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Cold Hard Trail, The
If you ever heared a me atall what you mighta heared is that I run off from my home in Texas when I was just only fourteen year old 'cause a the fact that I had done kilt me a man. The man what I had kilt was named ole Joe Pigg, and I kilt ole Pigg 'cause a the pure and simple fact a the matter that the son of a bitch had shot my poor ole dog Farty. I kilt him with a ax handle, and then my ole paw give me ten bucks and a swayback horse and tole me to get the hell outa Texas.
Well, that was all a few year ago, and in the course a me traveling all through them years, well, I learnt me a thing or two. First off, I learnt me how to be a good cowhand, but only I never could seem to keep hold of a job. Seems like ever time I was to get me a good job, along come a Pigg what had it in for me 'cause a what I had did to ole Joe. So I had to kill another Pigg. Oh, yeah. The other thing what I learnt was how to handle a six-gun pretty damn good, and I really had to learn that, 'cause I ain't got much size on me.
Then somewhere along the way come another family, this one called the Hookses. I kilt me one a them, and it was all for a good enough reason, I guess, but then the rest of them Hookses never seemed to agree with me on that matter, so they got after me too, and for a while there it seemed to me that the whole damn world was populated with nothing but Piggses and Hookses. Seemed like ever'where I went up popped another one a them bastards. Anyhow, come a time when I final figgered I had done got rid of all of them, so I could kinda relax just a little bit.
Another thing you mighta heared if you heared about me atall is that I partnered up with an ole boy what called hisself Zeb Pike but only I come to find out that the real Zeb Pike was long dead and gone and my Zeb Pike just only used that name 'cause he liked it, I guess. Anyhow, he was my pardner, and his main and only real ambition in life was to sniff out a big bonanza a gold, and I learnt something about gold sniffing from him too.
And then of all folks to pop back up into my life was my own ole paw what I had never thought really give a shit about me till he give me that ten dollars and that old swayback and told me to get outa Texas for my life. But he come around after folks had done got to calling me a regular Billy the Kid, what I kinda resented till ole Paw seemed to be so proud a my new reputation. I damn near even carved notches on my gun butts, but a wiser head come along and stopped me from doing that. Hell, I even cut out keeping a count a the folks I kilt. I guess I figgered out that killing folks ain't nothing to be too proud of.
But anyhow, circumstances had worked around me in such a way that I was riding along with ole Zeb and my ole paw, what I really wished had never come back into my young life. You see, I never had no real love for Paw, 'cause he had never really showed it that he had none for me. Not till he seed it that I was coming to be knowed as a real bad gunslinger, and a course, Maw never had seemed to keer too much about me neither. The last thing I remember about Maw she had slapped me real hard across the face.
Well, I was all outa jobs, and I didn't really have nothing special to do with my young life, so when ole Zeb said he wanted to go sniffing again, I said that I didn't mind too much. We rid up into the hills and commenced to panning a little just for what old Zeb called pocket money, and we was piling up some too, but it come to be too much work for Paw. We was setting at our little camp late of a evening, sipping some coffee around our campfire when Paw commenced to bellyaching.
"Why the hell don't we get down outa these damn mountains?" he said.
"We're a-making money, Paw," I said.
"There's heap better ways a doing that," he said. "Hell, I ain't seed a woman or a bottle a whiskey in so long that I wonder would I know what to do with either one if I was to see it again."
"You don't need to go seeing no women," I said. "Not unless you go on back home to Maw where you had oughta be anyhow. I ain't never yet figgered out what you're a-doing away out here in Colorady when Maw's home all by her lonesome."
"Well, now that ain't none a your damn business, Melvin," Paw said.
That set me off like nothing else could. I had told him before that if he ever was to call me that name again, which really by the way is my name what they had give me when I was borned, that I would kill him dead. Well, I never kilt him dead. He was my paw, but whenever he said that after I had told him what I told him, I just kinda went crazy like, and I whipped out my Colt six-shooter, and I shot the lobe right offa his left ear. I was some mad, I can tell you. Melvin ain't no right name for a gunfighter or for a cowhand neither. 'Course, I weren't really being neither one a them just then. I were out a-hunting gold. Still it pissed me off considerable.
