Chapter Three

From banging Lem in the jaw my right hand swelled up and I set out cussing to find Elizabeth. Bad to hit a man in the head with a fist. Next time I see Lem I should have a drink with him. I come aware I was watched. I picked the openest place to move. Next seen it put me in range of rifle be there men above me, which they was,and it was one of these situations that I could get out circled by a bunch of people in brush and gulch and I heard one gun and brung my horse Grey to ground and I dived to a little mesquite and hid. Grey up and run and it was Apaches and they was coming down and I peeped and seen less than fifteen move my way down. I crawled to another bush and waited for Grey a minute. He come and I whistled and he trotted past the first bush and I reached to my blanket and hung on his belly and we was on our way fore the Apaches seen the chase was on. The Apaches was just whipped down gangs of robbers by now, half Mescan, drunks, but they could still out ride and out fight Cavalry and whites when it was man to man and my bit left shoulder was bleeding and stiff and my right side was too bad to handle the little carbine I had with one hand and I had fear. I was a white they could have fun having, for them to see how much pain a strong white man could go through before dying. They still wasn't sure Wild Bill wasn't crazy but they was crazy enough themselves by now to get me anyway.

One had a real good horse. In the open country he was catching me and he seen a spot of my blood and knowed it was not my horse was hit. Two more Apaches was coming in to back him up. I did not figure the country because they did first, and that was a deep stretch of the upper Rio Grande no horse could get down to and the first pony come straight, the two fanned left and the near dozen thirsty poisoned dogs settled into the right. All right, Grey, I said, I love you. I cried a little and rode left hard. All right, I kill three. Grey had even more than I thought. His legs had not even shown tired and the fast Apache did a hell of a shot and gutted my best horse Grey. I was off and scampering with the carbine and Grey was so next the cliff he run and fell and was up and staggered on over and screamed clear down to the river. I was bellied down good where rock kept the Apache from running over me and I wanted his horse and let him do two good passes shooting rock in my face. He seen his two buddies and skidded, did a crazy leap through sky to over my piece of rock and snake quick he was twisted back around fore I could be, taking the barrel of my gun and I jerked his weight along my face. Hb kicked my head and I caught his hand and gun which was his mistake it was no knife. His partners was in and laughed when his gun in my hand mis-fired and he raked up my carbine and I flung his gun knocking the carbine down on fire. I jumped in about half blind to stay from getting shot and he kicked across my ear, me whipping the carbine up from out his hands. He kicked me very fast and I took it on the ribs to maneuver him between me and them and he got his knife and the two on horses was edging around each his way and I took it to shoot it out while I was strong enough, hit to roll but he was so damn young and fast he was atop and rolling too. He was little, too, about a hundred pounds, and clawed my wrist and jammed his sharp knee into my left arm. And the guns in my hands, and I went lax, dropped my right gun and in his flash of stab me in the head or keep me living for the others I broke his left hand under my wrist on the rock, flipped him over my opposing side and he bounced. Fired when they did and got one man at my back, one horse next, one bullet ripped my ass and leg and the rornng horse got in the way of the running Apache, and I hit the running Apache and had to roll with the hundred pounds of wildcat again, on over the used to be running Apache that was still trying to shoot, and this is how that one lost chance to shoot, and out I come on top the mean one, bashed his face in and hear the others and I was shot and cut too and got my second hand gun back up to the rock I had been against. The ones coming had run into something in the rough and saved their horses, believing their men won, and seconds passed between me and life. Getting my carbine I eye the fast horse, and edge him. Catch his eye and love him. He took two steps and I walked. He knows a man kind to horses and it is not one hundred pounds of dried up killer. Sure, he didn't need me anyway. I tell you, I don't know how I got that horse. He trotted a circle and seen this spread out mob coming and the Apaches fired a few and I was dipping and going to climb down or jump down to the river and the horse run up my way. The little killer was trying to see for guns, and me half on and shooting back, and I was on that horse. Yes, we started up river.

