Savage, p.27Richard Laymon
“You must have frightfully good ears.”
“They’ve had a share of practice. So how come you’re up and about?”
“Will you actually help me to search for Whittle?”
“I might do just that very thing.”
“It would be splendid.”
“Well, I spent some time down there, know the territory. Ran with Al Sieber and his boys back in eighty-two. That’s when we took on Nan-tia-tish. Then it was Geronimo and Nachite raising hell. Chased them all through creation. I reckon there ain’t a canyon or a cactus between Fort Apache and the Torres Mountains that I ain’t met up with, one time or another.”
“I’m not familiar with those places, actually.”
“You don’t need to be, cause I am.”
“Have you been to Tombstone?”
“Many a time.”
“You’ll be able to help me find it, then?”
“Why, sure. Lead you straight to it. She’s a far piece west of here, then a ways south. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks to get there, once we start out.”
“When shall we start?” I asked.
“Let’s just wait and see. We wanta spend us some time at Bailey’s Corner and live it up some, you know.” He smiled, pale teeth showing under his mustache. “You don’t wanta start off on a long journey with too much cash weighing you down. It’d only serve to tire the horses.”
“Will the others come with us, do you suppose?”
“That’ll be up to them. Much as I’ll likely miss the boys, I reckon we’d be better off shed of ‘em. First thing you know, they’d be hankering to pull a holdup. We don’t want none of that. Can’t hunt a man proper if you gotta keep a lookout for lawmen and posses and the like. It’d only serve to interfere with business. Sides, they’d slow us down.”
“I’d hate for you to leave them on my account,” I said.
“High time I pulled out. I been putting it off too long already.”
“Then, you’re not doing it only because of me?”
“Let me tell you a thing or two, Willy. Chase is the only feller in the bunch that has a lick of sense. Them other three, any one of ‘em could end up dragging us all into some kinda mess. Breakenridge, he’s got a temper so hot he’ll kill a man for looking at him sideways. Emmet’s got an itch to swap lead with any feller that gives him half an excuse. Snooker’s got himself a streak of yellow that makes him worse than either of ‘em. He’s a back-shooter, and he ain’t particular who he does it to. You ride with boys like that, you always gotta watch ‘em and try to keep a rein on ‘em, but sooner or later they’re gonna draw you into some mighty deep trouble. I been with this bunch for a couple of years, now, and we been lucky. But luck has a way of petering out on you. Best to get shut of ’em.”
When I think about what happened later, it seems funny—in an awful sort of way—that McSween said such things just the night before we went into Bailey’s Corner. He’d sure been right about luck petering out. But he couldn’t have been more wrong about Breakenridge or Emmet or Snooker being the cause of our trouble. McSween himself was the one who brought it down on us all. Because of me.
Prue and his friend must’ve been tracking us the whole time after we “bought” the horse. They’d been smart enough to keep well out of sight, so we never saw hide nor hair of them, nor suspected they were on their way. They didn’t show up until our second night in town, and they showed up with help.
We were having us a farewell supper at the Silver Dollar Saloon, drinking beer and eating steaks, all sitting together around a corner table. I was feeling mighty fine. I’d had a good sleep the night before in a hotel bed, I’d had two baths and a haircut, I’d been eating good meals for the better part of two days, my wealth had increased by fifteen dollars due to the sale of the stolen watches, and I was decked out in a brand new outfit.
I was mighty proud of my outfit. The whole gang, except for Breakenridge, had helped me pick it out the day we got into town. Dressed up the way I was, I felt just like one of the boys.
I wore a pair of dandy boots that didn’t pinch, spurs that jingled every time I moved my feet, comfortable trousers, a blue shirt like McSween’s, a leather vest, a red bandanna that dropped around my neck, and a splendid beaver hat. The pride of my new gear was a gunbelt with a big silver buckle, loops across its back for ammunition, and holsters at each hip. Both holsters had tie-downs. They held the Colts I’d acquired at the train.
