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Fiction: Hide and Horns by Joe R. Lansdale

I was recovering from some knife wounds, and was mostly healed up and hoping I wasn’t gonna come up on anything that might get me all het up and cause me to tear open my cuts. I was chewin’ on some jerky, riding a pretty good horse on the plains of Texas, when I seen something in the distance. I pulled my mount up and got out my long glasses and took me a look.

 

There was a colored fella like myself lying out there under a horse, had one leg jammed under it, and the horse was deader than a rock. The colored fella was wearing a big sombrero and a red shirt and he wasn’t movin’. I figured he was dead like the horse, cause there was some buzzards circlin’, and one lit down near the man and the horse and had the manner of a miner waiting for someone to ring the dinner bell. There was a little black cloud above the fella I took to be flies that was excited about soon crawling up the old boy’s nose holes.

 

I rode on over there, and when I got near, the colored fella rolled on his side and showed me the business end of an old Sharp’s fifty rifle, the hole in the barrel looked to me to be as big as a mining tunnel.

 

“Hold up,” I said, “I ain’t got nothin’ agin ya.”

 

“Yeah,” he said in a voice dry as the day, “but there’s them that do.”  He rolled over on his side again and lay the rifle across his chest. He said, “You give me any cause, I’ll blow your head off.”

 

I got down off my horse and led it over to where the fella and his dead cCayuse lay. I said, “So, just restin’?”

 

“Me and my horse here thought we’d stop in the middle of the goddamn prairie, under the goddamn sun, and take a goddamn nap.”

 

“Good a place as any,” I said, squatting down to look the man over, “cause I don’t see one spread of shade nowhere.”

 

“And you won’t for some miles.”

 

“Course, that sombrero could cover an acre in shade.”

 

“It does me good from time to time,” he said.

 

I could see that the horse had a couple of bullet holes in its side, and the fella had one too, in his right shoulder. He had stuffed a rag in the hole and the rag was red, and the red shirt looked to have been a lighter color before it had sucked up all that blood.

 

“I ain’t feelin’ so good,” he said.

 

“That would be because you got a bullet hole in you and a big old dead horse lyin’ on your leg.”

 

“And I thought he was just nappin’. I didn’t want to disturb him.”  I bent down and looked at where the leg was trapped. The fella said, “You know, I don’t know how much blood I got left in me.”

 

“Way you look,” I said, “not much. There’s a town not too far from here I’ve heard of. Might be someone there that can do some fixin’s on ya.”

 

“That’d be right good,” the fella said. “My name is Cramp, or that’s what people call me anyway. I don’t remember how I got the name. Something back in slave days. I think the man got my mama’s belly full of me was called that, so I became Cramp too. Never knowed him. But, I got to tell you, I ain’t up to a whole lot of history.”

 

I got hold of his leg and tried to ease it out from under the horse, but that wasn’t workin’.

 

I went back to my horse, got a little camp shovel I had when I was in the Buffalo Soldiers, and dug around Cramp’s leg, said, “They call me Nat.”

 

He said, “That diggin’ is loosin’ me up, but I don’t know it’s gonna matter. I’m startin’ to feel cold.”

 

“You’ve quit loosin’ blood for now,” I said, “otherwise, you’d already be scratchin’ on heaven’s door.”

 

“Or hell’s back door.”

 

“One ta other.”

 

I got hold of his leg and pulled, and it come free, and he made a barking sound, and I looked at him. His face was popped with sweat, and it was an older face than I’d realized, fifty or so, and it looked like an old dark withered potato. I got him under the shoulders and pulled him away and lay him down, went back to his horse and cut one of the saddle bags off with my knife, and put it under his noggin’ for a pillow. His sombrero had come off, and I went and got that and brought it over to him, and was about to lean it on his head, when I looked up and seen four riders comin’ in the distance.

 

Cramp must have seen the look on my face, cause he said, “Did I mention that there’s some fellas after me?”

 

“That didn’t come up. Just said there was folks had somethin’ again you.”

 

“That would be them. They’re mad at me.”

 

“They have a reason?”

 

“They don’t like me.”

 

“Are you normally likeable?”

 

“I’m startin’ to pass out, son.”

 

“Hang in there.”

 

“Can’t…Don’t let me be buried in no lonesome ground.”

 

He closed his eyes and lay still.

 

I got my long glasses and gave them a look. It was four white fellas, and one of them looked to be damn near as big as the horse he was ridin’. They all had the look of folks that would like to hang someone so they could get in the mood to do somethin’ really bad. They was looking right at me, the big cracker with his hand over his eyes, studying me there in the distance.

 

I got hold of Cramp and dragged his big ass on the other side of the horse and stretched him out so that his head was against the saddle and his feet was stretched out toward the North, which was the direction I wanted to go. Actually, I kind of wanted to go any direction right then, and it crossed my mind that I could get on my horse and just ride off, fast as I could go, leave Cramp to the buzzards, the flies, and the ants, but havin’ been partly ruint by too much good raisin’, and being of too much character, it just wasn’t in me. But I didn’t have so much character I didn’t think about it.

