Clem had pointed at their prisoner and said to C.J., “I’ll leave it up to you, Indian Fighter. Do we let this fellow join up with us, or do we kill him?”
The cowpuncher C.J. thought of as Round Beard turned in his saddle, his hands as high as he could stretch. “Please, Mr. Indian Fighter. I’ll do what you say. You won’t regret signin’ me on. I can show you a line shack where’s there’s grub and a bottle of town whiskey.”
“Hold on,” Clem said. “You tryin’ to get us where your outfit bunks?” He pulled back the hammer of his revolver.
“No! Wait!” Round Beard’s face scrunched up with pleading wrinkles sending C.J. into an unexpected emotion.
Loss of Dignity
No man should have to beg. No man older than C.J. should call him “mister.” Clem was playing with Round Beard’s life and seemed to enjoy the power. The disrespect of God-given life disgusted C.J. “What’s your name?” he asked Round Beard.
Hope and pleading evident in the man’s eyes as he turned almost caused C.J. to look away. “Smitty. Everyone calls me Smitty. I’d be pleased if you would too, Mr. Indian Fighter.”
C.J. started to say his name, or rather initials, but it appeared that any act of kindness would cause Smitty to latch on like a tick. C.J. wasn’t ready to be the recipient of gratitude for saving a life when it shouldn’t be in danger in the first place.
Before the Tables Were Turned
Because Smitty and his pards were considering hanging C.J. only moments before, now wasn’t the time to be overly friendly. He’d keep it on the rough side.
“You ridin’ your own rig, or does it belong to the ranch?”
Smitty gulped. “Harlan Webster. The rancher. Horses, saddles, everything.”
“Get down and stand in front of that tree.”
“Please,” Smitty choked out. He was fresh laundry white under his tan.
“So, you gonna shoot ’im, Indian Fighter?” Clem said. “I didn’t think you’d do it.”
“I ain’t shootin’ nobody. I want him where you can cover him while I gather all the guns. Ammo, too. No sense lettin’ that go to waste.”
An audible puff of air left Smitty as he swung his leg over and down.
What Do I Look Like?
The black taste of disgust settled in the back of C.J.’s mouth. Did Smitty really think he was about to face death? With C.J. as the executioner?
“What’s your plan?” Clem asked as he waved his pistol toward the spot he wanted Smitty.
“Thinkin’ on it, our new ridin’ pardner don’t need a gun just yet. I’m going to collect ’em in the saddlebags.” C.J. couldn’t look anyone in the eye. This was miserable, dirty business taking belongin’s from the dead, but if he didn’t want to be among them, something had to be done.
C.J. scanned the area. There was nothing to make this place stand out, no particular yellowbelly pines or identifying landmarks. The site would stay hidden unless someone stumbled on it.
The trick was to not get in any deeper.
“He can ride Bud’s horse. The ranch horses will find their way home and old Harlan Webster, whoever he is, will think he lost all three hands. They may come lookin’, but they’ll be looking for men on foot.”
Clem pulled his mouth to one side as he pondered the statement. “Not bad.” He swept his gun over the dead men. “By the time they find this bunch, the coyotes and other critters will have ’em chewed beyond recognition. They’ll think all three are their men.” He stood in his stirrups and looked around. “If we don’t rustle any cattle from around here, the rancher won’t know what happened for sure.” Clem slapped his thigh. “You could get to be the brains of this outfit, Indian Fighter. Now, let’s go find that store whiskey.”
C.J.’s covering a shooting. Where will he go from here? Leave your ideas and comments.
Here is a real line camp in northern Arizona. Scroll down to read about it.
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