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Authors: Clifton Adams

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A Noose for the Desperado

BOOK: A Noose for the Desperado
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A Noose for the Desperado
Clifton Adams
  • Chapter One
  • Chapter Two
  • Chapter Three
  • Chapter Four
  • Chapter Five
  • Chapter Six
  • Chapter Seven
  • Chapter Eight
  • Chapter Nine
  • Chapter Ten
  • Chapter Eleven
  • Chapter Twelve
  •  

    Copyright 1951 by Clifton Adams

    He came forward slowly, in that curious toe-heel gait that Indians
    have. With a big left hand, he grabbed Marta by the hair and jerked her
    half out of the chair.

    I hit him in the face and pulled Marta behind me.

    “Keep your damn hands off her if you want to go on living,” I said.

    He was surprised. The next thing I knew his gun was coming out of the
    holster.

    I made my grab and didn't bother to aim.

    I didn't hit him. I didn't even come close.

    But I didn't need that first bullet. Just the muzzle blast.

    And the Indian knew it. His mouth flew open as he slammed back under
    the impact, and before he could swing that pistol on me again, he was
    as good as dead.

    Chapter One

    I SCOUTED THE TOWN for two full days before going into it. There
    hadn't been any sign of cavalry, and I figured the law wouldn't be much
    because nobody cared what happened to a few Mexicans. There it stood
    near the foothills of the Huachucas, a few shabby adobe huts and one or
    two frame buildings broiling in the Arizona sun. But to me it looked
    like Abilene, Dodge, and Ellsworth all rolled into one.

    It had been a long trail from Texas, and my horse was sore-footed and
    needed rest and a bellyful of grain. I was beginning to grow a fuzzy
    beard around my chin and upper lip, and I had a second hide of trail
    dust that was beginning to crawl with the hundred different kinds of
    lice that you pick up in the desert. I was ready to take my chances on
    somebody recognizing me, just so I could get a bath and a shave and
    maybe a change of clothes.

    So that was how I came to ride into this little place of Ocotillo, on
    that big black horse that used to belong to my pal Pappy Garret. I had
    Pappy's rifle in the saddle boot and Pappy's guns tied down on my
    thighs. But that was all right. Pappy didn't have any use for them. The
    last time I saw him had been on a lonely hilltop in Texas. He had died
    the way most men like that die sooner or later, I guess, with a
    lawman's bullet in his guts.

    It was around sundown when we hit this place of Ocotillo, and it
    turned out that it was on the fiesta of San Juan's Day. I didn't know
    that at the time, but it was clear that they were having a celebration
    of some kind. The men were all in various stages of drunkenness, some
    of them singing and pounding on heavy guitars. Some of the young bucks
    were dancing with their girls in the dusty street or in the cantinas. A
    fat old priest was grinning at everybody, and the kids were crying and
    shouting and singing and rattling brightly painted gourds. It was
    fiesta, all right. It was like riding out of death into life.

    I pulled my horse up at a watering trough and let him drink while the
    commotion went on all around us. Three girls in bright dresses danced
    around us, giggling. The big black lifted his nose out of the trough
    and spewed water all over them and they ran down the street screaming
    and laughing. Everybody seemed to be having a hell of a time.

    Another girl came up and slapped the black's neck, looking at me.

    “Hello, gringo!” she said.

    “Hello, yourself.”

    “You come to fiesta, eh?” she said. Then she laughed and slapped the
    black again.

    “Is that what it is, fiesta?”

    “Sure, it's fiesta. San Juan's Day.” She laughed again. “Where you
    come from, gringo? Long way, maybe. You plenty dirty.”

    “Maybe,” I said. “Can I find anybody sober enough to give me a shave
    and fix a bath?”

    “Sure, gringo,” she grinned. “You come with me.”

    I had been looking around, not paying much attention to the girl. But
    now I looked at her. She was young, about eighteen or nineteen, but she
    wasn't any kid. Her dark eyes were full of hell, and when she flashed
    her white teeth in a grin you got the idea that she would like to sink
    them into your throat. She wore the usual loud skirt and fancy blouse
    with a lot of needlework on it that Mexicans like to deck themselves
    out in on their holidays.

    “Look!” she yelled. Then she started jumping up and down and laughing
    like a kid.

    Somebody had turned an old mossy-horn loose in the street and
    everybody was scattering and screaming as if a stampede was bearing
    down on them. The old range cow shook its head, bewildered; then some
    kids came up and began prodding it down the street. The yelling and
    screaming kept up until the cow disappeared down at the other end. That
    seemed to be a signal for everybody to have another drink, so all the
    menfolks started crowding into the cantinas.

    “Does that end the fiesta?” I asked.

    “Just beginning,” she said. “At night they go to church and burn
    candles and pray to San Juan that their souls may be saved.” She
    laughed again. “Then they drink some more. Tomorrow they go back to the
    fields and work until next San Juan's Day.”

    “How about that bath and shave?” I said.

    “Sure, gringo. Come with me.”

    I left my horse at the hitching rack, but I took the rifle out of the
    saddle boot. The girl led me between two adobe huts, then through a
    gate in a high adobe wall. The wall completely surrounded a little plot
    at the back of the hut. A dog slept and some chickens scratched under a
    blackjack tree.

    “This is a hell of a place for a barbershop,” I said.

    “No barber,” the girl grinned. “I shave.” She cut the air with her
    hand, as if slicing someone's throat with a razor.

    “No, thanks,” I said.

