Authors: Robert B. Parker
Tags: #Parker, #Everett (Fictitious character), #Westerns, #Fiction - Western, #Fiction, #Robert B. - Prose & Criticism, #General, #Virgil (Fictitious character), #American Western Fiction, #Westerns - General, #Hitch, #Cole
IRGIL AND I were sipping corn whiskey on Virgil’s veranda when we looked up and Pony was there, soundlessly sitting his horse in the shadows.
“They are here,” he said.
“Where?” Virgil said.
“Hills, south, near water falling,” Pony said.
Virgil glanced at me.
“Squaw Falls,” I said. “Couple hours’ ride.”
“Who’s out that way?” Virgil said.
“Compton McCaslin, works the place with his two sons,” I said.
“Any hands?” Virgil said.
“Wife of one of the sons,” I said.
“They will kill men,” Pony said. “Burn ranch. Rape woman, and send her into town.”
Pony looked up at the moon in the black sky.
“Probably happen by now,” he said.
“Maybe Callico can send some people out to bring the other settlers in,” Virgil said.
“Kah-to-nay like that,” Pony said.
“Because it will split up the white-eye force,” Virgil said.
“Pick off some, make more come,” Pony said. “Good both ways.”
“You think he’s watching the town?” I said.
“He know you’re here?” Virgil said.
“You’re sure?” I said.
Pony looked at me.
“You’re sure,” I said.
I looked at Virgil.
“Can’t save everybody,” I said.
“You can’t,” he said. “Pony, you staying.”
“I stay,” Pony said.
“How you want to play it with your brother?” Virgil said.
“Get him away, before he killed,” Pony said.
“How you want us to play it?” Virgil said.
“Same, if you can. If you can’t, you have to do what you do.”
“Everett,” Virgil said. “Time for you to ride on up to General Laird’s and collect Chauncey Teagarden. Tell the general he might want to put some pickets out, too.”
HEY FOUND the woman lying naked in the south stage road. She had been badly beaten, but she was alive, the blood drying dark on her pale body. The shotgun messenger put his coat around her and held her half across his lap while the driver pushed the tired team hard into Appaloosa.
Virgil and I watched from in front of the Boston House as they took her up the outside stairs to Dr. Peloquin’s office above the Café Paris. A crowd gathered outside. Callico showed up promptly, pushed through the crowd, up the stairs, and into Peloquin’s office. The saloons began to empty out. The crowd got bigger.
With his hat tilted down over his forehead and his arms folded across his chest, Virgil leaned against one of the roof’s support posts.
“Here we go,” he said.
“Callico got down there quick,” I said.
“Would you wager against him making a speech from the top step when he comes out?” Virgil said.
“No bet,” I said.
Chauncey Teagarden came out of the Boston House wearing a black bowler hat, a pink-striped white shirt, and a black string tie. He was carrying a big cup of coffee.
“Amos won’t have much trouble working ’em up,” Teagarden said. “Half of them are drunk already.”
“Tend to be out front,” Virgil said. “While the booze is working.”
“Tell who’s sobering up the quickest,” he said. “By who’s dropping back the fastest.”
“If they’re lucky,” Virgil said. “Otherwise they the first ones killed when the balloon goes up.”
“Virgil,” Teagarden said. “You and me’ve made a good living shooting fellas like that.”
“When I had to,” Virgil said.
“Why else,” Teagarden said. “Ain’t much glory in it.”
“Here he comes,” Virgil said.
Callico stepped out of Peloquin’s office and looked down at the crowd from the top step. He waited. Someone shouted, “We’re with you, Amos.” Someone else shouted, “Kill the heathen bastards.” Callico waited.
Teagarden looked at us and grinned.
“You notice nobody has shouted, ‘How’s the woman?’” he said.
“They don’t care,” Virgil said.
“Nope,” Teagarden said. “They don’t. She’s served her purpose.”
From the crowd in front of Callico, someone started to chant, “Posse, posse.”
Others took it up. Callico waited a little longer as the chant built. Then he put a hand up like he was going to turn stones into loaves of bread. The crowd quieted.
“Dr. Peloquin,” he said, “tells me she won’t die.”
The crowd cheered. Callico waited for them to quiet.