Now, before you go to thinking that I'm bragging about that there shot, I should oughta tell you that ole Paw had real big ears with long hangy down earlobes, and so it weren't no real special shot after all, and I did scratch his neck just a wee bit too. But anyhow, whenever I done that I kinda felt bad about it, 'cause he was my paw.
Well, Paw went to screaming and hollering, and he clapped a hand up to the side a his head. He come up on his feet a-dancing around and a-howling, but all that done was it made him sling all that blood around him 'stead a just letting it run down his neck and all. I put my gun away. Ole Zeb, he just set there a-waiting to see what was a going to happen next, I guess. Final, ole Paw got tired out a-dancing around the way he was doing, and he come back to where he had been setting before, and he set down again. He brung his hand down from the side a his head and held it in front a his face and looked at it all bloody with his eyes real big like something weird in the night. Then he looked over at me.
"Boy," he said, "you like to a kilt me. Your own paw."
"I shoulda," I said. "I done told you that I would if you was to ever call me that name again. Didn't I? You recollect that time? I told you."
"Well, yeah, but I--"
"I woulda, too, if you wasn't my paw. And something else. I never like to a kilt you, 'cause if I'd a meant to kill you, you'd be dead right now. I shot a man's ear off once before, and I done that a purpose. I done exact what I meant to do with that there bullet. Your damn earlobe was too long anyhow."
Well, ole Zeb, he couldn't hold off no longer on that one. He bursted out a-laughing and went to rolling on the ground. I could see that made Paw some angry, but he was a-holding back, 'cause he knowed what I thunk about ole Zeb, and he weren't about to do nothing to piss me off again, knowing that he still had one good hangy down earlobe for me to shoot at. It's a good thing too. Facing a man and being right-handed, it's a mite tougher to pick off a right lobe than it is to nip the left one.
Pretty soon ole Zeb quit laughing and set back up and went to wiping the tears out a his eyes. Paw was setting still with a heavy pout on his face, and I was feeling bad on account a what I had did. I figgered I had best say something.
"It'll scab over here in a minute or two," I said, "and it won't hurt too much neither. A earlobe ain't much of a loss."
Ole Zeb musta decided just then that he'd oughta help out in calming the whole situation down some. He stood up and walked over to his pack and shoved a arm way down in it. He kinda scrambled around in there for a while. Then he come out with a whiskey bottle. It was nearly full too.
"I been hiding this here back for emergencies," he said. "I reckon this might be one."
"By damn," Paw said. "I ain't never felt more emergent. Let me have a swig a that."
Ole Zeb walked on over and handed Paw the bottle, and ole Paw, he tuck him a real long swig. I thought that brown liquid would never stop glug-glugging, but he did final bring it down and hold it back out toward ole Zeb. Ole Zeb tuck the bottle, and Paw let out a loud sigh like as if he hadn't never felt such relief in his whole long and worthless life. Zeb tuck him a drink and handed the bottle over to me. I didn't really want none, but I didn't want to say so, so I tuck me a little drink and passed the bottle back to Paw.
"You might be right, Parmlee," Zeb said.
Paw had to lower the bottle to answer.
"What?" he said. "Right about what?"
"About getting back to town," Zeb said. "I reckon we been out here in the wilds about long enough. A little touch a civilization might do us all some good. We got us a little pocket money in them sacks a dust. We can take us a break from all this work. Get us a bath. Run some whores. Get drunk. Stock up on supplies. Then we can come back out here on the trail. I'm getting a mite bored with this gethering up a pocket money anyhow. I'm kinda itching to get outfitted for a serious search for the mother lode."
Before we all final settled down for the night, that last bottle was empty, and it was ole Paw what drunk the most of it. Hell, he was so drunkened up that he damn near forgot all about his left earlobe. I don't think he really went to sleep neither. I think what he for real done was he just passed on out. Me and ole Zeb crawled on into our bedrolls. We was quiet for just a little while, and then I said, "Zeb?"
"What is it, Kid?" he said.
"Do you think you'll ever find that mother lode? For real?"
