There's Always a Trail (1984)

BOOK: There's Always a Trail (1984)
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There's Always a Trail (1984)
L'amour, Louis
Published:
2010
There's Always A Trail (1984)<br/>

There's Always A Trail Louis L'amour *

He Sat On A Bale Of Hay Against The Wall Of The Livery Stable And Listened To Them Talk. He Was A Lean, Leather Skinned Man With bleak eyes and a stubble of beard on hi s jaw. He was a stranger in Pagosa, and showed no desire t o get acquainted.

"It's an even bet he's already dead," Hardin said, "ther e would be no reason to keep him alive once they had th e money."

"Dead or alive, it means we're finished! That was all th e money we could beg, borrow, or steal."

"Leeds was killed?" Hardin asked. He was a burly ma n with a hard red face. Now his blue eyes showed worry.

"Then he can't tell us a thing!"

That s just the trouble!" Causey said. We haven t a C
lue !
Salter starts to town from our ranch with our fiftee n thousand dollars and Bill Leeds along as body-guard. Leed s is dead, two shots fired from his gun, and Salter is gone."

It's a cinch Salter didn't take our money," Hardin said , "because he would have shot Leeds down from behind.

Salter knew Leeds was good with a gun, and he'd neve r have taken a chance."

"Jake Salter isn't that sort of man," Bailey protested.

"He's a good man. Dependable."

The stranger in the dusty black hat crossed one kne e over the other. "Anybody trailin' theme' His voice had a harsh, unused sound.

Hardin glanced around, noticing him for the first time.

"There isn't any trail. Whoever done it just dropped o ff '
t he edge of the earth. We hunted for a trail. The body o f Bill Leeds was l y in' on the road to town, and that was al l there was!"

"There's always a trail, but you aren't going to get you r money back if you stand around talkin' about it. Why no t scout around' There's always some sign left."

Hunt where? Hunt asked irritably. A man s got t o have a place to start. There's no trail, I said!"

The stranger's eyes were bored but patient. Slowly, h e got to his feet. "If I'd lost that money, I'd go after it." H
e turned on his heel and started along the street toward th e Star Saloon.

"Wait a minute! Hold on there!" Cass Bailey said. "Hey!

Come back here!"

The man turned and walked slowly back. The other s were looking at Bailey, surprised. "What's your name , friend?" Bailey asked.

"There's places they've said I was right handy, so jus t call me that, Handy."

"All right, Handy. You've done some talking. You said i f that was your money you'd go after it. Well, four thousan d of that money happens to be mine, and it represents ever y head of beef that was fit to sell on the CB range. As o f now, half that money is yours, if you can get it. You los t two thousand dollars in the holdup, so now we'll se e whether you're going to find a trail or not."

Handy stuck his thumbs behind his belt. You said i f you lost that money you were through, finished. Is tha t right?"

"It ain't only me," Bailey said. "We're all through if w e don't get our money back."

"AJI right, Bailey, I like the way you talk. I'll accept tha t two thousand on one consideration. If I get it back it buy s me a full partnership in your CB range."

Hardin jumped up. "Well of all the -!"

Cass Bailey stood, feet apart, hands on his hips, starin g at Handy. Obviously, the man was a rider. There wa s something about his hard assurance that Bailey liked.

"If you can get that money back, you've got yourself a deal."

"Find me a place to sleep," Handy said. "I'll be along i n a few days."

Handy turned away and walked along to the Star Saloo n and ordered a beer. He took a swallow of the beer the n put the glass back on the bar.

Too bad about Leeds," the bartender suggested. H
e was a lean, loose-mouthed man with straw-colored hai r and watery eyes.

"Too bad about Salter, too. Probably they'll kill him.

That will be hard on his family."

"Salter? He's got no family. At least none that anybod y knows of."

"What about his woman'"

"You know about her, huh? From all I hear, Mari a won't do any frettin'. That Maria, she's a case, Maria is.

She sure had ol' Jake danglin'. He was all worked up ove r her. Every time he saw her he, acted like he'd been kicke d in the head."

