Tam the Tall Tale Teller, Chapter 117: Flathead Jack

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Dawson
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“What do you think, Scrap?” Having come in from the Goss-side entrance…excuse me, the Flywheel North entrance now, I guess it would be….

Where was I? Oh…right.

Let me back up a minute.

Flywheel now owned the old Talmanes place, which had belonged to Justin Goss fer a time until we acquired its 15,000 acres from his estate at a bargain basement price. We’d be letting it sit idle till the fall, nothing on it but the wildlife that’d always been there. It was taking a while longer than projected fer the estate administrator to round up and trail drive all 23,000 head of inferior Goss cattle (give or take).

There didn’t seem much point to pushing our carefully bred stock out there where misunderstandings over ownership could occur.

Come October, though, a thousand head of newly weaned spring calves would be occupying the premises. By then, we’d be needing more hands to take up the slack. But fer now, our mine manager and I figured we could at least take a look at how much work might be involved in reopening the passageway from the surface to the room filled with Inca gold.

Scrap looked over the rockpile, deep in thought and absolutely immersed in his element. “I’d say it could be cleared in three, four weeks time,” he ventured, “if I had a couple miners working with me. Working alone, it could take forever.”

“I git that. There’s always miners around town who’re between jobs. Martin Cross has a purty good read on ’em; he could tell us which ones drink to excess and which might actually be trustworthy. But do we want folks knowing we got interesting holes in the ground?”

“No.” The one eyed man shook his head. “We do not.”

“So…?”

“So, I’ll start dinking away at this thing on my own. Meanwhile, you and Tam and Coug–and maybe Jack–you git to figure out the rest of it.”

“Owners git stuck with the worries?:”

“Absolutely.”

“Well,” I eyed the jumble of rock slabs one last time, then turned to go. “let’s call it a day, then. We should be back to headquarters in time fer supper if we start now.”

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“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we need a volunteer.” Every face around the supper table turned toward Tam.

“What kind of volunteer, Grandpa?” Trust Reggie to be the first to ask that key question. The seven year old could be downright suspicious of well meaning adults at times. He weren’t about to volunteer till he knew the details, nuh-uh!

“A mapping volunteer, grandson.”

“Huh?”

“See, it’s like this. When you were a very precocious two year old instead of a very precocious seven year old, Flywheel Ranch started out simple. We had six grownups and four kids to start this here awesome enterprise. The land we owned had lots of good grazing land and trees and water and all that, but it was shaped simple, too, like our people.”

“The Morgans are still shaped simple,” eight year old Henry pointed out, “kinda like square shapes. Or cubes, maybe.”

Ouch. “Gotta be careful about discussing people-shapes, kiddo. But you’re right; they are kinda cubical folks. As strong as they are cubical, too.”

“Uh-huh.”

“But, the times they are a-changing. In ’73, when y’all were wee, the Flywheel landholdings were in one single contiguous rectangle shape–”

“What’s contiguous?” That was four year old Sadie Trask, whispering to her Mom.

“I’ll explain later,” Marie whispered back.

“–but now, we’re kinda spread out, not all in one piece. And we need a map, one we can hang on the wall that says, hey, this is our land, this is where we stand, this is the good soil from which we are nourished.”

“Kinda wordy tonight, ain’t he?” Cougar, that time, whispering outa the side of his mouth to me.

“Tonight?”

“Grandpa?” Henry raised his hand this time, like he was in school.

“Yes, Henry?”

“Quentin already made a map like that. In school. The teacher assigned his class to draw a picture of where they all lived, and Quentin drew a map of the whole ranch. I seen it.”

“Saw it,” Penny corrected her son automatically. The redhead was trying to help her brood grow up talking more civilized than she ever did.

The boy gave her an exasperated look, but he didn’t argue–not openly, anyway. “I saw it. He only got a C on it, though.”

I couldn’t resist. “You seen the C or you saw the C? If you saw the C, does that count as a C-saw?”

If looks could kill, I woulda been on my way to the afterlife post haste. C-saw or not, though, Quentin Pritchard’s class paper ended up serving as the pattern fer the Flywheel Map that hung on Tam’s office wall fer the next thirty-four years.

Flywheel Map

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Tam
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Believer once told me, during the winter when we had plenty of time to sit by the fire and talk, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” He didn’t remember jist where he’d first heard that saying, but he’d come to believe it to the core.

In fact, we’d had a long and pleasant discussion, as we often did with the temperature down to zero or below, the wind and snow howling outside fit fer neither man nor beast, and the three of us snug and warm in the cabin. Laughing Brook Over Stones–once called Stupid Slave Slut by the Blackfeet and at the time mostly known to the old mountain man as Myrtle–was pregnant with what turned out to be my sons, Cougar and Wolf.