“Though surely she must have wished to die, these last hours. Her husband is dead. Her father-in-law, her brother-in-law. All murdered by the red niggers,” Callico said. “She herself abused in extent and manner I cannot speak of in a public forum.”
The crowd’s sound was indecipherable. It was now simply massive communal noise. Callico let it subside.
“I have been warned,” Callico said, “that to pursue these heathen beast is to put the town at risk.”
The crowd was suddenly silent. Something real was about to be discussed.
“Are we men?” Callico said softly.
The crowd listened. I could almost feel it lean forward.
“Are we white Christian men?” Callico roared.
The crowd screamed that we were.
“Is there a man among us who will not join us?” Callico shouted.
The crowd screamed that, no, there were no men who would not join him.
“Even the great Virgil Cole,” Callico said. “I can see him from here, in front of the Boston House.”
He raised his voice as if he had to make himself heard that far away.
“Will you be joining us, Virgil?”
Virgil stood as he had during the entire performance, hat down, arms folded. He gave no sign that he had heard Callico.
“Of course he will,” Callico said. “And his friends.”
The mob cheered.
“I’ll have my full police force armed and ready for the field,” Callico said. “Right here, in the street, mounted and ready to ride, in one hour. I want every man jack of you that owns a gun to join us here with it and lots of bullets, ready to ride.”
The mob made its guttural scream. Callico came down the stairs and pushed through the idolatrous crowd toward the police station. Some of the crowd followed him a ways and then began to break up and go home to get ready.
Chauncey Teagarden watched them move away.
“Be like bossing a fucking cattle drive,” he said.
“It will,” I said.
“He won’t get within ten miles of the Indians.”
“’Less they let him,” I said.
“In which case they massacre his posse,” Teagarden said.
“Half of them haven’t shot anything bigger than a jackrabbit in their life. They’ll probably be drunk. If he does catch them, what’s he gonna do, trample ’em to death?”
“He knows all that,” Virgil said.
“And he’s gonna do it anyway?”
“Ain’t about the Indians,” Virgil said. “Or the posse. Or the dead men. Or the woman got hurt.”
“He wants to be president of the United States of America,” I said.
“It’s about Callico,” Virgil said.
E SAT OUR HORSES with Pony Flores behind Red Castle Rock. Chauncey Teagarden was with us. Pony raised his hand and then put his finger on his lips. The horses stood quietly. There was no wind. We listened.
Then Virgil said, “Callico.”
Pony nodded. The sound was very faint. A low murmur of hoofbeats. Virgil scanned the horizon.
Then he said, “From the northeast.”
And there it was, a faint drift of dust, kicked up by the faint beat of hooves.
“Kah-to-nay leave big trail toward river,” Pony said.
We looked west, where, in the distance, the river ran straight north to south in the deep trench it had dug itself.
“Square Stone River,” I said. “Hard river to get across. Deep, ten-foot banks straight up and down.”
“Kah-to-nay lead them to ford,” Pony said.
“And across?” Virgil said.
Virgil nodded to himself. There were things Virgil didn’t get. But none of them had to do with his profession. And the things he did get, he got right away.
“Everett,” Virgil said. “You done a lotta Indian fighting when you was soldierin’.”
“You know the ford?”
“I do,” I said.
“How many men would it take to hold the ford?” Virgil said.
Pony smiled. I thought about the ford for a bit.
Then I said, “Depends how bad the enemy wants to cross, but probably ’bout four with Winchesters.”
“So,” Virgil said. “Kah-to-nay makes it look like he and his men crossed. Which they didn’t. Callico goes hell for leather across the ford, ’cause he don’t want to get caught in the water. Kah-to-nay puts, say, four riflemen in the rocks to hold the ford and takes the rest of his bucks hell-bent for Appaloosa. Where the only gun in town is the derringer Pony gave Laurel.”
Teagarden looked at Pony.
“That right?” he said.
“Smart Indian,” Teagarden said.
“Younger brother,” Pony said.
“That how he learned stuff like this?” Teagarden said.
“He tell you he was gonna do this?” Teagarden said.
“No,” Pony said.
“But you know,” Teagarden said.
“Because that’s what you’d do,” he said.
“What I would do,” Pony said.
Teagarden looked silently at Pony for a moment.