How do you know a man that you only rolled with and that near killed you weighs a hundred pounds? When you see him next time. He kicked in three of my ribs.

The cut took off the bottom of my right ear and scraped my neck and near but just not quite chopped my collar bone fore I had slammed that little sonofabitch. This is how I come back on the Baca ranch. I did, all bunged up again, rode in not knowing which time it was I was riding in. It was like drunk while full of peyote. Starving for greens at the Water Hole fore Fritz quit sneaking around and brung me whiskey and coffee. Two Senor Baca's hands led me in to the bunkhouse stead of the barn, cause one used to know me there and it give him esteeem, a nice old man named Frito Chico. I was maybe a little crazy, hit somebody when I got off my horse and they tried to help and touched my right shoulder. Frito Chico took over and me and him become friends. I hear that after I was gone he even got to be foreman of the Baca ranch. He moved all them sonofabitches aside and I was give a lower bunk, he moved somebody out of it. He slung up my right arm fore I broke the collar bone and because them dirty Mescans was complaining of my smell, one night he got me down into a hot tub of soapy water. Wasn't till then they seen the tear in my leg was deep and had a wad of lead. I was eating bisquits and chiles and oranges and bacon, and some did not much like it, now he eat, now he go to shit, now he eat, now he tell us some more how tough he is, ay, que hombre, but my mind was not in its usual form and I did not feel it when Frito Chico cut out the lead. He told me a few times how he did his best but I was going to limp a little and we talked some and I heard all about this big hungry family he come from and his life without a wife, but in a instant I would fly out into the dangdest peyote dreams.

Elizabeth never come see me. I never seen her at all. Amidst my other speculations, my spirit would take leave and visit with the Peyote Woman. The Peyote Woman had many answers for any little thing I could think of, and my mind is not barren. Woman is meant for Man. Yeah, but you said Elizabeth is my woman! You white men want truth to stand still, pah! Why won't she come to me? You expect her to be strong enough to come to you and you are not strong enough to take care of yourself and she lives with her mother. O.K., Peyote Woman, all I got to do is get well and do it. Yeah, said the Peyote Woman, so you don't love her.

The Texas Gang is all shot, said the Peyote Woman. Look at where they are, and who is left but you? A dying adventurer.

The hell I am.

You, you go fuck, she spat.

Gunter, I screamed. He was set upon from all sides, He was running on a wounded leg and fell and hit down in a gulch. Help me, Olive, he begged. Where are you people? Men on horses shouted back and forth, down this way, he's down this way. Two horses run in the gulch and Gunter with dirt in his eyes fired. They were made to break up and out from the gulch.

How many women did this Gunter fuck, said the Peyote Woman. He must have left children.

Bix moved hard till he was in the Texas hill country and seen all the cedar chopping and burning of the forests and there he wept. He seen so many fences he got lost, and was rubbing at the smoke in his eyes, and a man come off a hill behind him, walked in and yelled, hey, you! Bix said, man, why in hell you people burning all this country? This is my land you're on, partner! Turn back and run along the fence and then go left. Huh! I ain't crossed no fence yet! That's why you got to run along this fence now and head left, partner. Bix almost shot him then but two more men, on horses, come off the hill, with rifles. Them is my sons, the man said. You best do like I say. I know I'm dying, said Bix. What? I know I'm dying. Partner, you get the hell out of here now.

What you doing all this for? Bix was riding slow away, hearing one ear on the farmer or whatever he was about Indians and wolves and mountain lions and men like him, Bix, and the two was light at their papa's side. Bix whipped a turn and come at them with two guns. One man's face split like a mellon. Farmer hit the ground and Bix shot him through the back and met the man's son and the farmer lived to tell the tale. Bix did not lean in time, took a forty five slug through the shoulder when killing the man's other son, Bix had the couple hundred miles to ride, jumped the fence and cried all the way to the coast.

