Chapter Five

Me and Sieb was there for a while and they was expecting us at the Water Hole and Dan and Bix loved the same woman and went into a fist fight when on a drunk and Bowman thought he was going to go down to Juarez and visit his wife Juanita but a bunch of Apaches chased him so he come back and refused to work and the rest the men there what did work sometimes did not like him or even did Fritz much and especially since Bowman looked real interested in Tina and Packy told me later how he was just praying to God for me to come back and give him a hand with all this. Perez made a good foreman and Fritz drunk a little whiskey every day and seemed to know enough about fixing things and building up things to get other people to do it right and Packy was talking about the Texas Gang and our reasons and destiny, and he worried that maybe there was no point in any of it, and that I'd got sick of it and wandered off into the hills. Said he knew before I left the Baca gal would turn me down. But I had this dream, while he sat back there worrying, and in this dream was a bunch of mad hunters in their buckskins gathered round campfires hot in the wrn to kill men and on verge of attacking a big force of Mescans, of the Mescan army, Santa Anna or somebody. The big attack come and was a total success with the men in buckskins riding in hard and shooting and howling and some Mescans getting together a poor defense that went under real fast and the mad hunters run after all these scared Mescan soldiers and hacked them with knives, thrilling and bashing out brains on the butts of their mountain knives, and I was doing all this, and then later, far in the dream after points hard to remember, I didn't want to be stuck on no chunk of land give as a reward for killing all them Mescan soldiers, like as was done with others in that buckskin army, and I rode off, wandered out, out to wider land and there had been no point in me getting involved in the first place. Me and Sieb was staying under these trees on this crick and there was elk and no sign of a person nowhere and we was just doing fine like we had the earth to ourselves, and I begin to feel funny about the place, course we wasn't doing nothing cept doing all that smoking and laying around and letting our dreams come out, and one morning I said, Sieb, I think I died here. We was listening to birds and looking up at the sun ricocheting down through tall pine trees and he said, why is that, Bill? I lived before, and this is where I died. Why is that, Bill? Diphtheria, seems to be. I come up here with a broken heart. You believe like that, Bill? It explains things, Sieb. What does it explain, Bill? The way I been feeling. Hbw's that? When we had to run across the stretch getting here. Before the trap and after. I knew I was getting here. And you saved my life, Sieb. Yeah? Sure, I had this big hump to get over, where I did not get past it last time. You over the Baca gal? No. What are you over then? The curse, Sieb. The curse, Bill? Just what is this curse? Well. Curse of Cain, I guess. I like the Bible too, Bill, yeah. Well, I ain't read the Bible, or say my Mom used to read us stories out it, but see, I been killing a lot of men, and some I guess I had to, I mean, many I had to or else back off or die or something. A lust gets in a man, Bill. I think the lust is in every man, woman, and child, Sieb. Maybe so. Maybe so, and like as not taking some kind of unearthly or demon form in them not strong enough to do the killing, and when it does this it is evil then. They think we're the ones evil, Bill. Let'em think it. But they want to kill us, Bill. Sometimes they do, and they kill Indians cause they ain't white but me and you are Indian afore we're white. But they can only kill our flesh. What about this curse, now, Bill, the curse of Cain, right, why I've thought of that. I don't care bout every man's hand against me, Sieb, cause I can't live bottled up in town nohow. Me neither. Naw, what I'm talking about is the fever gets in a man, makes you clean and free long as you win, but. I never felt that clean, Bill! Told you before, Sieb, you always want to carry a damned cross and slash your chest cause you're so guilt ridden! I feel sorry for other people, Bill! Well, and you're scared of the Devil, well, that ain't helping'em, Sieb, look. What about the curse of Cain, Bill, any­way? Well hell, I don't know about Cain and his problems, but look, there just ain't no future in it, cause we don't get nowhere, cause we run in circles, cause it's a trap, and you got to get loose. Where we going to get to, Bill? Hell, I don't know, but I seen things when I made love to the Baca gal I ain't never seen before. What did you see? Just had a glimpse and I ain't got the words, Sieb. Maybe I know, Bill. Maybe you do. Maybe all folks really know. It's a fine thing you got with'er, Bill. Yeah, I may have to wait till I'm killed again fore I can get back with'er, damn! But you're over the curse, Bill? I think maybe I can get out of the trap, Sieb, yeah. I'in happy for you, Bill. Thank you, Sieb. At the Water Hole there was a big attack one night from three other ranches that got together on their missing cattle and so rode way the hell down to the Water Hole, lo and behold here was the Water Hole Ranch, sure enough, and without a hesitation they rode in shooting and met surprising resistance, why everybody had been expecting'em all summer, and they had three men lost and many wounded, and they limped back off hurt and flabbergasted. The Water Hole had one man wounded and that was Fritz because he was drunk and yelling at some kids to get their heads down and a forty five slug just about tore off his right arm. There goes my prospecting days, he said.