"Maria
?
Is she over at Cherry Hill?"

"Cherry Hill? You must be thinkin' of somebody else.

There's nobody like Maria! They tell me those Spanish ar e somethin' special. Never knew one, m'self."

Handy finished his beer and strolled outside. Cass Bai l ey was nowhere in sight, but Handy had no soone r appeared on the boardwalk than a storm descended upo n him.

It was five feet, three inches of storm, and shaped t o make disaster inviting. Ann Bailey. Her hair was red, an d there was a sprinkling of freckles across her nose, an d what were probably very lovely lips were drawn into a thin line as her boot heels clackity-clacked down the wal k toward him.

"Listen, you! If you're the one who sold my dad a bill o f goods and got him to give up half his ranch -! Why yo u no-good fish-eatin' crow-bait, I've a notion to knock you r eyes out!
"

"You've already done that, ma'am. But what's the trou b le? Don't you want your money back?"

"Want it back? Of course, I want it back! But you've n o right to talk my old man into any such deal as that!

Besides, what makes you think you can get it back? Unles s you're one of the outlaws who stole it!"

"Do you live on the ranch?" he asked mildly.

"Where else would I live? In a gopher hole?"

"Ain't no tellin', ma'am, although if you did, that gophe r would feel mighty crowded. Still an' all, I can see wher e makin' my home on the CB might be right nice."

He stepped into the street and tightened the cinch o n the evil-eyed buckskin who stood at the rail lookin g unpleasant.

"Ma'am, I like my eggs over, my bacon not quite crisp , and my coffee black and strong. You just be expectin' m e now! '

Handy reined the buckskin around and loped away dow n the street, followed by some language that, while no t profane, certainly made profanity unnecessary.

"Spirit,
he told the buckskin, that's what I like!" Th e buckskin laid back his ears and told himself, 'You just wai t until the next frosty morning, cowhand, and I'll show yo u spirit!'

Hondo could have doubled for Pagosa, except that th e Star Saloon was two doors further along the street and wa s called the Remuda, probably because they played so muc h stud.

The bartender was fat, round, and pink-cheeked. H
e was also, by looks and sound, very definitely an Irishman.

"I'm not one of the fighting Irish," he said, "I'm one of th e loving Irish, and I like the girls when they're fair, fat, an d forty."

"You wouldn't like Maria, then," Handy commented. "I h ear she's slim, dark, and twenty."

"Don't you get any ideas, cowboy. Maria's spoken for.

Her time's taken. Anyway, from a mere sideline observe r I'd guess that twenty was a shade closer to thirty. Bu t she's spoken for."

"I heard about Salter," Handy said.

The bartender's smile was tolerant, the smile of on e who knows. "That's what Salter thinks! Maria is Buc k Rodd's girl. She lets Salter hang around because he buy s her things, and that's all it amounts to.

"Believe me," the bartender took a quick glance aroun d the empty room and lowered his voice, "if she's smart sh e won't try any funny business with Buck Rodd!"

-Heard of him, said Handy, who hadn't , and tha t crowd he runs with."

"You'll be liable to hear more before the day's over, i f you stay in town. Buck rode in last night with that whol e crowd, Shorty Hazel, Wing Mathy, Gan Carrero, an d some other gent."

"That's enough for me," Handy said, finishing his beer.

"I never heard of Maria. I'll stick to blondes when I'm i n Hondo."

The bartender chuckled agreement and Handy wen t outside, where he found a chair and settled down to doz e away what remained of the afternoon.

"The trouble with folks," Handy mused, "is they mak e it hard for themselves. A man leaves more than one kin d of a trail. If you can't find the tracks that shows where h e went you can nearly always back-track him to where h e came from. Then it usually comes down to one of the m 'searches la fammy' deals like that tenderfoot was explainin'
d own at El Paso. If you're huntin' a man, he said, look fo r the woman. It makes sense, it surely does."

Three horsemen fast-walked their horses to the hitchrai l near his own, and swung down. The slim, dark one woul d probably he Carrero, the one with the short leg would b e Wing Mathy, and the one with the hard face and sand colored hair would be Shorty Hazel.