It was a fine time, up there where the glaciers are at home and the Blackfeet roam. Never enjoyed myself near as much prior to that time, nor fer twenty-one years thereafter, until Believer had gone to the Great Beyond and my stunning Cheyenne lover became my wife in fact.

Dawson and I were in town, mostly taking a break from rassling reluctant calves outa tight-assed first calf heifers, when we got reminded of that saying–or at least I did. Everywhere we turned, I got reminded.

“Mean looking Indian looking for you, Tam,” Fred Walsen told me when we stopped at the Mercantile to check on a couple of orders we’d be needing come haying season.

Down at Ethel’s eats, my favorite flirty cafe owner let me know, “Watch your back today especially, tale teller. There’s a real hater hunting you, big dark-complected Indian, as much a carrier of the Dark as your Cheyenne wife is a carrier of the Light.”

By this time, I’d slipped the hammer thong off my .45 Colt, as Dawson had likewise freed up his .44 Russian. We’d been getting so genteel and civilized here lately, we hadn’t felt the need to do that in a coon’s age.

At the Singlejack Saloon, Martin Cross had an ID for us. “Word is, Tam, he’s the shootist they call Flathead Jack.”

Oh.

No, I’d never run up against the fellow, but we’d sure enough heard of him. Flathead Jack was one of them anomalies, a poison-vicious killer from a tribe known generally to be far more peaceable than the naturally warlike Blackfeet or Lakota and such like that.

There’s always one, of course.

The thing about this killer, he didn’t always hang out where he could be seen and observed by whites. They said he’d show up ever two, three years, kill himself a bunch of white men one by one, all in fair fights–so-called fair–and then he’d disappear back into the north country mountains somewhere.

I weren’t quite sure why I’d made his list this time around. Most gunslicks looking fer a worthy opponent these days were a heap more interested in my high profile son, Cougar Two Gun Tamson. In fact, it had gotten to where I was thinking most of the West had forgotten about me altogether, except of course fer my tale telling prowess.

Yeah, right.

We were talking this over, Martin and Dawson and me, when the saloon door opened…and sure enouigh, my old nemesis hobbled into the saloon, big as brass and full of hate as ever.

“Long time no see, Crooked Leg,” I said quietly, only vaguely aware that my partner had shifted himself a few feet to my right and the barkeep was sliding clear down to the end of the bar.

“You have sung your death song, Crazy Rifle?” The Kootenai’s voice was raspy, maybe damaged from the time he’d spent near starving to death in a leanto when he was twelve years old.

I ignored that. “Boys,” I addressed my friends without taking my eyes off my enemy, “Meet Flathead Jack, who of course ain’t no Flathead at all. He surely is a bit of a jackoff, though, so maybe that counts. This here’s the ungrateful sumbitch I told you ’bout, ol’ Crooked Leg the Kootenai. Saved his worthless life three times when we was both still kids, yet he refuses to git over the fact I killed his old man without even trying.”

The time fer talking trash was, apparently, over. The Indian gunfighter’s right hand flashed in a crossdraw, my .45 Colt was clearing leather, I knew I was beat…and I blacked out.

Again.

When I come to this time, I was leaning back against the bar, thumbing fresh cartridges into my shooter. It took a moment to realize I needed that bar, as my left leg was in trouble.

Again.

Crooked Leg was done for, though. Dumb bastard had hurried his first shot, hit me in the thigh instead of the chest, and where did that git him? Face down, looking like his lifeblood was pretty well emptied out on the barroom floor.

What? Nah, most of the time in real life, they don’t git blown backward like in the stories. From a buffalo gun, sure, but not from no six-shooter.

Although the Kootenai was some perforated, and that’s a fact. I was jist holstering my pistol when the Sheriff come strolling in, not bothering to unlimber his own weapon. Guess he could tell the action was purty well over.

I hadn’t realized Dawson and Martin had both contributed to Crooked Leg’s demise till the lawdog spoke up after taking a good long look at our Indian Ventilation Project. “Seems there’s about a dozen big bore holes clean through this fellow,” he reached down with both hands and flipped the corpse over, “and a double-fisted gouge outa his gut that could only have been made by a sawed-off Greener.”

He straightened, tipping his hat back with two fingers as he thought it through.

“Now, I don’t mind this one getting terminated right here in town. In fact, there’s a couple of dodgers out on him, and I’d have had to take him on if you hadn’t. Plus, it was plumb polite of you folks to keep all the mess in here and off the public street, which I truly appreciate.

“But I do have to ask one question: Why’d y’all have to plug him so many times?”

A glance toward the others made it clear they were leaving this one up to me. “Well, Robert, I can’t say fer sure, having gone into one of them blackouts I get ever now and then, but if I was to guess…I’d say it was ’cause we didn’t want him getting back up.”

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