A big rain come down and drenched the land and me and Sieb quit the talk and wondered how much longer we was going to have to stay neath the pine trees which was in any case stopping the hail from hitting us direct and these hailstones was big as my fist. We put up with that a whole night and dawn it had stopped and Sieb said, aw shit, Bill, let's walk and get warm. We put everything on Grey and walked and me too in direction of the Water Hole and did not see anybody that day, and was real tired by then and made camp, and my leg was holding and we figured to travel next day. But it rained all night again so the next day whereas the rain had stopped once more and we drunk hot coffee all we did was go to sleep. We was in this condition and thought the fire was out but instead it smouldered and then sent forth some smoke which me and Sieb was too tired to smell and the outcome was that these two-score riders the Water Hole beat hell out of was making bad time getting home and come near us and smelled our smoke and made the decision of coming up on us too damn careful. Grey heard them and I rolled and pulled guns and fired one and two into the horses and Sieb was backed down in a little hollow and a firing now and I kept rolling to get under Grey and with gun in the hand got some fingers in his tail-Grey, goddamn you! -not seeing that poor horse was hit and he was in such a dither I could not hold him by word or hand, and was slung in a tumble and losing one gun, him bolting for his Water Hole ranch, all while these men if they was in shape to fight went circling and four come straight and Bob Sieb blasted two, right smash backward off their saddles, and the other two went round us and words come in my head, well, what the hell, I lived enough, and shot one horse in the backbone and then shot the other horse when he turned, and one horse rolled on his rider and the other did too even as that man did jump off first, but here I was bad leg and all trampled by some other damn horse that got me by surprise being there so awful damn many of them people and I busted open the belly of that horse by knife or bullet one-never remember- and next went hand to hand with I think three running crazed devils that come off their shot horses and appeared to believe they was going to pistol-whip me of all things-maybe thinking my damn knife was a gun, the fools-and soon as they was mostly hacked loose one rider and another and another lassoed me and I had cut the first and second rope and got drug by the third and guess getting drug was what kept me from getting hit and the horse went over from one round before I cut the rope and I had a instinct this horse was coming back to her feet so I run a hell of a limp and the rider seen me from off his hands and knees and was surprised as a suffering man can be that I did not split his head as I went by and I just caught his horse as she come back up. From there I just run cause they was over our position like a bed of ants or the Alamo and it was pure survival. I don't even remember howl changed horses, I swear. But I did. Must of done it from a leap, too, cause how else was it possible. Anyway, I just assumed Sieb was dead and at the next night fall I made a camp and I wept. I was so tired, in my nerves, my mind, my hurt body which did not have that clean free feeling. I thought my chest was bleeding and then I remembered it had healed over months ago. I got into a sleep, then in the middle of the night I jumped right up to run or fight or some damn thing and remembered I didn't have no guns. I got to go back and get'em, I thought. So I got on that horse and left the saddle behind and went back fast as that horse would do it. In the day I come over one of our skins of water, had been dropped by Grey on his way, and it was a strange thing because though I had this man's canteen I needed more water for Bob Sieb, and a few miles later there he was, crawling over the dry country. It was so hard to believe and I got the tired horse on another trot and brung Sieb the water. It all sure did beat everything. We living or dead, Wild Bill, he said. What you been drinking for water, I said. He was shot three times, in his legs and his head. Normal man would be dead by the bullet he took on top his head. Btoke his head, bounced off, didn't kill him. We're meant for higher things, Sieb, I told him. Any my brains fall out yet, Bill? No. That one knocked dirt in my eyes, must of hit a rock, cause then it hit me in the head. I temember it well. I seen it coming. It left a streak like a comet, Bill. He had been left for dead, and was unconscious or played dead he didn't know which. Ybu should of seen all them crazy people back there, Bill, he said. They was all like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off, cause first they got beat by the Water Hole ranch, then next they got beat even worse by me and you. They didn't know what to do, so finally they just put all their wounded on horses, about two on each horse cause they couldn't catch all their horses. Sieb, I said. look, you got to get home, and we spent enough time fooling around, so you take this horse back while you got the strength to ride. Ybu can ride, can't you? Sure, Bill. What you going to do, walk? I'm going back to get my guns, Sieb. I'll be along. We ain't dying, you know that. I'll be along.