 

I went around and picked up the Sharps and looked in the saddle bag I had cut off, and found some loads in there, a whole batch of hand madehandmade shells. I studied the situation awhile, decided that when things was over there’d either be me and Cramp dead, or there would be some spare horses, so I led my nag over near where the other horse lay, grabbed his nose and pulled him down, way I had been taught in the cavalry, pulled out my pistol and shot him through the head. He kicked once and was still, and now I had me a V shaped horse fort. It was an old trick I’d learned fightin’ Indians. The other thing I’d learned was not to get too sentimental about a horse, you never knew when you might have to eat one or make a fort out of him. The one horse I’d really liked, me and a woman I cared about had eaten him, but I don’t want to get side tracked and off on that. It’s a sad story and doesn’t end well for any of the three of us involved.

 

Lying down on my belly beside Cramp, I laid out the rifle across his horse and took me a bead. A Sharps fifty, which is what Cramp’s rifle was, can cover some real ground, but it takes some fine shootin’ to know how to get the windage and judge the way the bullet will fall from a distance. I was a fine shooter, but that didn’t stop me from worrying, especially now that they were ridin’ toward me fast.

 

I beaded down on the big man, but another rider moved in front of him, so he became my target. I had him good in my sights, but I stopped and sucked my finger wet, stuck it up in the air and got me the pull of the wind, then I beaded again. I took a deep breath and let it out slow as I pulled the trigger. The rifle popped. I knew that from where they were, it wouldn’t sound like much, and if they didn’t know their business, it would seem to them I’d missed, cause it was a long damn ways.

 

The man I shot at was riding right along and it seemed that a lot of time passed before he threw out his hands and I seen some dark wet leap out of his chest and he fell off his horse.

 

I thought: What if ole Cramp here deserves what he’s gonna get? That went through my head for a moment, but then I thought, even if he does, he ought not to get it when he’s about dead, least not like this by a bunch of angry peckerwoods.

 

They started firing at me with Winchesters, like the one on my dead horse, and the bullets fell well short. They had stopped, but they hadn’t shot their horses. They had dismounted and were standing by their horses firing away, the bullets plopping well in front of me. I knew right then, them not shooting their horses, they weren’t as committed as I was.

 

I said to myself, “You boys hold that position.”

 

I loaded another round in the Sharps and laid it back across the dead horse and took a deep breath and cracked my neck the way I can by moving my head a little sharply, and took aim. I was feelin’ frisky, so even though I should have aimed for my target’s chest, I sighted a little high of his forehead and fired. The shot knocked him off his feet, causin’ a puff of dust to throw up, and I figured I’d gotten him right between the peepers, thought that was guess work, because all I saw were the soles of his boots comin’ up.

 

The other two, mounted up, and with the big man leading, they went back in the other direction. I popped a load after them, knocking the big man’s horse out from under him, throwing the bastard for a few loops. He was on his feet quick and he got down behind the dead horse, and the other fella kept on ridin’, like someone had stuck a lighted corn shuck up his horse’s ass. I took a shot at him, but he kept ridin’, leaning low over his horse like he was tryin’ to mix himself into it.

 

A moment later, he was out of sight, and I turned my attentions back to the big fella.

 

I loaded again and raised up this time, on one knee, and shouldered the rifle and took a long deep breath, and fired. This one plopped into the dead horse. After that, I lay down behind Cramp’s horse with my head barely up, and watched. The big man didn’t move until the day wore down and it got near dark. He got up then and took off at a run in the other direction. I could have let him go, because it was a hard shot, it being dark and all with just some moonlight, but I was kind of worked up, them tryin’ to kill me and all, so I raised up, and aimed, and fired, and got him. He went down like a three hundred pound sack of shit.

 

“Asshole,” I said.

 

 

 

*#

 

I wasn’t sure how to go from there, or where I was goin’, less it was that town I told Cramp about, but one thing was certain, Cramp wouldn’t be going with me, least not alive. He was colder than a wedge and stiff as horse dick at breedin’ time.

 

When I felt wasn’t no one circlin’ in on me, I got up and walked out a pace, carrying my Winchester with me, leavin’ the Sharps, but bringin’ the loads with me, least they surprise me, come back, get hold of his rifle and pick me off from a distance.

 

I walked in the direction I’d seen one of the horses go, and when it was good and dark, I seen his shape outlined by the moon. I was able to cluck to him and get him to come over, not mentionin’ to him I’d killed two of his kind on this day.

 

I rode him back to where Cramp lay, got my saddle out from under my horse, and swapped it onto the horse I’d rustled up. I got hold of Cramp and threw him over the horse. He was so stiff, he rocked there for a moment and nearly fell off. I climbed on board with the Winchester back in the boot, and the Sharps, now loaded, across my lap, and started in the direction of the town I knew was supposed to be out there, a place called Hide and Horns, if memory served me. I hadn’t never been there, but I’d been told about it. Before most of the buffalo was killed out in the area, it had been a place for selling hides and horns and bones for fertilizer.

 

As I rode along, I didn’t let myself get too sure of things. I kept my eyes open and my ears perked.

 

So far, I hadn’t torn open any of my cuts, and I determined they had healed up good. I guess there was some things goin’ my way.

 

#

 

 

*

 

 

 

Hide and Horns, out there in the moonlight, looked like a place you went to shit, not a place you went to live. But there was folks there and the street was full of them, and a lot of them looked drunk. Thing was, I was still wearin’ my army jacket from when I was in with the Buffalo Soldiers, and this bein’ the panhandle of Texas, that blue jacket was bound to cause some former rebel to come unhitched and want to kill him a nigger. I had not removed it because of pride, but now as I neared Hide and Horns my pride was growing smaller and my feelin’s about not gettin’ skinned for an incident of birth was growin’ larger.

