“Guess they lost their hankering fer our company,” I observed, watching the seven miners disappear around the next bend in the road. Stinky Stanley Crenshaw had picked our campsite this first night out of Buena Vista on the way to Leadville, Colorado, but it looked like the two of us would be without the company of my former friends from here on in.
“You jest, I presume.” The crosseyed man grinned at me as he undid the cinch to lift the saddle from his monster gray mule. We didn’t picket old Snotty with my horses; you can bet your life on that much. The tall mule with the oversized attitude and my rock-hard black gelding would have fought to the death, and I’d not care to lay odds on the winner.
“I jest.” True, the out of work miners said they simply wanted to keep on moving, git a few more miles behind ’em so’s they could make it to the mining boomtown by late tomorrow. But we knew better.
Not a one of ’em could handle associating with the weird old bad-smelling bugger in the skunkskin cap any longer’n they had to.
Crazy Crenshaw (as he was also known) was growing on me, though.
Not that my trust level was sky high jist yet. Anyone growing up at Flywheel Ranch learned to live with secrets and lots of ’em. Lost Mayan gold. The fact that the few sapphires our clan acknowledged coming out of Trickle Creek were plants and a pittance compared to the mother lode to be found in Sapphire Cave. The visually stunning Geode Cave, which the owners had taken me to visit jist once before I left home.
Or the numerous men who’d tried to kill one or more of us…and whose bones now decorated the bottom of a bottomless hole back up near the Prince Peak country.
Shoot, shovel, and shut up.
Even the eighty head of prime buffalo, a seed herd maintained in a hidden box canyon toward the time when America would be ready to allow the species a chance at life–those were secret, too, if you didn’t count the Utes.
So I weren’t exactly forthcoming with my new partner when it came time to turn in fer the night.
“You go ahead and take the Army tent,” I told him. “I’ll jist go pitch my roll a ways off.”
He’d raised an eyebrow at that–which was a bit of a sight, what with the crossed eyes and all. “You got something against sleeping indoors, kid?”
That’s what he called the tent: Indoors. “Not really,” I admitted…but didn’t offer any explanation.
He jist shrugged, suit yourself, and I went off to dig my little sleeping hole in the brush patch I’d picked out. I like brush better than rocks, generally. Easier digging.
Kept my shovel work as quiet as possible. I’d only known this man for a bit more’n a day.
That night and all the next day passed uneventfully. The next twenty-four hours after that, though, provided more’n enough subject material fer a letter to my beloved.
I’m writing to you from Leadville, finally, but will save that for another time. In this letter, the focus will be on last night and very early this morning. We were camped just a few miles outside of town, preferring to enter the city with most of a day to get ourselves oriented. Stanley didn’t even comment on my choice, sleeping away from the tent as I did, although I was pretty sure he figured I was crazier than his own reputation.
You know about our powers of intution–that sixth sense that runs so strong in both our family lines. Well, mine was raging at me for most of the night. Where we’d camped, there weren’t no brush as such or even any good boulder piles to settle into, but there were a few pine trees growing close together and one good, big deadfall I could disappear behind. So that’s where I dug my foxhole for the night.
But I did not sleep well. It was by far the worst night I’d had since that first one away from the ranch–not excluding the time I watched outlaw Sandy Mac stay trapped in my own tent for the duration of the dark hours.
Something was wrong. Something was coming at us. I was sure of it.
Stanley Crenshaw didn’t seem to notice. I could hear the man snoring even from my position, and man was I ever glad I wasn’t in that tent right next to him. The fellow’s night noises–farts not excluded–have to be worse than the stink oil he doses his buckskins with!
The explanation fer my sleeplessness–I guess I must have dozed here and there, but that’s about it–came clear in the dawn’s early light. The sky was just starting to lighten, streaking the considerable cloud cover pink-to-red. Reminded me of the saying we heard on the ranch growing up:
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.
I was wide awake and fully dressed, never having shucked any clothes in the first place, watching that sky. Which is likely why my jug ears picked up the first warning.
There were men sneaking up on the tent, catfooting toward it with obviously no good intentions. Not really catfooting it; these idiots weren’t exactly carrying the bloodlines of both Comanche and Cheyenne warriors like yours truly. That is, I could hear ’em crunching along plain as day, now that I was aware of the nature of the problem.
Not really shooting light yet for most people, but close enough for any man with Tamson-level night vision. I eased my Winchester into shooting position…but now what?
There was a problem.
For one thing, yeah, I’d killed before, but Jesse Bonham James drew on me first. Sad to say, I hesitated. Not that there weren’t no good excuses for it. For one thing, two of the fellows looked to be headed for the animals–most likely figuring to steal my horses rather than that big old Snotty mule. A stray round thrown their way could easy enough end up perforating one of my own critters.
Beyond that, I needed to know exactly how many there were. I could see four…five sneakers out there, but were there more? One or two left back in the timber holding their horses? Some badass sniper with a Sharps covering their sorry butts?
There weren’t, as it turned out, but I couldn’t know that for sure, and it worried me. Because the moment I fired, even in this half-light, my position would be marked by one helluva cloud of powder smoke.
While I was hesitating, the buggers took the decision out of my hands. One of ’em hollered, “You in the tent! Come on outa there with yer hands up and empty!”
Yeah, I know. Had to give ’em that. Hands up and empty; they weren’t missing a trick. Or so they obviously thought.
After a second or two, I heard Crenshaw’s bull bellow come roaring through the tent canvas. “Who the f**k’re you and whaddayou want!?!”
Not subtle, exactly, but it did get to the point.
I’ve begun thinking that danged Army tent is cursed or something. Seems like men with guns are always throwing down on it.
Anyway, long story short, after some more hollering and threatening back and forth, Crazy Crenshaw did in fact exit his canvas abode, holding a trade blanket around his burly body with one hand while he rubbed sleep from his eyes with the other.
Guess I should mention, my buddy Stanley ain’t exactly a morning person.
Longer story shorter, now I couldn’t shoot most of ’em without maybe hitting my partner, and the two horse thieves had Rowdy and Bonnie haltered and were leading ’em back to join the others.
Plus, they finally figured out I really wasn’t in that tent…and without worrying about the details, they hollered out an ultimatum.
“Henry Tamson! Wherever you’re stashed out there, you jist come on out now and leave your weapons behind or we’ll carve up your foul smelling pig partner here real slow-like, piece by piece!”
Maybe triple crap. They knew who I was, obviously, so this weren’t no accidental robbery. Most likely they’d bought into the rumor I’d picked up back in Buena Vista, that I was carrying the entire $5,000 bounty I’d gotten for capturing Sandy Mac.
“Coming out!” I yelled back, throwing my voice just far enough off that they didn’t really see I’d come from the trees. In fact, they were kind of looking over toward a big old clump of sagebrush and were some startled when they found me walking easy-like toward ’em with my hands hanging over my belt.
Not my gunbelt; that and the rifle were back in the trees where they belonged for the moment.
“Git yer hands up!” The leader snarled, but there was as much fear in his voice as there was command. Here he was, facing a wide awake and on-his-feet Kid Tamson the Deadly Dangerous Bounty Hunter and Awesome Gunfighter, never mind that my hands appeared to be empty.
“You sure?” I asked softly. “You really do wanna die today?”
One thing I learned from my elders: Always confuse your enemies every chance you get. And the fellow was looking some confused, I’ll tell you that. Of course, confusion can turn deadly, and I could see in his eyes he was about to shoot me down in cold blood, most likely with the help of his four friends.
Which is when I found out what Grandma Brook meant when she told you Crenshaw turned out to be “not a bad guy”. His sudden motion snagged the gang’s attention back his way, which gave me the second I needed to dive my hands inside my shirt, draw your Dad’s pair of Garza Surprise pepperbox forty-fours, and start ventilating outlaws.