The next morning, we packed up and headed on down. We had our three saddle horses and Zeb's Bernice Burro. We had us a long enough ride just getting our ass on down outa them mountains, and come noontime, our bellies was all a-growling, and so we had to stop and fix ourselfs something to eat, but we was mostly outa them kinda supplies, so what we et was just only beans. That's all. I was wishing that we had the makings for biscuits, 'cause ole Zeb, he could really whomp up some good ones whenever he had all the stuff what he needed for it. But anyhow, he didn't have, so we et them beans, cleaned up and moved on.
I had let ole Zeb take the lead with Bernice Burro right behind him, and then Paw was next, and I was a-taking up the rear. We was on a kinda narrow trail coming down outa the foothills, so we had to ride along like that, and then ole Paw, he commenced to farting on account a them beans, I guess. I cussed him something awful, and I begun to think that I was real glad I had shot his earlobe off, and I was thinking about shooting off the other'n. Riding behind him like I was, I coulda hit it easy enough, but then the bullet mighta gone on up ahead and nicked ole Zeb, and I didn't want that, so I just cussed ole Paw was all, but whenever we got offa that narrow trail, I made him move on back to the rearmost position. I weren't about to ride along behind him no more.
We was final down on the flat, and it was some easier to have a conversation thataway, so I hauled on up beside ole Zeb.
"Zeb," I said, "where you reckon we're a-headed?"
"Well," he said, "Fosterville's about the closest town to us. If we're in a hurry to get drunk, we might oughta head for Fosterville. That is, unless there's some other town you'd ruther to get drunk in. We don't have to go to Fosterville."
"Fosterville's just fine," I said. I never bothered asking ole Paw. I didn't figger it was none a his business which town we went to, and if he had some different idea, why, he could just go on and head for wherever he was a mind to. I didn't really want him hanging around me no how. But he never said nothing, riding back there behind us where he was. Instead he just only cut another fart. I was sure glad that I weren't riding back behind him no more.
I got to recollecting about Fosterville, which was where ole Jim Chastain was the sheriff. I hadn't liked ole Chastain worth a shit whenever I first met up with him, but I figgered that was 'cause I didn't have much use for lawmen in the first place. In my wild-ass adventures I had managed to get myself hooked up with two of them in spite a my feelings, and I had wound up liking them both. Ole Chastain was one a them two. The other'n was a Texas Ranger who had gone on back to Texas.
But I got to thinking that it'd be good to see ole Chastain again. Hell, I knowed he'd have a drink or two with us. He might even get drunk with us. He was that kinda good ole boy even if he was a lawman. Yeah, I was getting anxious to see the old bastard again. Paw blowed another fart just then.
"Damn," I said, "I sure hope you get all farted out before we ride into Fosterville. It'd be damned embarrassing to be with you in town and you letting all them farts one after the other like that."
"It's them goddamned beans we et," Paw said. "It ain't my fault."
"My beans don't make you fart," Zeb said.
"It's just only you a-doing it," I said.
"Well," Paw said, "it's them damned beans."
"You drink too much whiskey at night," Zeb said, "it'll make you fart the next day."
"Beans," said Paw.
We had to camp on the trail that night, and we didn't have no more whiskey, so Paw, he was real grumbly. We final got him to shut up and go on to bed, and I guess he went on to sleep. We didn't have nothing but beans to eat neither, so we all kinda decided that we'd just wait till morning. We wasn't too far away from Fosterville by then, so we knowed we could get us a good breakfast by mid-morning. We decided to tough it out. I figgered that ole Zeb was right about the whiskey on account a ole Paw was the only guilty one amongst us, but still I didn't want to take no chances on getting myself humiliated in town by my own paw's gaseous condition.
We had it figgered about right. We rid into Fosterville just about ten o'clock in the morning, and we didn't waste no time neither. We hauled our ass up right in front a the first eating place we come to, and we hitched the horses and ole Bernice, and we went right on inside and ordered up three big breakfasts a steak and eggs and taters and biscuits and gravy and lots a coffee, and we set there and et for a while. I can tell you, it sure tasted good. I stuffed my skinny ole belly till I thunk that I had might near bursted it.
