The wind blows eternally through the desert, constantly eroding the rock and the scrub that barely clings to life there. This is the process that has been going on for millennia, and will continue to do so. For thousands of years water and wind have eroded the land, causing giant buttes to rise up against the sky as if in defiance of mother nature. Layer by layer these goliaths represent time, allowing one to look back at the geologic processes that formed our planet. But the one man who was slowly riding through this part of the desert took no notice, only glancing occasionally to his right or left, or up at the sun, making sure that he was heading in the right direction
The wind blows eternally through the desert, constantly eroding the rock and the scrub that barely clings to life there. This is the process that has been going on for millennia, and will continue to do so. For thousands of years water and wind have eroded the land, causing giant buttes to rise up against the sky as if in defiance of mother nature. Layer by layer these goliaths represent time, allowing one to look back at the geologic processes that formed our planet. But the one man who was slowly riding through this part of the desert took no notice, only glancing occasionally to his right or left, or up at the sun, making sure that he was heading in the right direction.
On and on he rode, with the sun high at his back, as the sun slowly rose in the east and sank in the west. He was on his way to Colorado, to a mining town where he could hide and remain hidden, providing of course the locals didn't ask too many questions.
He was a tall, lanky man, square shouldered and slightly hunched over who had seen plenty of years. The most unusual feature about this man, however, were his eyes. One was green, while the other was an albino white. He knew he would have to find a camp that was out of the beaten path to hide his secrets, because his face was on wanted posters around the Arizona Territories and that it wouldn't take much for some young buckaroo to spot him. That was something that he didn't need nor want. He had been on the run going on for five years now, and he wasn't about to let some young wet behind-the-ears punk take him in. He didn't want to spend the next 20 years in Yuma Territorial.
He figured that once he reached a camp, he could just blend in with the other misfits who found their way into these establishments, and make a living mining or lumberjacking. Perhaps even working for the railroad, if he was lucky enough. As long as it was a job, he didn't have to worry. He could then put his past behind him. Once someone recognized him, it was all over. He'd have to shoot his way out of another town, with another death on his conscience. That was something he could do without.
He found himself on a trail that slowly rose through the canyon, and the soil became hard and rocky. He eased his mount through the worst of it, and found that it was a winding trail that headed towards the mountains. He figured another day or two would find him in a small mining town or camp to where he could start his new life. Little did he know that he had a shadow.
The bounty hunter reined in his mount, and stopped, watching the man several hundred yards ahead of him. He watched him stop, look around, and continue on into the canyon to where he could finally trap him. He could almost smell the skin he was so confident of his success. He looked around, trying to find the best possible area in which to trap the man, and led his horse around to the southern part of the canyon. Here there was a small stream that slowly flowed down from the mountains above. He let his horse drink, then got down and filled his animal skin with the cool, clear liquid. Out here a man needed water, and he was no exception despite living in these harsh conditions all of his life. He was on a mission to gaining a reputation, and killing this man and bringing back his guns and horse were trophies that he did not want to see slip away.
The sun was setting, and he decided to make camp for the night. He could easily follow the man, for he left a trail a blind man could follow. The horse tracks led right up through the canyon, and he made no move to conceal his travels.
Simp stopped his horse, and looked behind him. He had an idea he was being followed, and had come into this canyon on purpose, to make the pursuer known. He had a gut instinct that the man knew what he was doing, but he had the disadvantage of knowing that his prey knew he was being followed.
He reined in, and decided to camp for the night. The sun was low in the western sky, with just several more minutes of daylight left. He dropped off his mount, and opened up a package of jerky. He didn't want to make a fire and make himself that much more obvious. All he needed right now was the whole tribe on his tail. One he could deal with, one hundred was another story.
He laid back against a flat rock, and tilted his hat down over his eyes, his ears picking up where his vision left off. He started to hear the noises of the night, the birds and owls and other such nocturnal creatures doing their thing. He listened intently for awhile for any noises on the trail, but heard none, and took his pistol out of its holster and laid the weapon within easy reach, just out of sight of whoever might come up the trail and try to trap him. He soon dozed off, and let his mind wander through the mists of time.