It was a overcast sort of day and Sieb wore his hat and even with a bullet in his leg I knew he'd get on in and I took a big drink of his water and started on my hobble. Three four hours later I was at the scene of the fight and reliving it, it come in real then, sure nuff. Those men hadn't even been able to gather everything though they had risked themselves to the Apaches by giving everybody dead and Christian the Christian burial, which left out Sieb, but it was rocky ground and nobody buried too deep so varments was already into the carcasses and a big swarm of buzzards over it all. We had killed maybe eight horses and six men and I didn't go that deep into the pit with the men's bodies and there was maybe others dying on their way home. In anycase it was stinking. Once I had my guns and got a rifle and a box of cartridges out of a horse-had to butcher aways under that horse to get at it-I had gone a little crazy with the stink and my general condition and I took off running. I moved along in a pretty good limp and thought of water and rest and salvation, and rain had been poor and late the summer with the Water Hole doing mucho irrigation but the sky went black and then busted over me. My head cleared and I found a tree and sit back on it and settled down with the rifle. Water run neath my britches on downhill and I wrung my shirt into my mouth and later when my bad leg was stiff and sore and the rain quit for that day I followed the water down to where I could catch some of it with a boot. I shot a doe and got her on my back and went on up to the big tree I had and had a piece of flint and got a fire going. I slept under the hide with my leg next to the coals and spent two days resting. Might as well move on, I thought. My dreams ain't showing me nothing. I covered my fire and rolled up the doeskin case of rain and moved on in a bright morning. Hbw can I be over the hump, I thought. I was between the Water Hole and El Rancho Baca, closer to the Water Hole, needing to straighten out my trail before I could choose either direction, knowing with the shape I was in I was inclined to look up some trouble, just to fill in the holes of my mind. I was close to the position of choosing the wrong or right direction, when, off toward El Rancho Baca I heard a man under torture. Apaches got'im, I figured. Guess I better head home. Then I heard a woman screaming. Funny thing about women, I thought. They don't like one another and are more sex minded than men and less honest. I was mean on women, hating that I wanted to see Elizabeth. They can show the mother rhythm and think this is enough to see you busting your balls and turning to drink for the rest of your life. Here I will let a man die in torture and yet go save his goddamn woman what probably got him in the fix in the first place. I don't understand nothing, I thought and dropped the hide and box of cartridges and trotted off to the rescue and quiet. Reason I got amongst these Apaches like this was just because everybody was so busy watching the man and watching his woman watch him they paid me no mind. The man was hung naked by his heels with his head in the coals and his eyelids cut off and the woman tied naked against a cactus for keeping her awake but she was passing out anyway so one Apache was punching her breast with a ember to snap her to and in order to wake her man back a couple of'em was ramming another burning stick down his rectum and my but there were seven Apaches only. I walked in like one of them and not being so sure of my strange rifle which I had been getting wet anyway I dropped it and pulled my guns and shot the man off the woman and started shooting everybody else. I had hit dirt and rolled maybe twice by the time they was all down and the man hanging in the coals with a burning stick broke off in his ass was a strong one cause he had the idea what was happening and he screamed to get some words together and then said, please shoot me, and I blew his brains out. A Apache not hit right run crawling for a gun and before I got to him another in same condition clambered up along my back to be reaching at mine and I was turning and bashed his skull and then flung him into the first one moving and emptied my guns into'em. I went and stood back over it all and reloading and for luck I next shot every Apache in the head. I put the woman free of the cactus and got four horses together and run off the rest and tied the woman on one and took a good one for me and led her and the other two back to get my cartridges and on the way tried out my rifle a few times and to be confusing anybody new that might be coming by. I got my cart­ridges and wrapped the doeskin around her and we headed for the Baca ranch, cause we didn't need no new crazy woman at our ranch, and it was a good excuse, and I run the string of horses till mine and hers was flat beat and then we got on the other two and let the first two hang in if they was able and one was and I pushed them horses till we was at the Baca ranch and me near as crazy as that woman. Senor Baca was dodging the house, off just aways and just slumped on his horse looking at the sunset and see me coming and my mouth so dried out I couldn't hardly talk at first and I think he had the bent of preferring a conversation with his wife than with me but I come face to face to him and spoke, real bad situation with the Apaches these days, Senor Baca.