 

I decided to ride around the street, out back of the town with my dead companion, and see what was on the far side, which is where I figured the colored would be collected, if there was any. I rode around there, taking it long and slow, and when I got to the other end, there was some shacks and a lot of tents there. No coloreds to be seen, but there was four or five Chinamen and some China girls outside next to a big fire and a boiling pot of laundry, which one of them, a young China girl was movin’ around with a board. Beyond her, I could see the town proper, lit up with lanterns and such, and drunk cowboys crossin’ and wanderin’ around in the street like they really had some place to go.

 

I got off my horse and led it toward the China folk, Cramp rockin’ back and forth, and when I got up close to the pot, the girl, who turned out to be a woman, only small, and beautiful in the firelight, looked at me like I’d come from hell to borrow a cup of sugar. A Chinaman walked out into the firelight with an axe. He was pretty big for a Chinaman. He said, “Do for you?”

 

“Not if you’re plannin’ on choppin’ on me.”

 

He shook his head and his pigtail slapped from side to side. “Do for you?”

 

“I got a fella here needs a place in the dirt.”

 

The Chinaman, maybe not sure what I meant, or just wanting to satisfy his own curiosity, came over and took hold of Cramp’s boot and pulled on it, said, “Dead nigger.”

 

“Yeah,” I said, “he won’t be havin’ dinner. But, I’d like some. I got Yankee dollars.”

 

“How much dollars?”

 

“Enough.”

 

“Pussy?”

 

“Beg your pardon.”

 

“Sell pussy. You want?”

 

“Oh.”

 

I looked around. Four of the China girls had bunched up near one of the larger tents, and they were looking at me, smiling. Two of them were right smart lookin’, one was so ugly she could chase a bob cat up a tree, and there was one pretty good looker with her leg cut off at the knee. She had a wooden leg strapped on and had a crutch under her arm, and from what I could make out in the firelight, she appeared to be missin’ a tooth on the far right side.

 

“Half a woman,” the Chinaman said pointing at the wooden leg gal, “she cheaper.”

 

“Actually, she’s more than half,” I said. “Way more.”

 

“She five penny.”

 

“Well, they are all as lovely as the next,” I said,” tryin’ not to look at the ugly one least I get struck by lightnin’ for lyin’, “but I’m gonna pass. I’m hungry.”

 

I looked at the other one, at the wash pot. The Chinaman, figurin’ I might be sizin’ her up for a mattress, said: “Daughter, not sale.”

 

“Okay,” I said. “About that food?”

 

“Chop suey?” he said. “Cheap.”

 

“What?”

 

“Chop suey,” he said again.

 

“That’ll work. Whatever that is.”

 

“Bury dead nigger?”

“He ain’t in no hurry,” I said. “I’ll tend to the horse and eat before I bury him.”

As I was starting to remove my saddle from the horse, the Chinaman walked by the China girls, and reached out and cuffed the cripple, knocking her down. He said something in China talk. I went over and grabbed his shoulder and shoved him back, and wagged a finger at him. “Hey,” I said. “Ain’t no call to slap a woman around.”

The Chinaman still had the axe in one hand, and he eyed me and clenched the axe a little tighter. “She go to work.”

“All right,” I said. “Give her time. And lighten up on that axe, or you’ll wake up with it up your ass.”

I reached down and picked up the crutch she had dropped, then I reached down and pulled her up and put the crutch under her arm. She smiled that missing tooth smile. She looked pretty damn good, even if she could suck a pea through that hole in her chompers with the rest of her teeth clenched.

“Chop suey,” the Chinaman said to the cripple, and she limped away into a tent on her crutch.

#

*

 

 

What Chop suey was, was warm and delicious, though right then it might have seemed better than it really was cause I was hungry enough to eat the ass out of dead mule and suck blood out of a chicken’s eye.

I sat on my ass on the dirt floor under a tent roof and ate up and kept an eye on my Chinaman, as he had never let go of that there axe, and he had a way of lookin’ at me that made me nervous. I had pulled Cramp off the horse and stretched him out on some hay that was off to the side of the tents, next to a cheap corral which was mostly dirt, wind, a frame of wood, and a spot of tarp. I unsaddled the horse and bought it some hay and water, and had a China boy curry him down. I paid for the service, and then I went in and ate.

 

The four whores didn’t depart. They sat nearby and looked at me and giggled. The Chinaman said, “They want see black come off.”

 

“It doesn’t.”

 

“They think you, dead nigger, painted. They not know things.”

 

“Tell one of them they can rub my skin, see if it comes off.”

 

The Chinaman told them somethin’ in Chinese talk, and one of the girls, who now that I was closer, looked pretty young to me, came over and rubbed on my arm.

 

“No come off,” she said.

 

“Not so far,” I said.

 

“Let see dick,” she said.

 

“Now what?”

 

“Let see dick.”

 

“She want know its black,” the Chinaman said.

 

“She can take my word on that one, and maybe later I can show it to her in private.”

 

“That be two bits,” the Chinaman said.

 

“For the woman?”

 

He nodded. “Two bits.”

 

I looked at the China girl, said, “What’s your name?”

 

“Sally,” she said.

 

“Really?”

 

“Sally,” she said.

 

“They all Sally,” the China man said, holding the axe a little too comfortably. “You can call Polly or whatever, you buy pussy.”

 

“I’ll think that over. First things first, where’s the graveyard?”

 

The Chinaman pointed. “Back of town, that side. No niggers.”

