The fatback that had tasted so good in the beans now left a greasy coating in C.J.’s mouth. He swished cold coffee over his teeth in a hopeless attempt to dissolve the residue.
He’d suffered from eating fatty food before, but the stomachache that threatened to expel his recent meal came from knowledge, not grub.
Three Webster ranch hands had lynched two men and were looking for another. So far, the men were cordial to C.J., even providing him with the irksome food, but there was no doubt they would keep him from leaving.
“You know, Easterly, this is right funny,” Ridge said, using the name C.J. gave them. “When you think on it, you’re in the chute of an Indian rodeo.”
Shorty answered for C.J., “What’re you talkin’ about now?”
Ridge tipped his chair back against the wall. “Matt here says Easterly come from the west with a squaw. Throwin’ that first loop, he looks to be nothin’ more than a feller who likes a different kind of livestock.”
Ridge laughed at his joke, as did Shorty. Matt tightened his belly and pressed his hands against it. “Don’t make me laugh. This ain’t the place fer an accident.”
C.J.’s hope picked up. He had to keep them thinking that way. He’d try to remain calm and act innocent.
The Other Side
“But,” Ridge continued, “Shorty, on the other hand, ain’t no slouch at readin’ signs, and he thinks that mare out there is the one we’ve been trackin’.”
Ridge’s rifle lay across his thighs, and he caressed the stock. “If Easterly had showed up without that squaw, he’d be swingin’ from the same limb as the other guys, just on Shorty’s say-so. But now, we’re waitin’ on the Navajo to look at the tracks to say fer sure.”
He held up an index finger and wiggled it side-to-side. “So there you have it. An Indian may free Easterly, or another Indian might hang him.” He nodded emphatically. “Indian rodeo.”
“Lordy, Ridge,” Matt said. “a man can’t keep up with the way your head thinks. Too bad none of it’s any useful—what the …?”
Imala stood in the door, her head slowly turning to take in the situation.
C.J. believed she saw everyone and everything, down to each adobe brick in the wall. She pointed at Matt. “Sick one, I have medicine.”
Shorty and Ridge were on their feet, but neither moved.
Imala’s appearance spurred C.J.’s stress to a sweaty level where he couldn’t hide the stains under his arms. He thought of running, then chided himself. He couldn’t outrun a bullet. He prayed Imala would keep quiet about how they came to be together.
Imala Takes Over
The maiden seemed to have the same effect on the ranch hands as she did C.J. The three men did nothing but stare as Imala went to the fireplace and dipped a pot into the water bucket. She placed the utensil near the fire and turned her attention to a pouch slung from her left hip.
C.J. wondered if this was her first trip to the cabin. She appeared comfortable and in control.
Imala pulled some green plant stems with tiny leaves from her bag and dropped them into the heated water. She picked up a wooden spoon, looked it over, put it back down, and fixed her gaze on Ridge. “You have a house, but you live in dirt.”
“Well, yeah, see—it ain’t my house,” he said.
A Different Stirrer
Imala pulled out a six-inch, fixed blade knife.
C.J. didn’t see where she got it. It just seemed to appear in her hand. She used it to stir the contents in the pot, wiped the blade against the side of her deerskin dress, and handed the concoction to Matt. “Drink this.”
“What is it?”
Shorty chimed in, “It looks like woundwort tea. Won’t hurt ya, and it’ll probably put a stop to yer green-apple dirties.”
Imala turned to C.J., her knife having disappeared. “We must leave. A big wind is coming.”
Is Imala talking about the effects on Matt, or the weather? Leave a comment now.
Yarrow leaves, or woundwort, has properties used by Native Americans. Check it out.
To read the series, click here for the first post. This will be Tales Old Roy Told. Tap the down arrow in the Archive box to open the list. After Tales Old Roy Told, work upward.
Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
Please thank a veteran. The time to do so is precious.
Want the story to ride into your inbox? Click on the picture or here.