The bank they had held up in Borderland had been an easy job, and had netted each of them about three thousand dollars. Normally they would have headed for the border, but then they heard about an army payroll coming through and decided they would hijack that as well. That didn't go to well, from what he recollected, and they wound up splitting up and scattering after awhile. Jim and Jud wound up getting arrested, Willy headed back to Mexico, and he headed up north, towards Colorado, to try and hide out until the heat was off. Normally once a person left the state in which a crime was committed they were home free, but a new law made it a federal offense and now he was on the run from the feds as well. He wondered sometimes if it was all worth it. All he knew was that he was tired of running, of having to hide all the time, and wondering when some punk kid would decide to take him up in the offer of a gunfight. He had killed enough men in his day, but he was tired of it. He had no interests in making notches in his gun barrel like he did when he was just a kid. He knew a little more now, and he was disgusted by it. But he kept running for fear of swinging in a noose.
He figured that he had about two hundred dollars worth of gold in his packs to make him through the next few weeks. After that he'd just have to get a job or go back to being a bandit. Either way he didn't care. He stared up at the stars, and wondered what it would be like to never have to run again. He heard a noise, like metal on rock, and was instantly wide awake. He reached for his weapon, and a foot soon stepped on his arm, pinning it six inches away from his pistol. He looked up, straight into the face of the bounty hunter.
The man had no expression on his face, and it seemed that he bore no hatred of Simp. He was simply doing what he was being paid to do. He reached down, and picked up the six-shooter, tossing it behind him in the dirt. He pointed his rifle directly at Simp's heart and said two words. “Get up,” he stated.
Simp saw that he had no choice, and slowly got to his feet, brushing the dust off of his pant legs.
The man just looked at him, and his eyes widened when he saw that Simp's eyes were two different colors. He looked at one eye, then the other, and realized that this was no ordinary man indeed. What was he to do?
Simp saw the hesitation in the man, and decided to try and talk his way out of this. “How,” he said, raising his right hand. “You no kill, right?”
The hunter just continued to stare, and slowly the rifle he was holding lowered.
“What's wrong with you?” he asked.
“Nothing wrong, friend,” answered Simp, slowly realizing that he was gaining the upper hand in this. All he had to do was keep talking, and maybe he could worm his way out of this predicament. Then he realized that the bounty hunter was staring in amazement at him.
“You like my eyes?” he asked, pointing to his peepers. The man just nodded. Just then a rifle shot sounded far off, and a pink, frothy foam came from between the hunter's lips. He slowly sunk to his knees, his rifle clattering on the rocks, and pitched forward in the dust. Simp instinctively ducked in the dirt, and slowly looked around for the shooter. It was a few minutes later that a rider slowly trotted up the rocky path towards where he lay. Recognizing the Mexican guide, Simp got up, dusting himself off, and angry that Willy had damn near killed him too.
“Willy, what the hell did you do that for?” he asked gruffly. The Mexican just gave him a big, toothy smile.
“Looks like Willy save your ass,” he said, dismounting and chuckling to himself. “Bounty hunter have you for supper.”
“Good to see ya, Willy,” he said finally, shaking the Mexican's hand. They hadn't seen each other in over five years, not since the mine incident, and they had split up. He eyeballed the stallion that Willy rode up on.
“Nice horse you got there. Who'd you steal it from?” he asked.
“Oh no, senor, Willy no steal, he buy,” the guide answered, patting the horse on the nose. The horse rubbed his head against Willy's hand, and he reached into one of his packs, withdrawing a dried-out carrot stick. The animal chewed on it contentedly.
“Where you heading, big man?” he asked Simp.
“Up north to where its safe from varmints like you,” the big man answered.
“Why don't you come back to Mexico with me, Simp? I have hacienda we can use as base, and make raids across the border. Lots of senoritas and tequila, no?”
The big man thought about that. Head back into Mexico? That might not be such a bad idea after all, either, instead of heading into Colorado where he'd be more likely to be spotted.
“Okay, Willy, ya talked me into it. We'll head into Mexico,” he said finally. He mounted his horse and turned it back out into the desert, heading out of the canyon. Soon they were trotting through the cholla and Saguaro in a southerly direction. Simp figured that once they got to Mexico, they could lay down a base of operations close to the border, and make strikes through Skeleton Canyon or follow a stage trail up through one of the border towns and make good their getaway. Soon he felt like a second wind had blown through him. Willy couldn't have shown up at a better time. He needed his spirits lifted and going back to the outlaw ways was going to do it for him.