 

“He’s dead. What does it matter?”

 

“No nigger. No Chinaman.”

 

“Well, that puts a hitch in my drawers,” I said. “Promised him I’d bury him somewhere wasn’t lonesome.”

 

“Bury in pig pen, but deep. Not deep. Pigs will eat him.”

 

“No, I had something different in mind. Like a graveyard.”

 

“White fellas, not like. Shoot black dick off.”

 

“That wouldn’t be good.”

 

I got up and went outside and walked over to Cramp. He wasn’t lookin’ too good. Startin’ to bloat. I got my knife and slipped it under his ribs and jabbed hard and let some of the bloat out, which was as bad air as you ever smelled. I stood over to the side while he deflated a mite.

 

The Chinaman had followed me out, still carrying his axe. He said, “Damn. Dead nigger smell plenty bad.”

 

“Dead anything smells plenty bad…You think maybe you could put that axe down? You’re makin’ me a nervous.”

 

“Chinaman like axe.”

 

“I see that.”

 

The girls had come out now.

 

I saddled up my horse and put poor old Cramp over the saddle again. He had loosened up some, and his head and legs hung down in a sad kind of way. I had his sombrero on the saddle horn, and I got on the horse and said, “I need to borrow a shovel and a lantern.”

 

“Two bits,” the big Chinaman said.

 

“I said borrow.”

 

“Two bits.”

 

“Shit.”  I dug in my pocket for two bits and gave it to him, and the one legged whore, moving pretty good for a wooden leg and a crutch, carried the shovel and unlit lantern over to me. I reached down from the horse and took it, rode in the direction the Chinaman said the graveyard was.

 

#

 

*

 

 

 

The graveyard was on a hill to the east side of the town, and I rode over there and got off the horse and lit the lantern, held it out with one hand and led the horse with the other. There was some stone markers, but mostly they was wood, and some of them was near rotted away or eaten away by bugs.

 

I looked until I found a place that was bare, tied up the horse to one of the wooden markers, put the lantern next to my burryingburying spot, got the shovel off the saddle, and started to dig.

 

I had gotten about two feet into the ground, and about two feet wide, ready to make it six feet long, when I heard a noise and turned to see lights. Folks were comin’ up the hill, and they were led by the Chinaman, still carrying his axe. The others were white folks, and they didn’t look happy. Now and again, I’d like to run up against just one happy white folk.

 

I stuck the shovel in the dirt, left the lantern where it was, walked over and stood by my horse, cause that’s where my Winchester was. I tried not to look like a man that liked being near his Winchester, but being near it gave me comfort, and of course, I had my revolver with me. It had five shots in a six shot chamber, which is the way I carry it most of the time, least I shoot my foot off pullin’ it loose from its holster. But five shots wasn’t enough for eight men, which there was, countin’ the Chinaman with his axe. A couple of them were carrying shotguns, and one had a rifle. The rest had pistols on them.

 

When they were about twenty-feet from me, they stopped walking.

 

The Chinaman said, “I tell him. No niggers. No Chinaman.”

 

“You scoundrel,” I said, “you rented me the shovel and the lantern.”

 

“Make money. Not say bury nigger.”

 

“The chink here,” one of the shotgun totin’ white men said, stepping forward a step, “is right. No niggers in Christian soil.”

 

“What if he’s a Christian?”

 

“He’s still a nigger. So are you.”

 

I was wondering how fast I could get on my horse before they rushed me. I said, “Chinaman, what problem was this of yours?”

 

“My town.”

 

I thought, you asshole. Just a half hour ago you were trying to sell me pussy, sold me food and feed for my horse, and rented me a shovel and a lantern. His problem was simple, I had stopped him from slapping his property around, and now that he had my money, he was getting even. Or, from my way of lookin’ at it, more than even.”

 

“All right, gentleman,” I said. “I’ll take my dead man and go.”

 

“That there jacket,” one of the men said, and my heart sank, “that’s a Yankee soldier jacket.”

 

“I was in the army, not the war,” I said. “I didn’t shoot at no Southerners.”

 

“You still got on a Yankee jacket.”

 

“I was chasin’ Indians,” I said, figurin’ most of them wouldn’t care for Indians either, and that might put me on their side a bit.”

 

“You and them ain’t got a whole lot of difference, except you can pick cotton and sing a spiritual.”

 

“That ought to be a mark in my favor,” I said.

 

They didn’t think that was funny, and it didn’t do any endearing.

 

“Shootin’ a nigger ain’t half the fun as lynchin’ one,” one of the charming townspeople said.

 

I pulled my revolver quick like and shot the closest man carryin’ a shotgun, shot him right between the eyes, and then I turned and shot the other shot gunner in the side of the head, and just to make me happy, I shot the Chinaman in the chest. Bullets whizzed around me, but them fellas was already backin’ down the hill. I’d learned a long time ago, you can’t out shoot eight determined and brave people fair, but you can outshoot eight cowards if you get right at it and don’t stop. You can’t hesitate. You got to be, as I learned in the army, willin’.

 

I ran to the edge of the hill and popped off my last shot, and now shots were comin’ back up the hill at me at a more regular pace. I grabbed my horse and took off, leavin’ Cramps lyin’ there. I rode on up through the cemetery and topped it out and rode down the other side as bullets whizzed around me.