    She laughed. “No worry, gringo. I fix.”

    She took my arm and led me into the house. The thick adobe walls made
    the room cool, and there was a pleasant smell of wine and garlic. It
    was like walking into another world. There was nothing there to remind
    me of the fiesta, or of the lonesome desert, or Pappy Garret. In this
    house I could even forget myself. I felt a little ridiculous wearing
    two pistols and carrying a rifle.

    “Whose house is this?” I said.

    She stabbed herself with a finger. “My house.” Then she yelled,
    “Papacito!”
    When she got no answer, she shrugged. “Come with me.”

    The house had only two rooms. The first room had a fireplace and a
    charcoal brazier for cooking and a plank table and three leather-bottom
    chairs. In one corner there were some blankets rolled up, and I figured
    that was where Papacito slept when he was home. The other room had a
    mound of clay shaped up against one wall with some blankets on it, and
    that was the bed. A rough plank wardrobe and another leather-bottom
    chair completed the furniture.

    “Wait here,” the girl said.

    She went out and I heard her shaking up the coals in the fireplace,
    and pretty soon she came back lugging a big wooden tub. “For bath,” she
    said. On the next trip she brought a razor and a small piece of yellow
    lye soap. “For shave.”

    I grinned. “I can't complain about the service.”

    “You wait,” she said.

    I was too tired to try to understand why she was going to so much
    trouble. Maybe that's the way Mexicans were. Maybe they liked to wait
    on the gringos. I was beginning to feel easy and comfortable for the
    first time since I had left Texas. I pulled off my boots, sat in the
    chair, and put my feet on the clay bed. I was beginning to like Arizona
    just fine.

    “Say,” I called, “have you got anything to drink?”

    She came in with a crock jug and handed it to me. “Wine,” she said.

    I swigged from the neck and the stuff was sweet and warm as it hit my
    stomach. “Thanks,” I said. Then I had another go at the jug, and that
    was enough. I never took more than two drinks of anything.

    That was partly Pappy Garret's teaching, but mostly it came from
    seeing foothills filled with gunmen who could shoot like forked
    lightning when they were sober, but when they forgot to set the bottle
    down they were just another notch in some ambitious punk's gun butt.

    The girl came in with a crock bowl of hot water. I got up and she put
    the water on the chair and a broken mirror on the wardrobe.

    “Bath before long,” she said, and went back into the other room.

    She had a way of knocking out all the words except the most essential
    ones, but she spoke pretty good English.

    I went over to the wardrobe and inspected my face in the mirror. It
    gave me quite a shock at first, partly because I hadn't seen my face in
    quite a while, and partly because of the dirt and beard and the sunken
    places around the cheeks and eyes. It didn't look like my face at all.

    It didn't look like the face of a kid who still wasn't quite twenty
    years old. The eyes had something to do with it, and the tightness
    around the mouth. I studied those eyes carefully because they reminded
    me of some other eyes I had seen, but I couldn't place them at first.

    They had a quick look about them, even when they weren't moving. They
    didn't seem to focus completely on anything.

    Then I remembered one time when I was just a sprout in Texas. I had
    been hunting and the dogs had jumped a wolf near the arroyo on our
    place, and after a long chase they had cornered him in the bend of a
    dry wash. As I came up to where the dogs were barking I could see the
    wolf snarling and snapping at them, but all the time those eyes of his
    were casting around to find a way to get out of there.

    And he did get out, finally. He was a big gray lobo, as vicious as
    they come. He ripped the throat of one of my dogs and blasted his way
    out and disappeared down the arroyo. But I heard later that another
    pack of dogs caught him and killed him.

    “What's wrong?”

    The girl came in with a kettle of hot water and poured it into the
    tub.

    “Nothing,” I said, and began lathering my face.

    I started to leave my mustache on, thinking that it might keep people
    from recognizing me, but when I got the rest of my face shaved my upper
    lip looked like hell. It was just some scraggly pink fuzz and I
    couldn't fool anybody with that. The girl poured some cold water in the
    tub on top of the hot, and filled it about halfway to the top.

    “Ready,” she said. “Give me clothes.”

    “Nothing doing. I take a bath in private or I don't take one at all.”

    “To wash,” she added.

    These Mexicans must be crazy, I thought. Why anybody would want to
    take a saddle tramp in and take care of him I didn't know. But it was
    all right with me, if that was the way she wanted it.

    “All right,” I said. “You get in the other room and I'll throw them
    through the door.”

    She stood with her hands on her hips, grinning. “Gringos!” But she
    went in the other room and I began to strip off. When I threw the
    things in the other room she picked them up and went outside.

    I must have soaked for an hour or more there in the tub, twisting and
    turning and scrubbing every inch of myself that I could reach. It was
    dark outside, and the only light in the house came from the fireplace
    in the other room.

    “Say,” I called, “are those clothes dry yet?”

    “Pretty soon,” she said. Her voice was so close it made me jump.
    Instinctively, I made a grab for my pistols, which I had put on the
    chair and pulled up beside the tub, but she laughed and I stopped the
    grab in mid-air.

    “Get the hell out of here,” I said.

    She was leaning against the wardrobe laughing at me, and with the red
    light from the fireplace playing on her face. She must have found my
    tobacco and corn-shuck papers in my shirt, because there was a thin
    brown cigarette dangling from one corner of her mouth. That shook me,
    because I had never seen a woman smoke before, except for the fancy
    girls in Abilene or Dodge or one of the other trail towns.

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