It was grand stuff at El Rancho Baca, Wild Bill gets back all scratched up and no shirt again and now with this poor tortured insane woman he rescued from the Apaches, yessir, kind of stuff you build legends out of, and, as it turned later, this woman, a Senora Valencia, come from a wide family with a lot of means, and all the charges against me and my clan just kind of drifted off into the desert winds, and all which left the Water Hole-what mucho was being said about by them-a most definite power in the land. First off, when the whole ranch turned out to see what me and Senor Baca brung in, I had just said, give me a little drink of water and I'll be on my way, and I smiled real sad at Elizabeth and she all wide-eyed next run and fetched me water and a slab of beef, and I eat and got real drousy and went to sleep in the barn and in a day or so it was understood just exactly who this poor insane tortured woman I saved the life of. Course, she might had been better off dead, for as I gather, she didn't live to be a very happy person. But then, most folks really don't nohow. Funny thing about it all, laying up in the barn and fillng back the cracks tween my ribs, is I wasn't even catching a peek at Elizabeth and her sister was bringing food up, not her. At about the second day I said to the little sister, hey, Elizabeth still going to get married with that sissy feller? Con quien? answered the little sister. Why, that sissy feller that I seen last time holding hands with her! Understand, how my body and mind had seen mucho pain and I was not exactly mannerly and the little sister did not afford me too much information, but she mumbled, how sometimes Elizabeth had arguments with him and sometimes no, and with that one she run on out to get direction from Elizabeth. Well, I said with a smile. My opportunities come back. The next meal the little fat gal was ready though, and I said from off my back, hey, tell that sister of yours I want to see her! You want, she no, spoke the jolly sister. What! Why is that? You want, she no. What! Why is that? Because, you want, she no. The little sister walked out, feeling the power, and grinning. I was mad naturally and come out of the hay loft and next down at the bunk house I talked a feller into letting me borrow one shirt. I put the shirt on and went into Senora Baca's kitchen. Elizabeth was in there and not her mother and I said, I want to chop some wood. Fine, she said. Chop us some wood. Elizabeth, you don't want to talk? I have nothing to say. I could see she wasn't at her happiest, and I said, you're just being proud. Fine, I'm just being proud, she said and turned her back on me. I'm busy, she said. Goddamn, there ain't no sense in this, I said. Go kill some Apaches, she said. She would get so damn mean I just could not bend with it and I turned off of her and swore and booted the kitchen door to a side and then tripped over something or other and walked on swearing real loud and was past the wood pile and she called, listen, you mountain man, chop us some wood! She was laughing at me and I started to go on but here I was hurting so much for her little body my head was nothing cept fire and smoke and I tore that feller's shirt getting it off me and next thing I was chopping wood, mad at that stupid girl, and soon she called out again, oh, you mountain man, how strong you are! Look, you, I said. You're so stupid you think we can all breed like flies and live in these stupid horses! You don't know how a human being is natural and at his best living on top of the earth, like God wants, you stupid bitch, and so you don't got no idea at all that some people can actually get so damn mad they can burn the guts out of a white man by poking a burning stick up his ass, and do it in front of his woman! You hear about these things, but you don't know no difference. She was such a sensitive and strange little female and somehow this hurt her feelings and she said and without the laugh in her voice, go kill some Apaches, mountain man. By then the desire was gone out of me, for the time, for I was walking quiet to go get my things, which was three horses, and it seems she was still talking about me chopping wood. Maybe she took the feller's shirt and stitched it for him.