By then Bill Reeder had got the scent of Dan, they was off in the Padre sand hills having a duel. Nobody would go out where they was and Bix rousted old Jacob, Coonhound's brother, that was still alive, he eat and drink with him two days and hired old Jacob to ferry him to Padre. Jacob shook Bix's left hand. Son, well, ah, one these days, you see here, you and me and Coonhound, we ain't here long, but if you look at it like me, ah, ain't nobody here much longer, too. So you just take care of yourself. Bix was still drunk by time he rode to the Brownrats.

Wa-awk, boy, you still drinking and fighting! Some people never amount to a damn thing! Well, Jaybird, you just tell me which way they went and sure nuff we is going to be all out of the law on this island! No sir, I have sent word out to the mainland and the next thing we re going to have out here is a damn posse! Is that a fact, well now look at it this way, Jaybird! I don't care if they swim the Cavalry, no I don't, because I am fighting my last stand now, and me part Chero­kee, besides!

At the time Jaybird was cutting a great big fish and cut his thumb pretty bad. Waw-awk, gaw~wd-damn.

I tell you, said Bix. You ain't no blood till you seen a river. hee hee!

I used to think this one here, screamed Jaybird at his wife, was a good lad. He fought in the war but I guess he done keep too much bad company since the war!

Josephine Brownrat had a tub of soapy clothes out in the yard and was shuffling around in it. See how he's shot! I think he's dying!

At's right, Jaybird. Bix did a fall off the back of his horse. The big run is over, he said and got to his knees in a instant. I don't care if they swim the Texas Rangers. He acted like he fainted and near fell into Josie's wash cept she pushed him on his busted shoulder blade and he fell over for sure and got a little sick.

Hey, Mama, said Jaybird. That boy better get some help! Yessir, when you get hurt you should get it patched the first thing everytime!

Bill Reeder was not the usual shitass we had been killing over the years. He was honed down, could ride and crawl on his belly. Dan smelled it in the air, cussed the Brownrats and Tiddle and took out on foot. Reeder come along and by light of his pipe on the beach-lost his horse in a mile shot of Dan's rifle, and his pipe, and his temper, more especially when he circled back and found old Rattlesnake had cut hisself loose a good steak. Jumping Jehosafat, Dan could hear Reeder say while from two hundred yards in the sandhills he chewed raw horse. The two of them was mad to the gills, and for two hot days and nights crawled amongst the weeds and marshes and swarming mosquitoes. Stubborn. Dan did a two mile maneuver the second day, made it around to the stinking horse in high noon, when he knew Reeder was bedded down back up his trail somewhere for a fast snooze, and Dan even got into the man's saddlebags, got a chaw of tobacco, a bible, and a pencil with paper. He spit juice in the bible. Writ a letter to Reeder. Better have a bite, law man, keep your strength up like me. About sunset Reeder come tumbling over a rise, got the horse, Dan studying it from a hill with grass, a half mile. Aarrgh, said Reeder, real dried out since he had just put in a mile and half of stickers since his last drink of water, Dan got a flash of hat and sent Reeder the second round of the fight. Ybu damn sissie, haw, haw, haw! You act like a Indian! You a damn sissie anyway, haw, haw, haw! Reeder fired his first one, come real close. They was finally coming to blows. Dan was tired and Reeder gone insane. He is real good, Dan said down the back of hill in a run and a roll, knowed Reeder was darted for the line of hills and coming up direct so long as he was hot. I would like to leave, cept this sonofabitch won't let me be, I sure am tired. Guess I'll come round in and fight. Then he heard two rifle rounds from Reeder, next three from his hand gun, in spaces, like the old man was really doing some moves. I am tired? Why I bet I could had killed that old pig fucker right then! He is so loco now I think I can get'im! I ain't running no more! Dan went at the top, fired; and leaned down one side. He heard Reeder coming, breathing like a train. The old man is done in, Dan thought, and come on his elbows for Reeder. Reeder was fast as only a crazy man can be and had a jammed rifle and threw it twirling to back of Dan, and next come Reeder's hat at Dan's eye, and then high the body of Reeder, both men fired, Dan's making a clean thirty-thirty hole through Reeder's leg and Reeder's forty five ball wound along Dan's head. Dan reached to chew on Reeder's gun hand and Reeder laid his weight on and worked at getting wind enough to claw out Dan's eyes. When Bix and Tiddle come they was on the beach. Dan was unconscious, reaching for the waves, crawling at times. Reeder had sand in his gun, stood in a track of his blood, out of his mind.