 

I got to a clearin’ and gave the horse a clear path, and it could really run. I had caught me a good one back there on the prairie, and it covered ground like a high wind. I looked back and seen that there were some lanterns waggin’ back there, and then I heard horses comin’, and I bent low over my pony and said, “Run, you bastard,” and run he did.

 

We went like that, full out for a long time, and I knew if I didn’t stop, the horse was gonna keel over, so I pulled up in a stand of wood and got off of him and let him blow a little. I put my hand on his heaving side and came away with it covered in salt from sweat. I heard the sound of their horses, and I hoped they didn’t have no tracker amongst them, and if they did, I tried to figure that the night was on my side. Course, it would stand to reason they’d want to look in the only area where a man might hide, this little patch of woods.

 

I led the horse deeper in the trees, and then I led him up a little rise, which was one of the few I’d seen in this part of the country, outside of the cemetery. The trees wasn’t like those in East Texas where I’d come from. They were bony lookin’ and there was just this little patch standing.

 

I got the Sharps and the Winchester off the horse and took my saddle bag off of it, and throwed it over my shoulder. I led the horse down amongst the thickets thickest part of the trees and looped the reins over a limb and went back to where I could see good and lay down with the Sharps. I opened the saddle bag and felt around in there for a load and opened the breech on the Sharps and slid in a round and took a deep breath and waited. They came riding up, pausing at the patch of trees, having a pretty good guess I was in there.

 

They was in range, though they didn’t know it, not figurin’ on me havin’ the Sharps, and they was clutched up good. A bunch had joined them from the town, and I counted twelve. Not a very smart twelve, way they was jammed up like that, but twelve none the less, and there wasn’t no surprise goin’ now. They had me treed like a possum.

 

After a moment, I seen one horse separate from the others, and the rider on it was sitting straight up in the saddle, stiff. He come on out away from the others and there didn’t seem to be a thing cautious or worried about him.

 

As he closed in, I took a bead on him, and in the moonlight, as he neared, I noted he was a colored fella, and I figured they had grabbed some swamper in town and brought him with them, thinkin’ he’d talk me into givin’ myself up, which he couldn’t. I knew how it would end if they got their hands on me, and me puttin’ a bullet in my own head was better than that.

 

Then I seen somethin’ else. It was Cramps. He was tied up on his horse, an stick or somethin’ worked into the back of the saddle, and he was bound up good so he wouldn’t fall off. He had his sombrero perched on his head.

 

I lowered the rifle and seen that the crowd of horses behind Cramp was spreadin’ out a bit. I was about to put a bead on one of them, when a white man rode out and said, “You don’t come back, nigger. Stay out of our town, hear? We’re gonna give you this one so you don’t come back.”

 

Well, now, I got to admit, I wasn’t plannin’ on goin’ back for Cramps no how. I had tried to do my good deed and it hadn’t worked out, so I figured the smartest thing I could do was wish him the best and ride like hell. But now, here he was. And there they were.

 

The horse with Cramp on it ambled right into the woods, and come up toward me like it was glad to see me. I stood up and got hold of its reins and led it behind me and tied it off on a limb and went back and lay down. I watched the white folks for awhile.

 

“You don’t come back,” the fella who’d spoken before said, and they all turned and rode back toward town.

 

I didn’t believe they’d given up on me anymore than they’d given up on breathin’.

 

#

 

*

 

 

 

Way I had it reckoned, was they was gonna slow me down by givin’ me Cramps to worry about, and then when they thought I figured they was gone, they was gonna get me. I knew they was worried about me, cause they had had no idea I could shoot like I could until that moment on the hill when I killed a few of them, and their snotty Chinaman too. So now, caution had set in. They were probably waiting out there until I felt safer, or got so hungry and thirsty, I had to leave out of the grove, then they was gonna spring on me like a tick on a nut sack. If I waited until daylight I could see them better, but, of course, they could see me better too, so I didn’t think that was such a sterlin’ plan.

 

I lay there and listened and was certain I could hear them ridin’ in different directions, and that convinced me I was right about that they had in mind. They was gonna surround me and wait until they got their chance to shoot more holes in me than a flour sieve.

 

I lay there with the Sharps and strained my thinkin, and then I come up with a plan. I reloaded my revolver and went and pulled Cramps into the thickest of the trees, and there in the dark I cut him loose from that pole they had fixed up to the back of the saddle by lacin’ a lariat through it, and pulled him off the horse.

 

Cramp stunk like a well used outhouse and his face was startin’ to wither. I put his sombrero on my head, pulled off his jacket and tossed mine across his horse. I got my guns and the things I wanted from my saddle bags, packed them up, climbed on his horse and rested my back against that pole they had tied up, put my Winchester and the Sharps across my lap, tuckin’ them as close as possible, and then I clucked softly to the horse and left the other one tied back there in the trees. I had a moment of worrying about the horse, him tied and all, but I figured they’d eventually come in here after me if I managed to get away, and they’d take the horse. Thing was, though I gave the nag a thought, I was more worried about my ass than his. I tried to sit good and solid and hope anyone seein’ me would think I was just that dead fella on a pony, tied to a post.

 

I pretty much let the horse go how he intended, except I had hold of the reins and was ready to snap them into play if a reason come up. I hadn’t gone far when I seen that there were a couple of white fellas, about twenty feet apart, sittin’ their horses, rifles at the ready. It was all I could do to play my part. One of the white fellas said. “There’s the dead nigger. That other coon didn’t want him no how.”

 

Then the other one said somethin’ that made my butt hole grab at the saddle.