I rode to the town with the intention of selling two horses, or one, get some grub to return to the Water Hole. Then I went to the bar we had familiarized. In the door I said, I sell horses. Then I went over to the bar, tequila. I sell horses, I told them all again. This ain't Mexico, said the little squirrel. There was also three calvery fellers at the bar, backing him up. What, you ain't got tequila? This ain't Mexico. You smell worse'n a horse, said one calvery feller. My mind was pretty bad and I said he should get down the bar from me in that case. Guess I better, he said quiet and took his whiskey and walked way around me and got on the other side. The next one edged in closer so I turned in a wide sweep and slapped the first in the throat and since he went on top the bar with his boots going up in a big cough I went on and tipped him the whole way and he hit on his head behind the bar. The other two had took a couple seconds to get sober and figure what happened. I sell horses! Hee~e-haw-aw-aw! Be damned if this didn't bring old Black Hatch busting into that bar. He was fat and dressed store-bought just like Packy and Tom had started out and there he was in the middle of the floor all spread out and ready. What, you sell horses, he said. Yeah, lawyer man, what's it to you? Well, he said and settled himself, and walked in and got between me and the Calvery, and leaned and faced me and settled some more. Well, squaw man. I need one horse, and you need a shirt. Think that is a trade, lawyer man? I see it that way, a fair trade, yessir. What kind of a shirt you got? Gold buttons? He saw the Calvery coming up behind him and he took off his coat and give it to one. Hold this, can you, son? Let me deal with this squaw man. Then he give the other his vest. Hold this, lad. Hey, said one. We're going to kill this goddamn stinking murdering sonofabitch! Is that so? Well, are you going ~ let me get a horse off'im first, or not? What, huh, they said. Next was Hatch taking off his cufflinks and giving it to'em. Then he grabbed'em back, wait a minute, I don't even know you. Sorry bout that, son, said Hatch. Here, take this, keep the change and have a drink while I take care of this stinking squawman. Damn, he does stink, doesn't he, said Hatch now doing the buttons on his fancy shirt. He raised his shirt up and I seen he'd got pretty fat all right. Hey, squawman, how bout this shirt? Next the first soldier was flopping and hacking back on the bar with a sawed-off shotgun. But Hatch was still pretty fast and got it away from him before I was even all the way down. You goddamn tin soldier, can't you see a man is doing his business, he said getting mad. Hatch flung the shotgun through the doors and it bounced out into the street and went off and the little squirrel was a running after it. After that everybody in the bar was jittery and including the cavalry. They was thinking maybe the lawyer was crazy as the squawman. You must be thinking I'm not a intelligent person, I said to Hatch. Why is that, he said back. That shirt ain't worth no horse, you carpetbagging lawyer. Yeah, then put those guns back and I'll teach you a thing or two! Now they was sure he was crazy, and I took off my guns and knife and handed them to a friendly Mescan, be careful them special triggers, compadre. Hatch pulled out a pistol and put it on the bar and put down his shirt and swung on me and I took it in the chest like maybe it was on the jaw, and then I fell on my back. He made to stomp me and I pulled his leg and brung him down and we went to choking one another. After we threshed about a while and I could see he was getting pretty winded we caught everybody by surprise again by stopping it real sudden. Real calm we walked back to the bar and Hatch started getting dressed. All right, you squirrel, I said, whiskey! Whiskey! said Hatch. Any enemies left by then knew they had to join our side, or leave, and the cavalry left soon as I put back on my things. Good to see you, Wild Bill. Good to see you, Black Hatch. To our fortune! To our fortune! But I am all ready a lawyer, and all set to feather my own nest. How are you a lawyer this soon, Hatch? Married a woman with four kids, Bill. What's that got to do with it? Tell you later, he said. Well. Her family is all lawyers, he said. That is good, Richard. Yes, it is Bill.

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