After we had did that, we figgered that the next thing we had oughta do, seeing that we had done tuck keer a our own needs, was to go on and take keer a the critters. We paid for our eats and went outside where we unhitched them four and headed on down to the stable with them. We set them up real good, and then we went looking for a place to cash in our gold dust, which thing we done right quick. I knowed that my lazy-ass ole paw didn't deserve nearly the same share what me and ole Zeb tuck, but Zeb, he divided it all up in three even parts anyhow and give Paw his share. Then we all three of us stepped out onto the sidewalk with plenty a money in our pockets.
"Well, what now?" I asked.
"Whiskey," Paw said.
We walked down to the nearest saloon and went inside and bellied up to the bar and ordered us each a glass a whiskey. I knowed ole Paw would drink three or four glasses and then pass on out, and ole Zeb could suck on the stuff all day long. Me, I never had got to where I could handle too much a the stuff. A couple a drinks, and I wouldn't be worth nothing for a while. I figgered I'd just sip on my one for as long as I could. After all, it weren't even noon yet.
Ole Paw, he downed his first one real quick like, and he went to hollering for the bartender to bring him another. There weren't too much business in the saloon that early in the day, so Paw got service right quick, but when the man went to pour, Paw stopped him. He pulled some cash outa his pocket and slapped it on the bar.
"Just leave us the bottle," he said.
He picked up his glass and the bottle and headed over for a table.
"Let's set," he said.
Me and Zeb follered him on over to the table, pulled us out some chairs and plopped our ass down. Paw poured his glass full, but me and Zeb was still working on our first ones. I got to thinking about how the last time we was in Fosterville, we had kilt ourselfs some Hookses. Well, it weren't really the last time. We'd had us a big fight in town, and one a them Hookses had got away. Then me and ole Zeb had went to climb his mountain. You know, Pike's Peak. And that last Hook had follered us up there and got hisself kilt, so we had come back to Fosterville to let ole Chastain know about that. We had left to go on up into the mountains right after that.
Anyhow, I was thinking about all that and being glad that it was over with and me having nothing to do but only to figger out how to get ole Paw to turn his bony ole ass back toward Texas and Maw and then to go back on the gold trail with old Zeb and see if we couldn't find that there mother lode he was always a-talking about. That's what I was a-thinking, and just then ole Red come a-walking in the place.
Now if you heared about me before then likely you heared about ole Red. Ole Red was a whore, and that's the truth, but even so, she was the bestest gal I ever had. I don't know how come I hadn't been thinking about her riding back into Fosterville like that, but I never. But when I seed her, I was sure glad of it. I guess she was glad to see me too, 'cause she let out a yelp and throwed her arms out wide and come a-running.
I stood up to meet her, and when she run into me, she like to of knocked me over backwards, but I managed to keep on my feet. Well, she hugged me real hard and kissed me till I was plumb embarrassed, and then she went to doing the same thing to ole Zeb. She never hugged and kissed on my paw though. Whenever she final cut it all out and looked at Paw, I said, "Red, you know my ole paw?"
She said howdy to him and set down with us, and I signaled the bartender to fetch us over another glass. I poured her a drink.
"Where have you been?" she said.
"Aw, we just went up into the mountains," I said. "Ole Zeb, here, he smelled us out some gold, so we come back down. That's all."
I was glad I never had to tell her about no killings nor nothing like that. My life had plumb settled down, and I was satisfied with that. I didn't want to be no gunfighter, and I didn't want no one calling me no "regular Billy the Kid" no more. If I was to do anything besides just only hunt for the mother lode with ole Zeb, I reckoned it would be to find me another cowboying job somewheres. I hope you believe that.
Anyhow, I was just setting there a-sipping at my whiskey and being real glad to be seeing ole Red again, and even thinking about how soon maybe I might be able to get her into a bed with me somewheres whenever I noticed that her eyes opened kinda wide and she was a-staring at something back behind my back. I looked back over my shoulder, and damned if it weren't ole Jim Chastain, and I'd a been real glad to see him again too, but for one thing. Ole Jim, he had a real sternlike look on his craggy ole face, and he was a-holding a short shotgun what was pointed right at us.
Copyright © 2001 by Robert J. Conley.