“Me, too,” he said.
We sat and watched the barely discernible dust cloud move ahead of the barely audible sound of the horses.
Then I said, “Time to head back to Appaloosa?”
“I believe it is,” Virgil said, and turned his horse northeast.
E PUT Allie and Laurel in the Boston House, on the second floor in front.
“Lock the door, stay inside,” Virgil said, “until me or Everett tells you to come out.”
“Do you think they’ll come soon?” Allie said.
“Yes,” Virgil said. “You got a gun?”
“Laurel, too,” Virgil said.
“The one Pony gave her. She always has it,” Allie said.
Laurel took the derringer out of her skirt pocket and showed it to Virgil. He nodded. She stepped close to him and whispered. Teagarden and I stood at the front windows, looking down.
“Pony’s on watch,” Virgil said.
Laurel nodded. Her face was pale and very tight. She swallowed hard. And her movements were stiff.
“Ain’t gonna let them near you,” Virgil said.
Laurel nodded stiffly.
“Somehow they get in here,” Virgil said quietly to Allie, “you know what to do.”
“How many will come?” she said.
“Pony says between fifteen and twenty.”
“And there’s only four of you,” Allie said.
“More like three and a half,” Virgil said. “Pony said he won’t shoot no Indians.”
“How can you stop them?” Allie said.
Virgil smiled faintly.
“We shoot very good,” he said.
He was wearing his Colt, and a second one stuck in his belt. He carried a Winchester and two bandoliers of .45 ammo. The ammo fit the Winchester and both Colts. I had two Colts and the eight-gauge, and ammo. Chauncey wore a two-holster gun belt with matching ivory-handled Colts. There were bullets in the loops on the gun belt. He had a Winchester, too, and extra ammo in a pigskin satchel.
“Pony’s coming,” I said.
“Easy trot,” I said.
Virgil nodded toward the door, and Teagarden and I started out.
“We’ll be back for you,” Virgil said to the women.
Allie looked nearly as pale as Laurel did.
“Can’t you stay with us?”
“Don’t want to draw fire or attention,” Virgil said. “We’ll be back.”
“I pray that you are,” she said.
Laurel stood stone still and watched us as we started out the door.
“Lock it behind us,” Virgil said.
“Come back for us,” Allie said.
Her voice sounded scratchy.
“Always have,” Virgil said.
E WERE STANDING in the empty street when Pony arrived. Most of the town still believed that Callico’s heroic posse would banish the red heathen. But they were staying inside anyway.
“Maybe forty minutes,” Pony said as he slid off his horse. “Kha-to-nay, and eighteen warrior.”
“Callico on the other side of the river?”
“Three warrior with Winchesters on this side,” Pony said.
“Only way to get across would be to put the whole posse into the ford at once,” I said.
“Lose half of them,” Chauncey said. “If you do.”
“Callico won’t have much luck getting them to take that kind of casualties,” I said.
“’Specially now that they ain’t drunk,” Chauncey said.
Virgil was looking at the street.
“Where they gonna come in?” he said to Pony.
“Kah-to-nay ride straight in down Main Street. Make him feel good. He think no guns here.”
“Damn near right,” Virgil said. “You sure ’bout this?”
“What Pony would do,” he said.
“Everett, take that fucking siege gun up onto the second-floor balcony above the bank,” he said.
“Teagarden,” Virgil said. “In the hayloft over the livery stable. Try to seem like several people.”
“I always seem like several people,” Teagarden said.
“You gonna fight?” Virgil said to Pony.
“Not kill Chiricahua,” Pony said. “Where Chiquita?”
“In the Boston House,” Virgil said. “Upstairs front. With Allie.”
“Not draw attention,” he said.
“You and me,” he said. “Front of the pool room across the street. Behind the water trough.”
He looked at all of us.
“Let them come in. I’ll stop them here, between Everett and Teagarden. Wait for me to shoot.”
Teagarden and I both nodded and headed off for where Virgil had told us to be. Chauncey Teagarden had probably been brought to town to kill Virgil Cole. And might still be planning to try. But right now he obeyed Virgil’s orders without question, just like everybody always did.
I set up behind the railing of the upstairs porch, made sure all the weapons were loaded, laid a bandolier of ammunition out on the floor, and waited.