“By the way, have you heard any more about that Rebel treasure that's supposed to be hidden somewhere around here?” he asked the guide.
“Only bits and pieces, senor,” was his reply. “Word is its hidden in a gold mine, then someone else say it hidden in a silver mine. Willy can't figure it out.”
“Okay, we'll play it by ear then. But by God, I aim to find that treasure!”
They ran across the stagecoach road heading south, and decided to stay on it to make time, despite the danger of being identified. As soon as a plume of dust was spotted, they found themselves a hiding spot and waited for the stage to pass, giving it ample time until they made their way. On the second day of this, they decided that it was just too dangerous, and stayed hidden during the day and followed the ruts at night. An hour after sunset they spotted the faraway lights of a town in the distance, but decided against going there. They both could've used a drink, but they also knew they'd be spotted and that was a risk they weren't ready to take just yet.
On the fourth day of their journey, they were sitting in amongst some rocks and scrub eating jerky when a rifle shot sounded close by. They both jumped up and peered through a crevice in the rocks to see if they could find who was shooting and at what. They didn't see anything, and no shots followed the first. They sat back down, and wondered just what exactly was going on.
“What you think that was, senor?” asked Willy, chewing on a piece of smoked meat.
“I don't know,” answered Simp, “but we better not be here at sundown.”
“Couple more days, we be over the border, senor,” Willy stated. He was originally hired to lead the other four men out of the Arizona territories after they robbed the Army payroll coming in from Kansas City, but were thwarted when all they did was rob an empty box, killing two men in the process. After that things just kind of fell apart. Red was shot in the back by Simp for wanting to leave the outlaw gang and the others wound up getting arrested. From what they heard, Jim was still awaiting trial and Jud had been hanged. But that was just hearsay; it wasn't a known fact.
Soon dusk came, and they prepared to leave their hiding spot. Willy made sure the small fire they had made to boil coffee was out, and Simp mounted his horse, ready to move. The two men glanced around them, and soon set back off on the trail, heading towards a new destiny in the land called Mexico.
She sat at the bar, nursing her fifth drink. She raised the glass to her lips, arched her head back, and slammed the fiery liquid down her throat. It burned all the way down, and she wiped off her lips with her sleeve and put the shot glass down, motioning for a refill in the process. Her name was Dori Smith, and she could drink with the best of them. She grew up in a mining town just like this one, except that she was much younger and gullible then. Some of the miners had tried to take advantage of her, and her father intervened, being shot and killed in the process. She had held a grudge against men ever since, and vowed to be even better than them when it came to drinking, fighting, or gunplay.
She had 30 years of experience packed into her twenty-two year old frame. She was afraid of nothing or no one, and didn't care if her appearance made others uncomfortable. She'd been called names from A to Z and was still standing after all was said and done. She was tough, and she was proud. That made her extremely dangerous, and the men that tried to romance her found that out the hard way.
She stopped in town to drink herself numb after having to bury her baby brother. He was all she had left in this world, and she aimed to find the man who shot him down in cold blood. She would walk the ends of the earth to find out, and would let no man nor woman, for that matter, stand in her way.
She stood five foot six inches tall, with dirty blonde hair, and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet, with her gun attached. But what she lacked in size she more than made up for in spirit and determination.
She downed her sixth drink and was nursing her seventh when Rusty Miller walked in. In his mind he was the cream of the crop, and had an attitude that a steer couldn't knock out of him. He figured to be a ladies' man, but he hadn't quite yet met Dori Smith. He ambled up to the bar, ordered a drink, and sat there eyballing her, from the hat on her head to the well-worn boots on her feet.
“Well, hello there darlin',” he said, tipping his hat sarcastically. He raised his right boot and placed it on the brass rail footrest, and casually leaned over to stroke her hair.
She viciously slapped his hand away, making him coil back in surprise. No one did that to him, not any man nor woman, for that matter. Rusty wasn't the type to take no from anyone, especially a woman. “Well, well, well,” he said, “we got us an impertinent little filly!”
He reached back with his right hand, cocking it as if to strike her, and the bartender grabbed his wrist. “Not tonight, Rusty,” he said. “No one strikes a woman in my bar!”