I knew I looked bully. Quite the desperado. But I near choked on my last swallow of steak when Emmet said, “We gotta make sure Willy don’t ride outa here tomorrow a virgin.”
Snooker let out a whoop. “Let’s take him on over to Sally’s!”
Last night, they’d all gone to Sally’s, but I’d let on that I had a bellyache, and got out of it. It hadn’t been much of a lie, for the notion of “visiting the ladies” had indeed turned me queasy.
“I’d rather not, actually,” I said.
“Feeling poorly?” Emmet asked.
“Why, there ain’t nothing to it,” Snooker said. “No call to be scared.”
“I’m not at all scared,” I protested, though such talk was giving me an awful case of the fantods. In my head, I found myself back in that East End alley with Sue the whore. Much as I’d been thrilled by that encounter—up till she attacked me—the notion of taking up with another person of her sort upset me considerable. “I’d rather not, is all.”
“He’s plumb terrorized,” Emmet said.
“Oh, leave him be,” Chase told him.
“Gals isn’t nothing to be scared of,” Snooker went on. “They’s just the same as fellers, only they got nicer parts.”
“It can be a mite trying, first time around,” McSween said. I judged he was coming to my aid, but then he disappointed me. “What we’ll do, we’ll have Sally fix you up with a sweet young thing that’ll treat you right.”
Once again, Sue came to mind. I shook my head.
“It don’t hurt, you know,” Emmet said.
“I’m quite aware of that,” I blurted. “Me and Sarah…” Well, I shut my mouth quick. But not quick enough.
“You and Sarah?” Emmet asked. “The General’s daughter?”
“Granddaughter,” I corrected him.
“Well, shooey,” Snooker said.
“If that don’t beat all,” McSween said, smiling some.
My face felt like it was burning up. “I’m quite fond of her, really,” I muttered. “I shouldn’t like to…have a go…at someone else.”
“Don’t wanta betray her, is that it?” McSween asked.
“Why, she don’t ever have to know,” Emmet said.
Snooker said, “I bet she’s gone and taken up with that feller on the train you told us about, anyhow.”
That remark changed my embarrassment to anger. “Bugger off,” I snapped.
Snooker’s eyes got wide. “What’s that?”
“Let’s settle down, boys,” Chase said.
“What’d he say to me?”
“Bugger off and sod you.”
“Are you deaf?”
“Willy,” McSween said, real low.
Snooker leaped up from the table so fast his chair fell over backward. Other folks in the saloon stopped what they were doing and turned to watch us. “Why don’t you and me step outside, kid?”
I jumped up, myself, figuring to accommodate him.
McSween was next to spring to his feet. “Now the both of you quit.”
Snooker jabbed a finger at me. “He cussed me, John! I got every right to…”
“What makes you guess he cussed you?”
“Why…he…I don’t rightly know what he said, but it was a cuss.” Glaring my way, he asked, “Weren’t it?”
“You see?” he asked McSween.
McSween didn’t answer. What he did was yank both his Colts and let fly.
But the bullets weren’t aimed at him.
Someone cried out.
I turned my head in time to see Prue, pistol in hand, stumble backward with a shocked look on his face and three holes in his white shirt. On both sides of him were men with badges. As they went for their guns, Snooker spun around and pulled. Emmet shouted and blazed away from where he sat. I snatched out my own Colts. Though I loathed the notion of killing a lawman, I knew I had to help my friends. Before I got the chance, both lawmen flopped to the floor without ever firing a shot. Only Prue’s fat friend was still standing. He’d been shielded for a spell by Prue’s body, which knocked into him as it pitched backward. Now he was raising a double-barreled shotgun. About seven or eight slugs all punched him at near the same time. It was an awful thing to watch. They smacked holes all over his belly and chest, one poked through his throat, and another broke his front teeth and sent blood spouting out his mouth. His shotgun went off, and would’ve blasted the floor except that Prue’s face was in the way.