 

“Let’s see we can shoot that hat off of him.”

 

That gave me pause.

 

The other one said, “Naw, we got to be quiet,” even though they was about as quiet as two badgers wrestlin’ in a hole.

 

The horse I was ridin’ went between them, and it was all I could do not to put my heels to that nag and ride like hell, but I stuck to my plan. I rode right on through and nobody shot at me.

When I was out of their range, about twenty minutes, I figure, I took the reins and gave the horse a little nudge, so that he’d move out faster but not take to runnin’. I went on like that for awhile, and when I was clear enough, I put my heels to the horse and rode right on out of there, kind of gigglin’ to myself and feelin’ smarter than a college fella. I figured sometime come mornin’, they might even get brave enough to go up there and find Cramps takin’ his long nap, the other horse tied and waitin’.

#

*

 

 

The horse I had wasn’t up to snuff, and pretty soon it was limpin’. They probably knowed that was the case when they tied Cramp on it. I got off and took the reins and led it and tried to figure on a new plan. The plains out there went on and on, and pretty soon I’d have to slow down more for the horse, and maybe shoot it and eat some of it, but then I’d be on foot with miles in front of me.

I stopped leading the horse, bent down and looked at its foot. He wasn’t in bad shape, but he wasn’t in good ridin’ shape either. I found a wash and led him down in there, and with the reins wrapped around my hand, I lay down and slept.

It was high noon when I awoke, and hotter than a rabid dog’s breath. I walked the horse out of the draw, and then I did the only thing I could think to do. I started leadin’ the horse back toward Hide and Horns, takin’ the long way around.

#

*

 

 

It was night when I come up on the town. I could see it laid out down there and there were lights from lanterns and it looked even bleaker to me now than it had at first.

I went on down there, coming up the back way, where the Chinaman Chinamen were gathered. I found a little scrub bush and I tied the horse up there so he wouldn’t wander into town, and then I got my saddle and guns and such, and threw the saddle bag over my shoulder and toted the saddle with the Winchester and the Sharps tied off on it, my free hand near my revolver. I walked on down into the Chinatown part, and veered toward the tent where I had seen the crippled China girl go in to make my food. I strolled in like I had good sense. It was dark in there, and I fumbled around in my pocket lookin’ for a match, until I realized I was wearin’ Cramp’s jacket and mine was tied to the saddle I was carryin’. A light went on in the place suddenly, and I dropped the saddle and the revolver sort of hopped into my hand, but it was a lit match with a China girl face behind it. The cripple. She was down on one knee and her nub, about waist high to me lookin’ up.

 

I said, “I don’t want no trouble.”

 

“Black man,” the cripple said.

 

“That’s me,” I said.

 

Then there was movement, and she was crawlin’ across the floor cause she didn’t have her leg strapped on. She lit a lantern and the room jumped bright, and there were all the Chinese girls. The wash pot girl and the other four, includin’ the cripple.

 

It was a pretty big tent, but it was stuffed with all manner of stuff, includin’ pallets where the girls did the rest of their work, which was haulin’ all the men’s folk’s ashes, as they say.

 

“I need a good horse,” I said, “and I need ya’ll not to say nothin’, cause I’d rather not shoot a woman. You savvy.”

 

“Savvy,” said the most beautiful of the girls, who seemed too small and delicate to be real, and far too young.

 

“I got Yankee dollars to pay for it, and I got my own saddle.”

 

“We go too,” the little one said.

 

“What?”

 

“We go too. Get horse. We take wagon.”

 

“Wagon? Why don’t you just bring a goddman goddamn band and a clutch of clowns. No.”

 

“We get horse, we go too,” the cripple said.

 

“Damn,” I said. “Listen. Tell you what. You get me a horse and I’ll ride out, and then you bring the wagon along, and I’ll be waitin’ on you. Riders don’t come with you, and I end up havin’ to shoot it out, then I’ll travel with you until I can get you to another town. Course, what’s the difference between there and here?”

 

“We go back to China,” said the cripple. I had come to realize the other two girls didn’t speak enough English to even understand what I was sayin’. The cripple was the valedictorian of their class.

 

“Got news for you ladies, it’s a long ride to the Pacific, and I don’t think you can sail that wagon across.”

 

“Get to San Francisco,” the cripple said. “Figure from there.”

 

“You know San Francisco?”

 

“We come there,” the cripple said. “Think we have Chinese husbands. Big trick. We have to do big fuckin’. Not let us go. I try to go. Man shoot leg off with a shotgun, knock out a tooth.”

 

I thought, damn, a leg ain’t enough, he had to have a tooth too.

 

I sighed. “All right. I’ll go back to what I said. I’m in a tough spot here, and you may think I’ll ride away and leave you, but I try to keep my word unless there just ain’t no way it can be kept. I can get out of town easier by myself, and then you can bring the wagon. But how you gonna do that? What’s the excuse?”

 

It took them awhile to process that, talkin’ to each other in Chinese, and I had to tell it different a couple times before they understood me. But it come down to me gettin’ a horse, and them waitin’ until daylight and sayin’ they had to go out to the prairie to gather up dried buffalo shit for fires. Buffalo shit will burn pretty good, it’s dried a fair amount, but it has one draw backdrawback. It smells like burning buffalo shit. Still, it’ll keep a person warm.

 

Then again, I reckon I didn’t set out to tell you this story so you could know how to warm yourself and cook with dried buffalo plops.