Rusty turned to look at Ray Holloway, the man who'd grabbed him. Back in the day, Ray had been known to be pretty fast with a six-shooter, and Rusty remembered that fact, slowly lowering his arm and smiling at the lady.
“Well, pardon me, ma'am,” he said, voice dripping with sarcasm. He finished his drink, dropped a coin on the bar, and walked out, slamming the bat-wing doors in the process.
“You didn't have to defend me,” Dori said to her rescuer.
“My pleasure, ma'am. Besides, I'd rather look at your face than his!” he laughed, chuckling to himself as he wiped out several glasses and laid them behind the bar.
“Thanks, and much obliged.”
“You're welcome, and anytime, miss.....”
“Miss will do for now,” she said, and turned to walk out of the bar. Before he could say anything, she reached in her pocket, took out a coin, flipped it backwards towards him, and he deftly caught it in the air. “Thanks for the drinks.”
She walked out of the saloon, took a left to head to the hotel to sleep it off, and was caught off guard behind her as someone picked her up and clamped a hand over her mouth. She bit down, and the man yelped and let her go. She dropped to all fours, slid her six-shooter out in one smooth motion, and pointed it at her attacker. The man was holding his hand, blood coming out where she'd bit through the skin, and just glared at her. It was Rusty Miller.
“Mister, what's your problem?” she asked him. “Just 'cause a woman don't cotton to ya do you have to attack her comin' out of a saloon!” She kept the pistol pointed at him, and he was smart enough to notice that the end of the barrel never wavered far from aiming at his heart. She stood up slowly, her eyes locked with his, and slowly holstered her weapon.
“Do you always attack people coming out of a saloon, or are you just plain ornery?” she asked him finally, her heart slowing back to its regular number of beats. “I could've killed you, and would have swung for doing it. What's your problem, mister?”
Rusty shook his hand, and glared at her. “What'd you bite me for? I wasn't gonna hurt ya!” he stammered. He looked down at the teeth marks in his hand, and swore softly.
She glared back at him. “Leave me alone. If I want company, it sure as hell won't be the kind you keep!” With that, she turned her back on him and stalked off towards the hotel, boots clomping on the boardwalk. He just watched her go, and walked to the hitching post to where his horse was tied up. He reined in, and headed west out of town, back to his ranch house, finally being swallowed up in the cloud of dust that was so prevalent in these parts.
What neither of them noticed was the man who was leaning against a post in front of the general store watching their exchange with amusement. His eyes carefully took in how the man tried to grab the girl, and by how she responded. He liked what he saw, she was fast. Perhaps he could talk her into helping out the establishment and perhaps not. He decided he'd try later, after a few drinks and after she had calmed down some from her predicament with the cowboy in front of the saloon. He didn't want to raise eyebrows just yet. But he needed people that were fast on their feet, and that could think their way out of danger. He rolled a smoke, and calmly lit it, the gentle desert breeze catching the flame and slowly bending it to and fro. He lit his cigarette, and tossed the burned out match to the sand, his mind slowly working out the details of his plan.
Dori reached her room and opened the door. Once inside, she took a deep breath, unfastened her gunbelt, and lay down on the squeaky bed. She quickly went through what had just happened to her on the boardwalk, and decided that it was just an isolated incident. She figured he was just a lonely cowboy who wanted to get cozy and comfortable with a woman. Well, he wouldn't be doing that with her, no way. That's what the saloon girls were for. She was far from being a saloon girl.
She got up and looked out her window. The occasional couple strolled by, and the cowpunchers heading towards the saloon whirled up little puffs of dust in their wake. She walked over to the washbasin and rinsed off her face, which helped to sober her up from too many shots of whiskey. She figured she'd better be careful. The last thing she needed would be to be jumped and hogtied like some farm animal. That she could do without. She thought about what she needed to do, and decided that she would head to Uncle Bob's ranch early in the morning, and greet him and Aunt Clara with a surprise visit. She hadn't been there since she left several years ago, and she figured that now was as good a time as any to let them know she was still alive and well.
She walked back over to the bed, kicked off her boots, and laid down with a gentle sigh of relief. Soon she entered a world where dreams came true and problems melted away.
