LONG RIDE HOME
Jess stayed at the bar, mostly with his back to Slim, but he seemed to accept the inevitable. He did not even complain too loudly when Slim forced the last of his coins off him to pay for a drink for the girl. When the deputy and sheriff appeared at the saloon door and stalked toward the end of the bar to watch what the girl was doing, Jess glanced at them unconcerned. He merely looked toward where Slim and the girl seemed in close communication, raised his eyes and shook his head at Slim.
Slim mouthed the words “You comin’ home?”
Jess shook his head and Slim shrugged and turned back to the girl.
So when the inevitable happened some minutes later, Jess turned around, rested his elbows on the bar and leant back and like most of the other people in the saloon got ready to watch the show.
The deputy strode over to the corner where Slim and the girl were. He was a big beefy broad shouldered man, with a permanent frown and a mean disposition. He stood in front of them hands on hips and in a mock polite voice asked “This here inherited fella givin’ you trouble m’am?”
The girl immediately wrenched herself free from Slim’s not very resisting arms and started loudly complaining about this rich fella thinking he could take advantage of every working girl who happened to say a polite hello.
Slim stood up to argue the point, and the truth was it did not take much to get Slim going, even if he had not been looking for trouble. The girl, in a not to polished performance, began whining about strangers taking advantage of a friendly disposition. She demanded that the card players support her view that this here rich fella just pulled her away like he was entitled to handle anything around. The card players all carefully stared at their cards but the other girl jumped in to embellish the story. The sheriff moved in to listen to her version and made noises about fellas who figured themselves to be entitled. He frowned, he shook his head. Slim scowled. The deputy added his point of view about decent women not being manhandled by entitled outsiders while the girl whined that she was only interested in one man and arched herself against the deputy and she would never encourage a stranger.
As Jess was fairly certain would happen, Slim lost his temper, mostly for real. The girl was lying, the deputy was a smart ass who knew how to needle, and the sheriff was arrogant.
When Slim started to argue the deputy took a calculated swing, which Slim easily ducked. The deputy tried another swing and Slim hit him so hard he went flying backwards ending up tangled between an empty table and the piano in the corner. The deputy let his breath go in a surprised ooooooooooof but somehow staggered to his feet to go charging in at Slim like a lumbering wounded bull.
“Puts on a good fight for an entitled fella” the barman said to Jess as they watched Slim pushing the damage bill high as he took the deputy apart and a fair part of the saloon as well, while the girl screamed about evil men taking advantage of her .
“She‘s had some practice playin’ the role has she?” Jess asked the barman.
“Quite some” agreed the barman. “You gonna to help your friend?” he asked.
“Cain’t afford to” Jess said as he finished his beer “What’s the goin’ rate around here?” he asked the barman.
“Around 400 I reckon” replied the barman “with damages, probably be a bit higher than usual ‘cause deputy there won’t take kindly to gettin’ bested.” He nodded his approval as Slim slammed the deputy into three townsman enjoying a beer and the fight and they pushed him back toward Slim “Double it if you go to court.”
“Figures” said Jess moving to one side so Slim could get in a really hard punch.
“Entitled inherited fella like that should be able to get that kinda money easy” said the barman.
“You reckon he’d put that kinda money up for me” said Jess sidestepping the flying deputy who crumbled to his knees. “Doin’ okay without help” Jess added.
“Best stay out of it” said the barman.
Jess sighed then winced when the sheriff apparently thought the damage rate was high enough and ended the fight with a pistol over the back of Slim’s neck and he went down to his knees. With Slim on his knees the sheriff helped a battered and bruised deputy to his feet and then the two of them dragged Slim through the door. The people in the saloon watched with interest then realising the show was over for the day went back to their poker game and drinks.
The sheriff and deputy dragged Slim across the street to the jail and through a bolted door which lead to two cells. They threw him with no great care on the floor of the further cell, and slammed the door hard. The sheriff left but the deputy, with a nasty laugh, picked up a bucket of water and threw it over Slim and the narrow hard looking bunk in the cell. Slim yelled at the battered and bruised deputy who threw the water and got some very short shift for his trouble. Then the deputy laughed nastily and left Slim alone.
Slim tossed himself on the wet bunk. It smelled of something he didn’t want to think about. He felt around the back of neck gingerly and nothing seemed to broken. He guessed the sheriff had had plenty of practice in knowing just how hard to hit. Slim felt for any other bruising. Fortunately the deputy was so bull headed and slow he had barely landed a bunch. Any bangs and bruises Slim acquired seemed to be the result of being slammed into furniture.
Still as fights went that one had been pretty successful. He had survived it more or less in one piece and despite the start to the morning, Jess was nowhere near turning west.
In fact Jess was getting so mad and frustrated that it might finally be occurring to him that if he wanted to get Slim home without any further trouble, the only way it was going to happen was if he went back too. Slim hoped right at this point that Jess was bitterly regretting that he had persisted in trying to out stubborn Slim by refusing to go back, given the trouble it was now going to cause him.
Slim put his hand to his head again. It was aching badly. Feeling to make sure the lump wasn’t getting bigger he ruefully admitted to himself that the trip to Tumavaca had been cursed hard work, between the hard riding, getting shot at by strangers, worrying about Jess ….. and knowing he was going to be haunted for a very long time by a vision of beautiful soulless carnal eyes.
Slim hastily pushed the vision away, reminding himself the job was to get Jess home. Lying in the wet cell bunk with an aching head Slim promised himself when he, when they, finally got back to Wyoming, this time he really was going to take that fishing break, and Jess could cursed well stay and do everything for the stage and ranch. He would even make sure that Andy came fishing too just so Jess had to look after all the cursed critters as well. Maybe take Jonsey as well so Jess had to eat his own cooking. Or invite Aunt Ella to stay for a week.