The roaring quit. I looked around and saw nobody who appeared ready to join the fight. The other folks in the saloon were mostly flat on the floor or crouched under tables.
When I turned to check on the boys, I could hardly see them through the clouds of gunsmoke. They were on their feet, hands full of iron, glancing this way and that as they stepped clear of the table.
McSween, reloading, said, “I reckon we wore out our welcome.” The way my ears rang, I almost couldn’t hear him.
“Anybody else wanta try us?” Emmet yelled.
McSween holstered a gun just long enough to drag some money from his pocket. He tossed the greenbacks onto the table to pay for our meal, then drew again.
Chase led the way out, me and McSween backing ourselves through the doors to watch those in the saloon.
A few folks were gathered on the walk, but they rather shook their heads at us and kept their hands a safe distance from their holsters. We stepped down to the street. A few horses were tied at the hitching post there, and I figured we might take them and hightail.
That wasn’t what the others had in mind, though.
I stayed with them. What we did was walk across the street toward our hotel. I kept figuring we’d get shot at by someone, but not a single soul tried. We made it clear to the other side of the street without any gunplay, and walked into the hotel.
“What are we doing?” I asked McSween.
Apparently, however, none of the boys was in any big rush to get on with it.
We got some wary, curious looks in the lobby, but no trouble.
Then we were up the stairs and going into our rooms. Mine was shared with McSween and Breakenridge. As soon as McSween got a lamp burning, we set to gathering our gear. I heard some yelling from outside the window. My mouth was parched, my heart thumping fit to explode. But McSween and Breakenridge seemed mighty cool as they stuffed this and that into their saddle bags.
We stayed together in the room until all three of us were ready. Saddlebags draped over our shoulders, bedrolls roped across our backs, Colts holstered and rifles in our hands, we stepped into the hallway.
A couple of minutes passed, then the others came out of their room.
“Reckon there’s a back door outa here?” Chase asked.
“The front door suits me,” McSween said.
I shriveled cold.
Just as calm as you please, McSween and Chase strode side by side to the head of the stairs and started down. I kept next to Emmet, behind them. Breakenridge and Snooker followed us, watching the rear.
That stairway seemed just endless. It was all I could do to stop my shaky legs from giving out.
We didn’t see nobody at all in the lobby.
McSween and Chase didn’t hesitate for a blink, but stepped right out the front door.
Well, we paraded straight down the middle of the street. It was empty except for us and the horses and carriages along both sides. But it seemed that everyone in town had their eyes on us. Doorways and windows were packed with silent watchers.
I heard some horses shuffling their hoofs, snorting, letting out a whinny now and again. A piano was playing a lively tune nearby. Off in the distance, a dog was yapping. Other than that, about the only sounds came from us—our boots thumping soft on the dusty street, our spurs clinking, the leather of our gear squeaking and groaning.
It was a mighty long walk.
I judged that, any second, a volley would roar out and we’d all be dropped in our tracks.
Didn’t happen, though.
Finally, we came to the livery stable at the far end of town. The proprietor, a fellow named Himmel, had seen us coming and had already sent his boys to fetch our horses. McSween settled accounts with him. Then we spent just forever, it seemed, fumbling about with our bridles and saddles and such. McSween finished before me, and mounted up. While I worked at tightening General’s cinch, he sat up there high on his saddle and rolled himself a smoke.
I tied down my saddlebags, tied down my bedroll and slipped my Winchester into its boot. By the time I got done and climbed aboard, the others were all mounted and waiting for me.
We rode out onto the street.
What came next shouldn’t have surprised me, not after what I’d seen of the gang so far.
There we were, at the very end of town. We had no reason at all to ride in the opposite direction.
That’s just what we did, however.
McSween dug in his spurs, pulled both Colts, and charged, spitting lead at the night. For a cautious man proud of his silver hair, he sure had himself a keen interest in gawdy exits.
We all followed him, yelling and blazing.
If we were shot at, I never heard the gunfire through all our own commotion.