 

“You think they’ll believe you?” I asked.

 

“We do all time,” the cripple said.

 

“All right,” I said. “That’ll do. Just don’t try and trick me, cause I won’t like it.”

 

“No trick,” she said.

 

#

 

*

 

 

 

They got me a good horse, and I got rid of Cramp’s jacket and put on a brown shirt the girls gave me. I put my saddle on the horse, and took my guns and rode on out. I went way out, like I told them, givin’ them a kind of guide to where I planned to go.

 

I wasn’t an entirely trustin’ soul, so I actually went a little farther east than I told them, found a place where I could sit a horse down in a draw and see up over the lip of it. That way I could make sure they didn’t send someone else out to get me for some payment.

 

It got along mornin’, and I had doseddozed on the ground with the reins of the horse clutched in my fist, and when I awoke it was already turnin’ off hotter than a stove fire.

 

I heard hooves movin’ in my direction, and I got up and looked between that little gap in the draw and seen it was the bunch that had ridden out after me, and they was leadin’ the horse I had left, and they had Cramp’s body tied behind it with a long rope bound to his ankles, and they was draggin’ him along face down.

 

At first I thought the China girls had done me in, and that this bunch was lookin’ for me, and then I got it figured right. They was just now comin’ in, finally snoopin’ out that I had snuck off on them in the night, disguised as Cramp. I counted them. There was twelve.

 

Now, I tell you, I try to be practical, but lookin’ out there and seein’ Cramp being dragged along that, even though I didn’t know him even a little, made my blood boil. I knew all I had to do was let them ride out of sight, back to town, then I could either wait on the China girls or not. It was the way to go, and the truth of the matter was, Cramp wasn’t any of my business and I didn’t know what he’d done to get folks mad at him in the first place, but I knew it didn’t take much when you was a colored man. It could be lookin’ at a white woman, or cuttin’ a surprise fart in the street, and that’s all it took for you to be thought of as uppity, and if there’s one thing a lot of white folks can’t tolerate, it’s an uppity nigger. We was supposed to know our place, and I was thinkin’ on all of this, and get madder and madder, and most of my common sense began to leak out of my head like water. Without realizin’ what I was doin’, I got on my horse and put the reins in my teeth, put the Sharps under one arm and the Winchester under the other.

 

Now, they’ll tell you can’t hit shit shootin’ like that, and I’ll tell you right off, that’s mostly true, but most shooters ain’t me. I’ve gotten so good with a gun I can shoot right smart with any kind of weapon under almost any kind of condition. That don’t mean I don’t miss, but I hit a lot too, and if I got a still shot, I can knock the dick of a horse fly.

 

I rode out and dug my heels into the horse, went to ridin’ right at them, takin’ them from the side. There was twelve of them, but they didn’t’ see me until my guns barked, and the first shot with the Sharps hit one of their horses, which was an accident, I might add, and the horse went down, throwing him. I dropped the Sharps, since it just had that one load, flipped the Winchester into my right hand, and took to firin’. With four shots I killed three. They started poppin’ off shots then, the ones that had figured out what was happenin’, and by then I had come in amongst them. I twisted my head, and with those reins in my teeth, I made my horse twirl, and using both hands on that Winchester, I fired as fast as I could, and four more was down, and one horse was limpin’ off with a bullet in his head, another unintentional, I might add.

 

I fired the Winchester until it was empty, and then I rode up on one of them that had fired six shots off and hadn’t hit me or even come near me. He looked like he was about to scream with fear and he was snappin’ the empty revolver like bullets might suddenly appear in the chambers. I swung the empty rifle and clipped him off his horse. I wheeled, and then there was a barrage of shots, and my horse went down and I went to rollin’. When I come up, I had my revolver in my hand, and I started firing, dropping two more, hittin’ them both as they rode up on me. I fired at the others, not hittin’ anyone else, which meant I was probably tired.

 

The ones that was left bolted and rode off, which was good, cause my revolver was empty.

 

I ran over to my dead horse and got a couple loads for the Sharps out of the saddle bags, and ran back to where I’d dropped the Sharps, scrounged around till I found it. Then I ran got down on a knee and loaded the Sharps and leveled it off.

 

They were far out now, but I took windage with a wet finger, beaded that fifty caliber, called them sonofabitches, and fired. As is often the case, it seemed like a long time before the bullet hit. In fact, I was already startin’ to reload, when one of the riders through threw up his hands and went flying off. The other just kept ridin’. He was way out there, but I had the Sharps ready, and I aimed high to let the bullet drop. I fired. I got him somewhere near the back of the head and he fell off, his horse still runnin’.

 

I know all this makes me sound a mite god like, but, true story. No lie. I killed everyone of them sonofabitches. It made me wonder how I’d managed to let one of them that had come up on me with Cramp get away. But, hell, even the gods nod.

 

But the gods don’t bleed. I did. I had been hit. Didn’t know it right off, but I started hurtin’, and looked down at my side and seen I was bleedin’. I lay down on the ground suddenly, and closed my eyes and the sun didn’t feel all that warm anymore.

 

#

 

*

 

 

 

“You not dead,” the crippled China girl said.

 

“No?” I said. “I feel dead, and maybe buried, but I still seem to be among the livin’ Chinese.”

 

I was lyin’ under a wagon and the cripple was down there with me. I tried to sit up, but couldn’t. She said, “No. Sit. Stay.”

 

I had a dog I talked to like that. I felt my side. It was bandaged up.