Handy built himself a cigarette, innocently unaware o f the three. The two guns he wore took their attention, bu t he did not look around when one of them muttered some t hing to the others.

Wing Mathy stepped up on the boardwalk. "Hey? Ain'
t you from the Live Oak country?"

"I might be," Handy said, "but I could be from Powde r River or Ruby Hills. So might you, but I ain't askin .

Mathy smiled.
I ain't askin, friend.
It s just that yo u looked familiar."

The three went inside and as the door swung to, Hand y heard Wing say, "I've seen that gent somewhere. I know I h ave!"

Handy looked down at the cigarette. He rarely smoked , and didn't really want this one. It had been something t o keep his fingers busy. He dropped it to the boardwalk , careful it did not go through to the debris below, an d rubbed it out with his boot-toe.

He was on the trail of something, but just what he, was not sure. Right about now Buck Rodd was probably seein g Maria. At least, he might be.

Most people, when they went to chasing outlaws, spen t too much time wearing horses out. He found it muc h more simple to follow the trails from a chair, even thoug h he'd spent the largest part of his life in a saddle.

What had become of Jake Salter? That was the nex t proble m, and just where was the money?

Jake Salter was out of his skull over Maria, and Mari a was Buck Rodd's girl. Jake Salter, trying to impress he r with how big a man he was, might have mentioned carry i ng all that money. She would surely have told Buc k Rodd. There is very little, after all, that is strange abou t human behavior. All the trails were blazed long, long ago.

Handy led his horse to the livery stable. Livery stables , he had discovered, were like barber shops. There wa s always a lot of talk around, and if a man listened he coul d pick up a good deal. He led the buckskin inside, bought i t a night's keep for two bits, and began giving the surprise d horse a rubdown.

The buckskin was a litt l e uncertain as to the prope r reaction to such a procedure. Upon those past occasion s when he had been rubbed down it was after a particularl y grueling time on the trail, but on this day he had don e practically nothing. He was gratified by the rubdown, bu t felt it would only be in character to bite, kick, or act u p somehow. However, even when preoccupied, as he wa s now, Handy rarely gave him opportunities. The buckski n relaxed, but the idea stayed with him.

For two days Handy had idled about the livery stable i n Pagosa before coming here, so he knew that Salter owne d a little spread over on the Seco. The brand was the Laz y S. A few minutes now sufficed to show there was no Laz y S horse in the stable, but he waited, and he listened.

As night settled down he saddled the buckskin agai n and strolled outside. The night was softly dark, the star s hanging so low it seemed a tall man might knock the m down with a stick. Handy sat down on a bench against th e stable wall. A lazy-fingered player plucked a haphazar d tune from a piano in the saloon up the street. Occasionall y the player sang a few bars, a plaintive cow country son g born some centuries ago on the plains of Andalusia, i n far-off Spain. Nothing stirred. Once there was a burst o f laughter from the saloon, and occasionally he could hea r the click of poker chips.'

Down the street a door opened, letting a shaft of lamp l ight into the darkness. A big ryan swaggered out. Th e door closed, and Handy could hear the jingle of spurs an d boot heels on the boardwalk, and then, in the light fro m over the swinging doors of the Reiauda, Handy saw a bi g man enter. He wore a black hat and a black shirt, and hi s handle-bar mustache was sweeping and black . Buck Rodd.

Handy arose and rubbed a finger along the stubble o f beard. It was no way in which to call on a lady. Still...
h e walked down the opposite side of the street from th e saloon and turned in at the gate from which Rodd ha d emerged.

Hesitating to step up on the porch, he walked around t o the side, past the rose bushes that grew near the window.

He could see the woman inside; no longer a girl, but al l woman, Maria looked like someone who knew what sh e wanted and how to get it.

Handy Indian-toed it to the back door and tried th e canvas covered outer door. It opened under his hand; I t was warmer inside, and the air was close. There was a smell of food, and over it, of coffee.

BOOK: There's Always a Trail (1984)
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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