We were still on our saddles, none the worse for wear, by the time we left Bailey’s Corner behind us.
The hard way we rode, only stopping now and then to let the horses catch their wind, I judged that the boys didn’t figure we were in the clear.
Finally, I had to ask. I put the spurs to General and caught up with McSween. “Do you reckon they’re coming after us?”
“That’s a good bet, Willy,” he said, looking over at me. “You know them two lawmen that was fools enough to side with Prue? They was town deputies. I don’t know the one, but the other was James Brewer, brother to the sheriff, Ike.”
“Well, where was he, then?”
“Ike? Don’t rightly know. I gave him all kinds of time to take a crack at us. Wanted him to try, but he never showed. Sure would’ve been a blessing to kill him then and there. Way matters stand, we gotta figure he’ll lead a posse after us.”
“What are we to do?”
“Whatever we gotta.”
We kept on riding through the night. I spent plenty of time remembering how the train engineer’d tried to talk me out of joining up with these boys, and wished more than once that I’d heeded his warning. It was far too late for that, though. In the course of a week, I’d helped rob a train, I’d stolen a horse, and I’d stood with the gang in a shootout that left four men murdered. I was no better than an outlaw, myself. And now McSween judged we had a posse coming for us, so I figured I might end my life just as the engineer had predicted, either shot or swinging from a rope.
It made me feel plain sick to think about.
I kept looking back over my shoulder. Behind us was nothing but moonlit desert.
Maybe a posse won’t come, I told myself.
I couldn’t take much comfort from hoping that, but I did finally calm down. What helped my nerves was knowing I was with the boys, and they weren’t likely to let any posse have its way with them. No, sir. I wouldn’t be getting myself shot or hanged long as I stayed with McSween and Chase and Emmet and Snooker and Breakenridge—
My optimism lasted till just after dawn.
That’s when we halted near the top of a rise and spotted the cloud of dust a few miles to our rear. I couldn’t see anyone back there, just dry washes and piles of rock, cacti and stunted trees, and all that blowing yellow dust.
“Aw, shit,” Snooker said.
Chase glanced at McSween. “Fifteen, twenty of ‘em?”
“Least twenty, I’d say.”
“Aw, shit,” Snooker said again.
“Who’d think a town that size,” McSween said, “could come up with that many fellers eager to get their toes turned up?”
“Reckon we oughta split up?” Chase asked.
Oh, I didn’t care for that notion. Not one whit. Goose bumps went scurrying up my back like a troop of spiders with icy feet.
“It’d thin ‘em out,” Breakenridge said. “I’d sure rather have four or five on my tail than all of them.”
McSween commenced to roll a smoke. After giving it a lick, he said, “We put our heads together, maybe we can figure us a better way to thin ‘em out.” He lit up. Smoke curled away from under his mustache as he smiled. “Get my drift?”
He offered his makings to me.
Dry as my mouth felt, it would’ve likely caught fire if I’d had a go at smoking. I shook my head.
“Are you saying we ought to attack them?” I asked.
“Seems a fine idea to me,” he said.
“Jesus wept,” said Breakenridge.
Chase gazed off at the dust cloud, which seemed to be closer to us already, and rubbed his chin. “Let’s do it,” he said.
“Hot damn!” Emmet blurted.
Snooker and Breakenridge didn’t appear to enjoy the notion, but they didn’t speak against it.
“How you doing, Willy?”
We sat atop our mounts, all by ourselves, waiting.
“Not at all good, actually.”
“Can’t say as I blame you,” McSween said. “Not feeling too spry myself, if the truth be known. Sorry we pulled you into this.”
“It was my own choice.”
“My own blamed fault. I just knowed I should’ve plugged Prue and the fatty back when we took the horse. Just gave ‘em credit for more sense than they turned out to have.” He lifted his bandanna and mopped some sweat off his forehead. “This is what comes of having a generous nature.”
Savage by Richard Laymon / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes