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Devil's Trail, The
My ole maw used to always tell me, "Melvin, allus be keerful a getting something what's just exact what you wants it to be." I never really knowed for a long time just what the hell she was a-talking about, but I reckon I found out all right. Now maybe you never heared a me atall, but then maybe you did, and if you did then likely you recall that ole Red, she was just about almost my own gal. A course, she made her living a whoring, and that's all right with me on accounta ever'one's gotta make a living somehow, but aside from that little ole thing, well, she was kinda my gal. Anyhow, whenever my old paw final and for sure a-headed back for Texas and Maw, like what I told him to go and do, and my new pardner ole Churkee headed on to get him a look at the Churkee Nation what he hadn't never saw on accounta being borned out in Californy and all, and we was all of us a-walking around free with cleared-up names and all, well my original ole pard, ole Zeb Pike, he wanted to go on back up in the hills and sniff out some gold.
"I don't know, Zeb," I tole him. "I ain't feeling like it just now."
"Well, how come not?" he said. "What the hell's wrong with sniffing out gold? Tell me that. Ain't I allus steered you right on that?"
I had to allow as how he had all right, but then I said, "I just ain't a-feeling like it, is all. After what-all we been through, well, I just kinda wanta lay around town here for a spell and take it easy-like. Hell, I got money in my jeans. Whenever I ain't got no more, that there's the time I'll be ready to go back to work."
"Sniffing gold ain't no work," Zeb said. "It's a downright pleasure. It's the biggest pleasure in life. It's better than getting drunk. Hell, it even beats a good romp with a whore."
"I don't know about that," I said.
"Hell, you're just a snot-nosed kid."
I couldn't argue none with that.
"You go on back up yonder in the mountains, Zeb," I said. "I'll wait for you right here. Or if I get ready and you ain't come back yet, I'll go on up there a-hunting you."
"You couldn't tell up from down in them mountains without I was along with you to lead you by your nose," he said.
I grinned at him. "I reckon you're right about that, ole pard," I said.
"Then come on and let's us go," he said.
"Tell you what," I said, "let's have us some whiskey and think about it some more."
You see, I knowed that if I could get enough whiskey in ole Zeb, why, he'd plumb forget what the hell we'd been a talking about, and then, I figgered I could kinda sneak off and hide from him for a spell, and then he'd maybe go on off up in the mountains without me and leave me alone for a while. I just wanted to hang around town with ole Red until I got all my--well, you know, till I got plenty of funning around to last me for a while. Anyhow, we went on over to the saloon and got us a bottle. We was standing at the bar a sipping our whiskey--well, I was anyhow. Zeb was kindly gulping. We was standing there when ole Jim Chastain, the sheriff, come in and stood there right beside me.
"Howdy, Kid," he said.
"Buy you a drink, Jim?" I said.
"Sure," he said.
We got us another glass, and then me and Zeb and ole Chastain, we all went over to a empty table and set our ass down there with our glasses and a bottle. I was being kinda tentative-like on accounta I weren't atall sure for certain that ole Jim didn't still have it in his mind to kill me for what I had did to him a little while back, but I guess he never, 'cause he picked up his glass, and he drunk with me all right. I figgered then that he had done got all his revenging on me did once and for final that time he throwed me out the upstairs winder a the hotel and me stark, staring-ass nekkid in front a the whole town in broad daylight. I'd had to rid outa town nekkid on horseback with ever'one in the whole world a laughing their ass off at me. I reckon that satisfied him all right.
Anyhow, I had stayed outa town for a spell a-cooling off and letting my skin turn back white from its humiliation red, and then I had gone on back in on accounta I sure did want to see ole Red, and I guess you know how come. So me and ole Zeb had been back in town for a while, but we hadn't yet run onto ole Chastain till just this very minute I'm a-telling you about. Anyhow, we was all drinking together pretty good, and so it seemed like as if ever'thing was all right. Red come back down the stairs just then, and she seed us, and she come on over to set by me. I sure was proud, I can tell you.
Ole Zeb, he got liquored up right quick, and me, I just kept a-sipping real easy on accounta I was wanting to go upstairs with ole Red, and I sure didn't want to be too drunk to do nothing once I got my ass up there with her. Zeb kept a talking about gold, and I just kept a-sipping and doing my best not to get drawed into no conversation with him about it. Final I couldn't hardly stand the tenseness a the situation no more, and I looked old Chastain square in the face.
"Jim," I said, "would you say that things is square up even betwixt me and you for the things we done each other in the past, or is you still a-wanting to kill me dead?"
"Kid," he said, "I got you last, and I got you good. As far as I'm concerned, it's all over."
"Yeah," I said, "well, actual, you got me first and you got me last."
"But you got me twice in between," he said.
I couldn't hardly argue none with that. You see, what had happened was, in case you ain't heared, ole Jim, he arrested me and Paw and Zeb for something what we never done. He tuck our guns and marched us right down the mainest street a Fosterville with our arms a stuck straight up in the air for ever'one to see. It was humiliating as all hell at the time, but only I just didn't rightly know at the time how much humiliating a feller can be made to suffer.
Ole Red, she had slipped me my six-gun later on, and I had busted our ass outa jail, but only I had gone and left ole Jim locked up in his own jail cell nekkid as a new borned babe. He wanted to kill me for that real bad, and I don't blame him none for it. Then I had went and caught him again. He had rid out with a posse after our ass, and he had got separated from the rest and I had did it to him again. Left him out in the countryside nekkid as a jay. Well, then he sure enough did want to kill me deader'n a cold turd.
Then when the situation was final resolved, and me and Paw and Zeb had our names all cleared up, ole Jim had did what he done to get even with me, what I already told you about. So thinking it all over, if ole Jim was satisfied with how he got to be even with me without killing me, I reckoned that I was too. I stuck out my hand, and he shuck it. All them hard feelings was in the past, and we was friends again. Of a sudden just then ole Zeb stood up, and he were a bit wobbly.
"Come on, Kid," he said. "Let's go to the mountains."
I was some tired a arguing with him.
"I ain't going, Zeb," I said.
"Well fuck you then, Kid," he said. "I'll go by myself."
He turned and staggered across the room to the door and on outside. I figgered that he'd pass out somewhere along the way to finding his horse and ole Bernice Burro, and I'd see him again come morning, but I was kindly hurt that my ole pard, and my best pard at that, would tell me what he told me and that in front a both ole Jim and Red. I reckon I kindly blushed up some at the feel of it. Red, she musta seed it on my face.
"He didn't mean it, Kid," she said. "He'll be back whenever he sobers up."
"I don't keer if he does or don't," I said, and I reckon I had me a hellacious pout on my face. I sure didn't mean what I had just said. Why, ole Zeb, he meant more to me than my own paw, or even my own ole maw. He had did a whole lot more for me than either one a them had ever thought a doing. Paw, he didn't give a half a shit about me, not till I become some notorious as Kid Parmlee, the one they called "a regular Billy the Kid," what name I never keered for much. And I was a thinking, in spite a what ole Red had said a-trying to make me feel better, that ole Zeb would do just exact what he said he would do. He'd pack up and head for the mountains all by his lonesome.
So you see what I was talking about whenever I first started on this here? I had wanted ole Zeb to leave me be, and it sure as hell looked all of a sudden like I had got just what I wanted. Only once I got it, I weren't atall sure for certain that I really wanted it in the first place. I reckon my ole maw had been right about that one, but only I had to go and learn it for my own self the hard way.
Well, ole Jim, he excused hisself after two drinks and went on about his business, whatever that is. I never could rightly figger out what a sheriff's business was whenever they wasn't no trouble a going on for him to get after. So me and ole Red, we was left setting there just the two of us, and Red, she kindly laid her soft hand on top a mine and looked me in the eye with her big green eyes.
"Kid," she said, "you wanta go upstairs with me?"
"Business or pleasure?" I said.
"I'm done working for the day," she said. "I started early."
"In that case," I said, "let's us go on up."
I picked up the bottle, and she picked up two glasses, and we headed on up to her room. Whenever we got inside, I latched the door and blocked it up real good with a chair. I didn't want no one causing us no rude disturbance nor interruption. I thunk about that there time ole Jim had caught me unawares. We put the bottle and glasses down on a table what stood there beside the bed, and then I tuck her in my arms and smooched her real good. It was nice all right, but it wasn't nothing compared to the gloriousness what was to follow.
Come morning, we was laying in bed side by side, stark-staring nekkid and sound asleep, and we had us a surprise awakening a gunshots out in the street. I jumped up right quick and moved over to the winder what had a kindly lacy curtain on it, and keeping my nekkid self to one side, I moved that there curtain just a bit so I could peek out. I seed a man with a sack in one hand and a gun in t'other come a running outa the bank. He had done shot twice, and I seed him shoot a third time. He shot into the bank, and then he mounted up on his horse, and it was only then that I seed that there was actual three of them. The one I was a-watching was the third one to come outa the bank, I guess.
I grabbed for my own Colt, and I cocked it a running back to the winder. I throwed that winder open and tuck aim, but only I never did shoot. Them three was done riding hard, and all I'd a did was I'd a wasted a shot. Then I seed Chastain a running toward the bank. Red was a setting up in bed. Final she said, "What is it, Kid?"
"Sure looked to me like three fellers just robbed the bank," I said.
I put my gun away and went back to the bed and set down beside her. I give her a good smooch.
"I sure had me a wondrous time last night," I said, "but I reckon I'd best get dressed and go on down."
"What for?" she said.
"Well, if I seed what I think I seed," I said, "ole Jim'll be gathering up a posse to go after them owlhoots. I reckon that now that me and Jim is friends again, I had oughta go along with them."
Sure enough, ole Chastain was out in front a his office a-shouting orders for all able-bodied men with guns to get their horses and join up with him right there. I didn't bother telling him that I was a coming along. He was busy enough. I done had my Colt strapped on, so I just hurried on over to the stable to get Ole Horse saddled. I did notice that Zeb's critters and all his tack and stuff was gone. I couldn't slow down to feel sorry about that, though. I got Ole Horse saddled, and then I rid on down to the sheriff's office.
Jim was a-setting his saddle ready to go, and setting right beside him there was ole Lewis Throne, the actual president a the damn bank. They was three or four others ready there, too. I kindly pushed my way through to get on the other side a ole Jim from where Throne was at.
"You 'bout ready to hit the trail?" I asked him.
"With you here, I'm ready," Jim said. "Anyone else comes along, they can try to catch up with us."
"Well, let's go get the bastards, then," Throne said.
We rid outa town fast, and we only slowed down in order to make sure that we was still on the trail a them three. We was, but they was a-moving fast. I could tell by the tracks their horses was a-leaving.
"We got to slow our ass down," I said. "We don't want to go killing our horses."
"The robbers aren't slowing down," Throne said.
"We ain't worried about them killing their horses," I said. "They keep on a-going like they're going, that's just what they're a-going to do. That'll just make it easier for us to catch on up to them."
"The Kid's right, Lewis," Jim said. "Let's follow them easy for a while."
"They've got a lot of the bank's money with them," said Throne, in a kinda huff.
"Some a that's my money," one a them other men said. I didn't know him by name.
"We'll get them," Chastain said. "Slow and easy."
We moved out taking my advice and Jim's orders, but ole Throne and a couple a the other riders was real obvious impatient with the pace we was a setting. Me, I was feeling pretty good. I was a-riding beside ole Jim again, and him not even a-wanting to kill me no more. I liked ole Jim, and so I was real glad a that, and I was glad a the opportunity to give him a hand at something and to show him once more that I really was a good citizen and a friend a his and all like that. Jim, he never said nothing, but I kindly felt like as if he was glad to have me along, too.
Well, we moved slow and easy for a spell, all the while a-keeping our eyes on them tracks, and then we decided that we could let our horses stretch their legs out again, so we whipped them up and moved out fast for a time. We still hadn't saw no sign a the culprits, just only their horses' tracks on the road. They was headed south. Final we had to slow it down again. We rid along slow again for maybe a mile, and then I seed them tracks turn off the road and head cross-country a-moving east.
"Looky there, Jim," I said, a-pointing.
"I see it," he said.
Me and him led the way, and the rest follered. The tracks was harder to foller out there off the road like that, and that slowed us down even more. We went on like that for a couple a miles, and then one a the fellers in back said, "I never thought it'd take us this long."
"I'm for going back," another'n said. "We've gone too far from town."
Chastain stopped his horse and turned to face the rest a the posse.
"Who wants to go home?" he snapped.
They was sullen for a bit, and then the two what had done spoke up admitted that it was them.
"Go on, then," Jim said. "We don't need you."
Them two set there for a minute or so. Then they turned their mounts back west and rid off. In another few seconds, another one follered them. Jim looked at what was left.
"What about you, Horace?" he said.
"Like I told Lewis a while back," said the one called Horace, "some of that money is mine. I'm sticking with you."
"Lewis?" said Jim.
"I'm staying after the sons of bitches until we have the bank money back," Throne said.
Ole Jim looked over at me then.
"I'm a sticking by you, Jim," I said.
"All right then," he said. "Let's ride."
Well, we rid that day away, and we was a-getting some hungry, I can tell you. You see, we had ever'one of us figgered that we'd catch up with them three way sooner than what time a day it was. I noticed ole Throne turn up his canteen and dribble the last few drops into his mouth. I could also see that ole Jim was beginning to look some worried.
"If we don't come across them soon," he said, "we'll have to stop for the night."
"Are you sure we're even following the right tracks?" Throne said. He was some agitated.
"I'm sure," I said.
"There's another problem," said ole Jim.
"My God, what is it?" said ole Throne.
"In another ten miles or so," said Jim, "we'll be out of my jurisdiction. I'll have to turn back."
"And just let them get away with my--with the bank's money?" Throne said.
"There won't be anything I can do except wire the law out this direction," Chastain said. "If I was to arrest someone outside of my jurisdiction, the judge would let them off."
"Well, what the hell are we waiting for?" said Throne. "We have to catch them before they get beyond your reach."
We rid like hell for as long as we dared to, for the sake a the horses, and by that time the sun was right low in the sky too, and it were getting kindly dark. Real reluctant-like, Jim called a halt, and we made us a camp for the night, only it weren't none too comfy, on accounta we hadn't planned for no long ride much less for no camping out. Hell, we didn't even have no coffee, and even if we hada, we didn't hardly have enough water amongst us to boil it in. Ever'one was kindly grumbling. I got ole Chastain off to one side.
"Listen, Jim," I said. "Don't get too settled in here. I'm fixing to ride around a little and see if I can't find us a better spot. One with some water at least. I'll be back."
Well, I didn't get no argument out a Jim, and so I rid on out, and by and by I did actual come across a nice little stream, and by God, if there weren't a pretty little antelope a-getting itself a drink there. Well, I kilt it right then, and I cut its throat and strung it up by its hind legs in a tree there. I built a little fire, and then I gutted that critter and cut it up some and spitted some meat over the fire. I even found a little ole plant what Zeb had showed me once what I didn't remember what to call it, but you could pull it up and crush up its roots and boil it and get yourself something that tasted most nearly like coffee. The only thing was, I couldn't figger out what we had with us to boil water in.
Anyhow, I left that fresh meat a-cooking and rid back right quick to where I had left the others a-waiting.
"Mount up and foller me," I said. "I got water, and I got meat a-cooking."
Copyright © 2002 by Robert J. Conley.