“You’ve got a good camp here, Eb,” C.J. said as he sat down cross-legged. “I’d rode right past it in the dark if you didn’t have that little fire going.”
The prospector nodded, a piece of his hat brim flopping where the stiffening was letting go. “You learn to avoid being seen if you’re going to meander around hostile country. It don’t take a big fire to cook quail.”
He handed a stick to C.J. with a bird on the end. “Here’s one left if you want it.”
“I do,” C.J. said. “Thanks. I’ve been eating jerky forever.”
Eb sipped coffee and eyed C.J. over the rim of the cup. “The brew’s a little weak. Couldn’t give you better—grounds been used too many times.”
“It’s fine; there’s a taste in there.”
Change of Subject
“Are you on the run?”
The question caught C.J. by surprise as he nibbled the last trace of meat from a tiny drumstick. “Me? No … well, kinda, but not from the law. Only from Apaches. Some of ’em may not like my visit to Cibecue.”
“Cibecue? You was right in the middle of ’em?”
Who Are You
Eb squinted his eyes and scanned C.J., Skewy, and the saddle on the ground.
“You don’t look like an Indian Agent. You a gun-runner or likker supplier?”
“No, none of those things. There was a girl …” C.J. waved his hand as if he were shooing a fly. “I don’t want to get into it.”
“No call for askin’, Eb.”
“I was just wonderin’ how much trouble I’m gonna have if they foller your tracks up here.”
The prospector combed his beard with his fingers. “Dang it. I wanna look at a spot er two up the arroyo.”
C.J. waited to see if he would be invited to leave.
Pros And Cons
Eb fiddled with his beard, evidently his way of thinking. Finally, “How hard are they chasin’ you?”
“Not sure. I haven’t seen anyone on the back trail, but I ain’t stopped long to look neither.”
“Would it be the whole tribe or just a jealous mate after you?”
“I shot a man. Does that satisfy you?”
The news didn’t seem to upset Eb as much as C.J. thought it might.
The prospector fit the information into his calculations.
“So, it could be one, some, or none chasin’ yer tail.”
“I suppose. Why?”
“How familiar are you with the country?”
C.J. felt a chill go down his back. “Am I walking into a trap?”
“No, I was thinkin’ you don’t need to be in a big hurry.”
Get To The Point
“What’re you talking about, rock buster? Spit it out!”
Eb patted the air with a dirty hand. “Calm down. Here’s the deal. There’s a spot on a ledge up there that you can’t see in the dark. Actually, you can’t hardly see it in the daylight; a place where you can perch and watch fer trackers. You keep a lookout, and I’ll be free to poke around.”
Thanks, But No Thanks
“I appreciate the quail, Eb. But why should I stay? I told you there could be someone after me.”
“The way I see it, won’t be more than two er so. If Apaches’re on you, you’ll not get away without a whole bunch of stuff in yer favor—which you ain’t got.”
Eb ticked off on his fingers as he named items. “Fresh change of horses, I don’t see a rifle you should have, they know where you’ll have to get water, they can cover more miles a day than you can, and there’s more I ain’t thought of.
But if you take the high point and watch out fer us, I can show you a sneaky way back to a settlement of white folks when I git done.”
“What if they do follow me in here?”
“You’ll be in the best spot to pick ’em off. And, to keep ’em off me too,” Eb said. “All you gotta do is sit there and cast a shadder ’til I wave you off.”
Should C.J. stay or go? Remember to leave your comments below.
Quail as a game bird? You bet. There are quite a few recipes for them. Here’s one.
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