“Willy, you go get supplies, they don't know you there,” said Simp. The way he figured, the guide could go to town and restock their dwindling reserves and wouldn't be noticed. Mexicans were as commonplace around the south as the Saguaro plant, and one more wouldn't be noticed or have attention paid to him. Willy agreed, and Simp gave him some gold out of his sack for purchasing the items. “By the way, get me a couple bottles of whiskey, I could use 'em!”
“Okay, senor, if you say so. I be back shortly.” Willy rode off towards town, and Simp made himself as comfortable as he could, leaning up against a boulder that was surrounded by scrub and sand. To while away the time until Willy returned, he thought about what he was going to do. Yeah, right, he. Not they, he. Would he just dump the Mexican once he didn't need him anymore? More than likely, because he didn't like to share his wealth. Willy was a good tracker though, he had to admit. He saved his life back in the canyon by shooting that bounty hunter, and he was only the first out of many, depending upon the reward placed upon his head, and whether they wanted him dead or alive.
Nah, he thought, Willy deserved better than that. He was the only one besides Jim who didn't complain about anything, even the heat in the middle of the day. He'd be a good backup man in case he needed one, so that thought was tossed out. Jud and Red were both gone, and Jim might as well be. They would find him guilty of conspiracy and hang him on the spot. Especially since he was a former lawman. The locals didn't take too kindly to a law enforcement officer being in on the take.
A strange thought had crossed his mind. What if they were to break Jim out of lockup? Would they be able to do it? It was possible, he figured. They could probably come up with some kind of plan once they reached Hell's Gate and figure out how to release the man. He would be a useful ally then, that's for sure. He would owe them his life, and one more gun watching their back wouldn't hurt anything, either. He sat and thought about that while he waited for Willy to return from town with their supplies.
Willy trotted into town like he owned the place. He pulled up in front of the general store, stopped his horse, and got off, tying the reins loosely around the rail there. He walked into the store, where the air was a little cooler, and raised his sombrero just a bit more to see better. It took just a couple of minutes for his eyes to adjust to the limited light and was soon walking up and down the aisles looking for the supplies they needed.
He walked up to the counter, and set everything down. He grabbed three bottles of whiskey and another box of ammunition, and watched as the store clerk added it all up. Once done, he took out a small sack that contained gold nuggets, and set one down on the counter top to pay for his merchandise. The man just looked at him, and Willy gave him a smile, his white teeth showing like the bleached bones of a horse out in the desert. The man scooped it up, reached under the counter and placed a loupe in his eye, inspecting the nugget. When he said everything looked fine, Willy had everything put into a large burlap bag and walked out with his goods, almost walking into another man coming into the store.
“Watch where yer' goin'!” said the man angrily. Willy just bowed down and tipped the sombrero, trying not to arouse suspicion on him.
“Excuse please, senor,” he said, walking up to his horse and tying the sack to its rump. He looked east of town, and saw the Davis Mountains in the background. He stared at them for a few minutes, then mounted his horse, reining its way back out of town towards their hideout. He hoped no one would follow him, and his horse raised a cloud of dust galloping through the cholla and cactus.
He soon reached the spot where they were camped out for the day, and dismounted, taking out one of the bottles of whiskey and handing it to Simp. The man uncorked it, and drew long and hard on the bottle before smacking his lips and wiping the sweat from his face. “Now that's what I needed,” he said happily. He took another large swig, and handed the bottle to Willy. He declined, saying “I will later on when we're on the way again.” Of course he was right, they shouldn't be getting snookered while still on the run. There would be plenty of time left for that once they reached Willy's hacienda in Mexico. Instead of this rotgut whiskey he could be sipping on some premium tequila, the bottles with the worms in them. Those were the quality liquors, he knew. Just one bottle of that would make one's toenails curl and straighten their hair!
He took another deep gulp from the bottle, then corked it closed. He put it down, and watched as Willy stoked up the fire for their evening meal. Once the sun was down they could make more time and get further and further away from the hangman's noose.
Willy figured on two more nights, and they would be at the border. Once there, they would have to cross the river and head straight on through any villages they came across. As soon as they reached Willy's place would they know that they were safe. As long as Don Trujillo didn't find them, that is...
LOOK FOR CHAPTERS 3,4 AND 5
IN CALAMITY JANE'S SEPTEMBER ISSUE.