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Clem raised his tin cup and emptied it in two swallows judging by the number of Adam’s apple bobs. He wiped a sleeve across his mouth and the cup across his belly. He handed the vessel to C.J. “Here you go, Tenderfoot. I’ll fetch the coffee.”
Clem sort of cleaned the drinking rim, but that was all. C.J. studied the dark stains inside the dinged-up cup. Had his stomach not been growling anticipating the warm, aromatic brew, C.J. would have politely declined the offer until he obtained a more sanitary receptacle.
Clem pulled on a leather glove to lift the pot away from the fire. He poured it out in a small stream.
Was he going slow to avoid pouring out the grounds? C.J. assumed so, but as the cup filled, it got so hot he couldn’t hold it. “Wait! Just a minute!” C.J. set it on a rock and shook his burning fingers. He licked the hottest spots to the laughter of the two cowboys.
Too Hot To Handle
“What’s the matter, Tenderfoot?” Bud held his cup up. “Can’t you hold onto a mug?”
He’d been fun-poked. C.J. knew how tin dishes conducted heat, but he assumed Clem would pour fast enough to avoid scalding him. They were pranksters, all right.
C.J. bent to recover the cooling drink and got a twinge in his side. “Ow.” He pressed a hand against the wound and tried again.
Bud seemed to trade his mirth for impatience. “What now? Is the cup too heavy for you?”
Oh, That First Sip
The aroma of fresh coffee in the mountain air replaced the scent of horse perfume in C.J.’s nostrils and overcame his hesitation. He raised the cup and drank a large, burning swig instantly regretting his haste. Forming an O with his lips, C.J. breathed in and out until his palate and lips cooled. The second they recovered, he took another, just a sip this time, and faced Bud. “I took an Apache arrow in my side.”
What’re You Saying?
Clem’s head snapped up and his eyes narrowed. “Anybody can get shot. Where was this? Did you fight ‘em? How many was they?”
“There was just one.”
C.J. stared into the cup. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Bud’s gravelly voice cut deep and sharp enough to plow a furrow. “Apaches could be anywhere. If they’re close by, I want to know.”
C.J. sank to the ground and sat cross-legged. “It was in the hills on the other side of that mining town back there.” He kept his head down and swirled the dark brew.
Clem poured more coffee into the cup heating it up and forcing C.J. to put it down. “Tell us.”
C.J. could remember every detail, but the cowboys didn’t need to hear all of it—just the grizzliest part he tried to forget. “I was off my horse and he came out of the brush and shot me.” A sense of protectiveness filled C.J. He couldn’t mention Esther May’s name around a campfire. “The Apache took after another person with his knife. While he wasn’t looking, I bashed in his head with a rock.”
C.J. grabbed the coffee and gulped. He’d blame the tears on the scalding liquid.
Clem slapped C.J. on the shoulder and said, “We ain’t got a tenderfoot here, Bud. What we’ve got is an Indian fighter.”
Bud rumbled a noise similar to a boulder rolling downhill.
C.J. assumed it was in agreement when Clem said, “Why don’t you ride with us? We’re headed to the Mogollon Rim country.”
Is C.J. better off with or without the cowboys? What do you think? Leave a comment.
This article is a travelogue with a good description of the Rim.
For wildlife on and above the Rim, here is a clickable list of larger animals.
To read the series click on the down arrow in the Archive list, start with Tales Old Roy Told and work up.
Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
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