What was left of ’em to ventilate, that is. Turned out the hand Stanley’d used to rub his eyes was pure distraction. The other one, the one under the trade blanket, come up with a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun, the hammers already back. He let go with both barrels, and that shot spread out wide enough he dropped two of the buggers in their tracks.
Did I mention his shooter’s a ten gauge? Both barrels, and it never even rocked him back so’s you’d notice. I definitely don’t want to ever have to wrestle that man.
My short guns (Dawson’s really short guns, actually) took care of the other three.
Honey, I think some of ’em died from sheer surprise.
One guy–not the leader–was still breathing. Stanley reloaded and then (using just one barrel this time) blew his head off. Which didn’t bother me a whole lot, but I was some curious.
He explained it this way: If your enemy can’t talk, he can’t argue with the way you tell the story. Plus, a bad man is like a rattlesnake: Let him live, and he’ll come back to bite you or your loved ones at a later date. So you eliminate witnesses…as long as there aren’t any witnesses to witness you doing it.
Or something like that. Made sense to me, and it also showed me I had the man’s trust.
Good thing we’re in Leadville now. I’d be sore tempted to let him in on my secret, the way I dig a fighting foxhole every night on the trail to sleep in. But no, he still doesn’t know about that. Nobody does, except Flywheel.
Ah. Who were these bandits who came after the high and mighty (and ever so humble) Henry Tamson, you ask? Funny you should ask.
Turned out they were five of the seven miners we’d been traveling with when we left Buena Vista. The other two were real miners, but the ones who came after me and Crenshaw preferred the easier (though obviously riskier) life of relieving others of their riches the gunpoint way.
I’d trusted them seven, up to a point. I’d been gullible to the point of stupidity, and never mind all the awareness I should have absorbed from Dawson and Tam and Coug and the rest while I was growing up.
Kinda feels like I been raped. So to speak.
My darling Henry,
Here we’ve all been worrying about you maybe running into droopy-eye Chauncey Devers in Leadville, and five bandits try to take you out before you even get there? Henry Julius Tamson, you are indeed a worthy descendant of your ancestors! No lack of adventure for you, right?
You did know “adventure” is another word for “trouble”, right?
I think the proudest one of all is my Dad, because it was his Garza Surprise hideout guns you used to foil the villains this time. Plus, we all figure you getting tutored in the “no unnecessary witnesses” protocol has to be a good thing.
Bloodthirsty little bitch, aren’t I?
Keeping it down around your Mom, though. Not that she’s never killed anybody her own self, but I voluntarily went to church in Walsenburg with her last Sunday. Bo-o-o-ring…except for the story of the three lying witches who claimed that big old rock rolled itself away from the front of Jesus’s tomb.
Bloodthirsty and blasphemous! Hah!
But I faked it really well. She’s starting to believe I’m the good little Christian who will save her wayward son from his wild and wicked ways! Not drinking; she knows you don’t have any use for that, after that one time. But your “cavalier” rejection of Christ the Lord as your personal Saviour continues to worry at her like a termite in dead wood.
Then of course there’s knocked-up little Phyllis! Your sis almost gave your Mom a stroke the other day. Guess she got tired of Penny always picking at her, not only urging her to repent humping the Ute kid that did her, but also asking how she could fall so low in the first place to, you know, sin in such a way.
Phyl just looked her in the eye and said both sweetly and sincerely–I know; I was there–“Mom, the Devil made me do it!”
Which was pretty much what your redheaded mother had been insisting from the get-go, but somehow hearing it back and delivered as only your sibling can deliver it…. Cracked me up, actually, though I managed to keep a straight face till I could sneak out back to bust out laughing.
You didn’t mention what the law in Leadville had to say about all those dead men, one of them headless at that. I’m guessing you must have reported the attack, being as close to the city as you were when it happened.
Any bounty money on their heads? (Hope not the headless one. Hard to identify, right?)
Buy Stinky Stanley Crazy Crosseyed Crenshaw a steak dinner for me, would you? Tell him he’s welcome to back up my man with a ten gauge any old time.
Love and Lust,