. His long hair reached down to his thighs and was almost pure white in colour, his hard face was creased with the lines of age and hard sun.
‘No good for you y’know,
said Joel nodding towards the chief. The chief didn't answer, he simply took another drag of the pipe and continued to watch the men.
‘Chief Eskadi uses the smoke to open his mind to all elements. It brings inner peace to him and in turn to his people,’ said Zata.
Peace from a pipe, my ass! Joel thought, this son of a bitch had scalped more white men than a blind barber. ‘Sounds like a good idea,’ Joel replied with an unnatural smile on his face.
Zata explained to the chief why the men were there. He spoke in the Apache tongue and the three white men had no idea what the irritating interpreter was saying but Joel thought he had a good idea. The chief regarded the three men for a moment before speaking. When he had finished the interpreter turned towards Joel.
‘Chief Eskadi says that you should not have come here again. He says that this is our land and everything in it is therefore ours. He says he knows you came here to lay blame on his people for theft at your camp. He says you have come to the right place if you want to know who has taken the horses, food and furs from you but this is not the right place if you are looking for thieves. This is the land of the Apache and everything in the land belongs to them, to us.’
Joel listened to this, his mouth hung open a little, shocked by the open admission from Eskadi. Was the man really saying that? Or was the interpreter changing it in a bid to cause trouble. Joel supposed that the old mans face answered that for him. He had the look of a stubborn son of a bitch who was not willing to form any kind of peace between the two parties. He didn't fear Joel and Joel thought that just might prove to be a big mistake on the old mans part.
‘Can you tell tin-dog here, that in this age you can’t just go and take another man’s shit. Thieving is thieving, and taking the belongings of Blackwater employees will not be tolerated by my father. I am here to put a stop to it and stop it I shall. I need you to tell the old man that if things continue along this road, then he is going to bring all hell fire down on him and his people.’
The interpreter shifted a little in the seat he had taken next to the old chief. ‘You should not come here and refer to Chief Eskadi as ‘old man’ or ‘tin dog’ He has defeated many of your white armies and people who have tried to take from us, he deserves respect. You will show him this respect.’
Joel leant forward and put his face closer to that of the interpreter. ‘Just tell the old man what I fuckin' said.’ Joel said through gritted teeth.
Zata straightened up, his face serious. Joel could almost smell the fury from him and hear the sound of his teeth grinding. He turned and told the chief what Joel had said.
The chief let out a low moan and for the first time since the men had entered the tent he shown some kind of animation, his shoulders hunched and he regarded all three men in turn under heavy eyelids. He then spoke to Zata in a tone that indicated he was no longer feeling the effects of the peace pipe. Joel liked it, liked that he was getting under the old mans skin. Zata turned and repeated to the three men what the chief had said.
‘Chief Eskadi said that you should watch your tongue when you enter his home, that is if you want to keep it. He said you should leave here now, and do not expect anything to change because of your threats. The only thing your words have done is give further proof that you and your people are disrespectful fools. He said you are in a land, the likes of which you do not understand the rules. He said to go back to your little camp of scared men and to watch your horses, as they may decide to ride off into the night and return to their true masters.’
Joel sat still for a moment, the tent was in silence. He then looked to the chief and then back to Zata, and he began to laugh. His laughter grew and tears began to fill his eyes, spittle ran down his chin. It was infectious, but only infected the two men that stood behind him as they too began to laugh. The three Apache men in front of him sat in silence.
Joel managed to calm himself a little before speaking.‘God damn, that old bastard doesn't mince his words huh. Well, you know what? I don't want this meetin' to end like this. Hell, you know somethin' else? I don't think the chief here understands how similar we are, you people and us. We are men of honour, we protect what’s ours, just like you protect what’s yours and believe me when I say we don't have any problem with you being that way. The only trouble we have, is that you are claimin' land that you have no legal right to and comin' down durin' the night taking stuff that isn't yours, stuff that belongs to us. If you can put an end to that, then we ain’t gonna have any kind of problems from here on in, hell I even bought the chief here the best horse money can buy. Now I'm sure that Eskadi, being a true warrior, a man of morals and a man who has so much respect from his people, doesn’t want to be seen as some petty thief now does he? I know in my world a petty thief gets their hands chopped off or, in some cases, a bullet to the head. Ask the chief to start actin' like the proud honourable man I heard he is and stop fuckin' around with us……please.’ The tent was silent, Zata made no attempt to tell the chief what had been said.
‘Well, interpreter, hurry up and interpret! We ain’t got all god damn day.’
Zata eyed Joel for a moment before speaking. ‘Chief Eskadi has already told you what he thinks. He will have no interest in listening to you any longer. I think you should go now.’
Joel rubbed the stubble on his chin for a moment. ‘You know what, I didn't come here to talk to you or to ask your opinion so I don't want your opinion. Im trying to be nice, so unless you want to be the one responsible for a whole lot of people dying today, then I suggest you tell the old dog here what I just said. Tell him we are alike, we share common goals.’
Zata shifted in his seat before turning to the chief and telling him what Joel had said. While it was being explained to the old chief, Joel smiled. Eskadi’s face didn't change and there were no groans this time. Once Zata had finished talking, the chief began to speak, his voice a lot less animated than before but his words seemed stern. Zata nodded as the man spoke and then turned back to Joel and his men.
‘Chief Eskadi has spoken for the final time on the matter. He said that your people share no common goals with us and we are nothing alike. He says that you and your people are dishonest, that you're mothers are white whores and you have no honour and it is you that have stolen from us.’
Joel's face began to flush as he struggled to remain calm. Again images flooded his mind. This time he thought of taking out his gun and blasting the three Apache men inside the tent. He then recalled that he and his men had been made to leave their gun belts by the entrance to the village. Joel thought for a moment, anger blurring his thoughts, unsure what to do next.
At that moment, a young Apache girl around fifteen years of age, entered the tent and approached the chief before whispering something in his ear. The chief gave a small nod and the girl made to leave the tent but Joel took a step to his right to block her.
‘Well, look at you.’ Joel said. ‘Aren’t you just the sweetest little thing.’ The Apaches shifted in their seats but did not stand. Joel continued. ‘I bet in a few years from now you are gonna be breakin' all of the hearts in this little village of yours,’ giving the girl his friendliest smile.
Joel looked at the large stern looking Apache that was seated to the right of the chief. He had not took his eyes off the white men since they came into the tent and Joel had noted this and addressed the big man.
‘I bet you're gonna be chasin' her pretty ass in a few years hey big boy? I saw the way you looked at her when she came in here, checkin' her out, but she’s too young, so you gonna have to wait.’
The big mans face grew a little sterner, if that was possible, and his eyes burned into Joel's. Then Zata spoke up. ‘You are being very disrespectful.’
Joel looked shocked and held his hands out in a gesture of innocence. ‘What did I say, I'm only tryin' to lighten the mood here, Y’all Indians are all so fuckin' serious. Lighten up dammit!’
‘The girl is Pohakna, Chief Eskadi’s daughter,
‘Well, he should be proud.’ Joel replied. ‘She’s a good lookin' young lady, hell I might come back here in five years and ask for her hand, I’d watch the big oak tree over there though, he's got eyes on her right now.’