C.J. was floating in a secluded pool on the Verde River when three officers and four women rode up.
A baby-faced second lieutenant burst into a loud harangue. “Get out of there, soldier. This is a picnic area for officers and guests.”
C.J. kept his head above water and sidled to the bank where he’d left his clothes. He glanced at the intruders to see all three men scowling. Two women had turned their side-saddled horses away, allowing C.J. modesty. The other two watched full-on; one had an ear-to-ear grin.
The ranting second lieutenant added to C.J.’s embarrassment. “Thought you’d have a high-class retreat, did you? I’ll have you mucking out stables for the rest of your enlistment. Now, you get dressed and report here to me!”
The women were still watching, and there was nothing to be done for it. C.J. pulled himself out of the water and disappeared behind a bush. He could hear Baby Face expounding on how C.J. would suffer from this gross infraction of military courtesy.
The heat in C.J.’s face changed from embarrassment to anger. Nobody owned the damn river, much less that twerp who was strutting and putting on a show.
After he jerked his belt tight and made sure his gun was free in the holster, C.J. picked up the bar of lye soap, rounded the bush, and stormed to Baby Face.
Setting It Right
The officer’s jaw dropped as his eyebrows rose. He gulped and said, “A cowboy?”
C.J. grabbed the man’s arm and dragged him out of the saddle. Baby Face landed on his back, and C.J. dropped a knee into the lieutenant’s stomach. The man’s breath left with a gust. He had no wind left to declare his wardenship over a mere soldier.
C.J. shoved the soap into Baby Face’s mouth and was grinding it in when a boot to the side of his head sent him sprawling.
His eyesight spun as if he’d been on a merry-go-round, making it difficult for C.J. to gain his feet. A man with silver bars of a first lieutenant grabbed C.J.’s arms, and in a sideways shifting blur of vision, he saw the third man draw back a fist.
A female voice shouted, “Stop it! Is this how the officers of the Sixth Cavalry conduct themselves?”
The blow didn’t land, but C.J. was still woozy. The clamping arms shoved him away, and C.J. stumbled back toward his dressing spot: a thick stand of burrobrush.
On the other side of the living curtain, he untied Skewy’s reins and tried to mount. He raised his foot and missed the stirrup. It took two more tries before he pulled himself onto the saddle.
The feminine voice came through over grunts and groans as the men tended Baby Face. “This cowboy is hurt. You kicked him pretty hard, Wes. I’m going to take him to Dr. Kingman.”
“Like hell, you are. You can’t go anywhere unescorted.”
“Are you forgetting who I am?”
The man’s voice was softer this time. “Not for a minute, Sarah. And you’re not under special treatment because you’re the Major’s daughter. Even if this wasn’t Apache country, it’s not proper for a single lady to be alone with a man—much less a saddle tramp.”
C.J. rode around the brush to the gathering. Baby Face was at the water’s edge, washing his mouth. The other men and women, all mounted, turned in his direction. C.J. squinted one eye to stop the spinning. “I’ve had better treatment from Indians than you fine people have shown me,” he said. He touched his hat brim and nodded to the nearest lady. “Sorry to ruin your picnic.”
The major’s daughter spurred her horse forward. “C’mon. We’ll go to the post and have Doc Kingman take a look at you. I suspect you’ve got a goose egg under that hat.”
An officer with the butter bars of a second lieutenant rode next to her. “I’m coming, too.”
The woman sighed. “If you must, Wes.” She turned to C.J. “I’m Sarah Winslow, and” she indicated the officer, “this is—”
“Wes Kicker,” C.J. finished for her. “If he’s your intended, you’ve got a hell of a dancing partner.”
C.J. caught Wes’s blush and heard female giggles before heading Skewy back toward Fort McDowell. Now he had two men to watch out for: Lieutenants Kicker and Baby Face.
Should C.J. stay at Fort McDowell or go? Don’t forget to leave your comments.
You would think an encampment in rugged country used as a base against the ferocious Apaches would be named after a remarkable person—right? Here’s how Fort McDowell got its name.
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