 

“We got to go,” I said. “They’ll be after me.”

 

“You all shot up,” the cripple said.

 

“That I am,” I said.

 

“Rest a day. Have chop suey. Pussy. Feel better.” 
“I’m sure. But that rest a day part, not such a good idea.”

 

I lay for awhile anyway, not having the strength to do much else. I probably laid there much longer than I thought, but finally I woke up and crawled out from under the wagon. The other Chinese girls had pulled a tarp over the frame of the wagon, and made a kind of traveling tent out of it. They had two horses tied on the back. One of the girls was missin’. I asked the cripple about that.

 

“Washie girl. She stay,” said the cripple. “She make good money washie clothes.”

 

I managed to walk around and gather up my goods, saddle and saddle bags and weapons, and found the horse that had been draggin’ Cramp. I cut the old boy loose and looked at him. He had asked me not to bury him out in the lonesome, but the thing was, he was lookin’ pretty ripe, and I come to the conclusion I had done my best, and he wouldn’t know the prairie from a place under a church pew. The girls helped me dig a hole, as they had shovels and all manner of equipment in the wagon, and I wrapped him in a blanket and put him down.

 

I was bleeding pretty good by the time I quit, and I had been wrong about them knife wounds being all healed up. A couple of them was leakin’. I said, “We got to get movin.”

 

As we walked away, I looked back at Cramp’s grave, said, “Sorry, Cramp. I done my best. It beats bein’ dragged around till your hide comes off.”

 

I climbed in the back of the wagon and lay down and slept while the little China girl who looked about twelve years old drove. In the back, the cripple tended me, and the other two looked on. We rode on through the day and into the night, the wagon bumpin’ along, those two horses tied to the back of it, trottin’ to keep up, and finally we stopped near a little run of creek, and the girls got out and made a fire from some dried buffalo shit. They fixed up some food, which was pretty good and had a lot of hot peppers in it. I didn’t ask what it was, cause I couldn’t identify the meat and figured I might not want to know.

Later that night, the cripple showed me how she could move around under me good as a two legged girl, and then I had to show all of them that my pecker was black and the color didn’t come off in their little nests. I showed that to all of them to be polite, and to prove I wasn’t showin’ no favortisimfavoritism, even though I was wounded good and bleedin’. A man has to have some priorities, I always say, and if a bunch of Chinese girls beg to see your dick, you should be willin’ to show it to them.

Now, them townsfolk had to have figured out their men weren’t comin’ back, and in time I’m sure they found them. Maybe they sent someone out after us. But if they did, we never seen them. Jumpin’ ahead a bit, I should say the story about the gunfight began to spread, and since there wasn’t no one livin’ who’d seen it besides me, I knew the stories I heard about survivors who could tell it like it was, wasn’t true in any kind of way. Thing was, the stories didn’t mention I was colored. I just became a mysterious gunman, and in some of the stories I was a hero, and in others a villain. Cause of that, and some other things happened in my life, there was some dime novels written about me, basing themselves on true events at first, but not afraid to add a lie in when it made the story better, and then later, the stories was just dadgum windies. And though the stories didn’t mention I was colored, they did call the books stories about The Black Rider of The Plains, and named me Deadwood Dick on account of some things happened there in Deadwood, including a shootin’ contest where I shot against Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley. But, again, that there is another story, and though it’s been told a thousand times, ain’t nobody told it right yet. I live long enough I plan to tell it the way it was, just like I’m tellin’ you how this was.

As for me and the China girls, we rode on across that prairie for days, and when we got to the peak of the Texas panhandle, we turned northwest, across Oklahoma toward Colorady, with a plan to go on out to San FrancisoFrancisco so the China girls could catch a boat to China.

Now there’s one more thing that’s kind of interestin’, and goes with this story, and if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’. When we was four or five days out, headin’ up to the tip of the panhandle, we seen a scrawny horse grazin’, and as we bounced the wagon closer, we seen there was a fella with his foot in the stirrup being dragged along, and even from a distance it was easy to see he was deader than a wind wagon investment.

Feelin’ a bit spry, now that my wounds had had a few days to heal, I got out of the wagon and walked over and caught the horse and looked at the dead man. His boot was twisted up good in the stirrup, and he’d been dragged around for days, cause a lot of his skin had come off and ants and such had been at him. His eyes were gone and his lips had started to curl, showin’ his teeth. He had a pretty large hole comin’ out of his shirt on the right side of his breast, and when I seen that, it all tumbled together for me.

Back when I had found Cramp, and had a shoot outshootout with those folks who come to finish him off, one of them had got away. I had taken a shot at him, and figured I’d missed. But I hadn’t. He’d just been able to ride some, and then he’d keeled over and got his foot hung in the stirrup, and his horse had been draggin’ him around for damn near a week.

 

I worked the fella’s foot out of the stirrup and let his leg drop to the ground. Tell you true, just like them other fellas I shot, I didn’t have no urge to bury him and say words over him, cause buryin’ someone I didn’t have no feelin’s for was stupid, and sayin’ words that didn’t seem to do nothin’ but waste my breath, wasn’t exactly appealin’ either. I was glad he was dead, and I left him lyin’ out there on the prairie with the sun on his face and ants in his ears.

 

His horse we took with us and fed grain the gals had in the wagon, and we fattened him up a mite, and sold him and the saddle in Amarillo, before going on up into Oklahoma, and turnin’ west toward Colorady.

 

 

 

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