Way it had gone at the Brownrats, Bix slept, seen the situation, and got up, his busted shoulder blade all rapped up by Jaybird, except that some sonofabitch Brownrat or some fool had hid his horse, Jaybird was screeching and Bix couldn't get any information from nobody there. Went to Tiddle's, goddamnit, Caylor, I always like you, but are you with us or no! Where is Dan? Where is my horse? Any horse! Why didn't you help'im! Tiddle contributed two new mules, and come too. Why, why did I ever get to know you guys. Why, why did I ever have to meet that damn shyster, Bowman. Why, oh why did I ever go to New Orleans. Oh shitfire, I had to marry that bitch for money! You was married? Shitfire, to a bitch! Shitfire, but she took up with Bowman! Women are all the same, Caylor. Shitfire, why did I have to meet you guys! Shitfire, why couldn't Bowman had gone somewhere else! Or to hell! Shit! Wonder if we can talk to Reeder. Shitfire. They beat their mules at the gunfire. They crossed the hills and first thought Dan was dead. Wait, Bill Reeder, wait, called out Tiddle, but Reeder heard no man. Bix was a verge of a heat stroke-no salt in'im-could not see-the mule quit-he bashed his gun on the mule's neck and they hit the sand and got up and each went his own way and the pain cleared Bix's eyesight. Wait, Mr. Reeder, hey, wait, said Tiddle. Damn Smith And Wesson anyhow, said Reeder, and drug his leg out to the surf, cleaned on his gun. Mr. Reeder, said Tiddle, dis. mounted, hey, your leg, you got to get off that leg! And Bix come on. Wait, Bix, please! You want to do it, said Bix in a snarl. You with us or no. They met pushing. Here, said Bix, take this gun, show us you're with us, like in Mexico, member? Goddamn, Bix, can't you understand, man, can't you understand, all we got to do is get'em apart! Let'em both survive, and, and, keep peace! Take this gun, you little shitbird! Tiddle snatched the gun. Now look here, Bix, this gun makes me big as any man, this gun makes me big as any man, see! Then shoot that sonofabitch! Tiddle run to Reeder, Bill Reeder, hold on! Boom, went Reeder's Smith And Wesson in the wet salt air, ha, it works, by cracky! Tiddle pulled his arm, wait! Reeder howled, my leg! He fisted Tiddle in the head. Tiddle went on a knee, come next with Bix's gun barrel ripping Reeder's mouth and Reeder went in the tide. Reeder was on two arms and Tiddle put one hundred twenty pounds of steel on the back of his bone head. Shoot him now, said Bix. He's drowning, help me, help me, said Tiddle. Bix laughed, and in a lot of strength Tiddle, and Bix's gun in one hand, got Reeder up. Like I say, Bill Reeder was no ordinary shitass and he laid a big elbow in Tiddle's guts. Meanwhile, Rattlesnake Dan had come mostly to, pulled a gun of his, wiped his eye. Reeder was saying, where is that goddamn gun, and Dan shot off his nose and a cheekbone, and Reeder fell. Got that old sonofabitch, said Dan, and passed back out. Reeder, wait, said Tiddle after urping, let's talk it over. Hey, Mr. Reeder, said Tiddle hoisting Reeder, with his eyeballs hanging, up one more time. Hold him right there, said Bix getting another gun. Hold him right there. Bix shot ever twitching Reeder in his face again and his jaw hung out by its skin. Goddamn, said Tiddle. He is all fucked up. Yep, said Bix. Good to see you're with us, Tiddle Caylor. Tiddle let Reeder go and walked out. Tbugh sonofabitch, wasn't'e, Bix said. Sure was, said Tiddle. I saw that the first day. Life is funny, ain't it. Here is your gun.

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