Slim lay on the wet bunk and when the smell got too bad, he stood up and paced the cell a little nervous. It did cross his mind that if he had miscalculated even a little on how Jess would react he was in big trouble. The place looked reasonably easy to bust out, and neither the sheriff nor the deputy seemed to have the guts to remotely protest but if he had to do it without help that compounded the problem.
Slim continued pacing for quite some time until he finally yelled for the sheriff, and when he got no response, he yelled again. He had to keep it up for quite some time before the sheriff, a small prim little man with a nasty beady eye, appeared and threatened to throw another bucket of water. Slim ignored the threat and demanded to know why he was locked up.
The sheriff leaning back against the wall and crossed his arms told him with a smug expression “Let’s see young fella” he drawled “We got disturbing the peace, failin’ to follow lawful direction, assaultin’ a peace officer, damage to private property, assault with intent, assault causin’ bodily harm, insultin’ a lady, …”
Slim snorted and the sheriff allowed himself a slight smile. “Course we ain’t unreasonable in Cordossa” he said. “We know a young fella out for a good time can get carried away” he smirked really hard. “Misunderstand a pretty girl’s intentions.”
Slim snorted even louder.
The sheriff unfolded his arms and stood up straight, his beady eyes even narrower “Young fella, you want out, just cut into that big bank roll of yours” he smirked.
“I don’t have a big bank roll” Slim said honestly.
“Tell it to the judge next week” said the sheriff.
Slim pursued his lips and squashed down an impulse to reach through the bars and punch the smirk off the sheriff’s face. He conceded that Jess was right about south Colorado towns making a living off graft and extortion. They were places where his sense of what was right would get him into some bad trouble.
The sheriff turned around to go and Slim thought he better check they had not found his “big” bank roll. He felt carefully into his pockets. His pen knife was gone so he assumed they had searched him for the roll. He felt frantically into the inside of his vest, fortunately the one and only twenty dollar note was still there.
Slim paced the cell, getting more and more worried about what Jess was doing. Jess had no money so it was not likely he was still drinking in the saloon. He rubbed his head again. He had taken quite a hiding to prove to Jess that he was needed and going back made some sense. If he did not know Jess as well as he thought he did….Slim swallowed hard. But then he did know Jess. Jess would be just mad enough to make him sweat it out for a while.
Slim paced some more. He heard muffled voices in the office on several occasions but it was quite some time later before the sheriff appeared with,to Slim’s relief, Jess behind him.
Jess had left his gun outside and some of Slim’s relief disappeared when he saw just how mad Jess was.
“Head hurtin’ handsome?” Jess asked nastily and the sheriff laughed.
“You come to get me out of here?” Slim asked.
“No” said Jess even more nastily.
“Get him out easy” said the sheriff “You got 400 bucks. You just explain to this here young fella the trouble he’s in” he told Jess “ if he don’t produce it.”
“Workin’ on it” said Jess.
“Got a workin’ telegraph office an’ all” said the sheriff “Telegraph his rich kin folk.”
“I ain’t payin’ 400 dollars” Slim snapped “and you ain’t telegraphin’ anyone” he ordered Jess.
“Shut up” said Jess.
To the sheriff’s amusement Jess stood there silently glowering at Slim and Slim wryly stared back. With a laugh that was almost a sneer the sheriff turned back to his office . “I’ll leave you two …. gentleman to discuss it” he said. “But Judge won’t be around until next week and I can tell you he takes a dim view of entitled fellas insultin’ our women folk. He feels more n’ twice as bad about such doin’s as I do.” And he laughed out loud at his own wit.
Jess stood back leaning against the wall and his expression was like thunder.
The sheriff had barely shut the door before Jess roared “Ya had to do it didn’t ya. everythin’ I said about these towns, and what can happen and you didn’t listen’.
“Every thin’ you said I listened to you real good” Slim replied calmly. “And it was your idea to make out I was somebody. You really think that would keep me from causin’ trouble?” he asked sweetly.
“You tryin’ to prove that you can get into trouble as much as I can?” Jess demanded angrily.
“Tryin’ to prove trouble doesn’t matter” said Slim reasonably. “Can happen to anyone, so there’s no reason not to go back to Wyomin’.”
“ How’s it workin’ so far?” Jess snarled sarcastically.
“Workin’ pretty good” said Slim pleased with himself. “You ain’t ridin’ west.”
“I ain’t ridin’ north neither” Jess snapped. He slapped his hands on his side “You are the most stubborn mule brained cursed fool…”
“You said that before” Slim interrupted. “You gonna bust me out here?”
“If I did you start fussin’ about goin’ back to Wyomin’?” Jess asked.
“Yes” said Slim easily. “That’s the idea. You want me to get home, only way its goin’ to happen is if you come.”
“Then I ain’t bustin’ you out” said Jess slapping his thigh in irritation.
“Fine” said Slim.
They stared each other down.
“Course you could just pay the $400” Jess said even more sarcastically. “Then you’re outta here and goin’ back to Wyomin’ and I ain’t.”
“Wouldn’t pay it if I had it” Slim said “Nothin’ but extortion goin’ on here. So you’re gonna have to bust me out or leave me.”
Jess glowered at him “If you did it all figurin’ somehow I would bust you out and ride back to Wyomin’ you got it wrong, real wrong” Jess said. “You can rot as far as I’m concerned.”
“Don’t figure that at all” said Slim. “Don’t figure I’m wrong” he said. “Don’t figure you got much choice” he told Jess very pleased with himself.
“Ever figure you ain’t always right about everythin’?” Jess demanded. “I could pay the $400 and just let you ride home by yourself.”
“Nope” said Slim. “You don’t have $400.”
“Well you’re wrong this time handsome” Jess sneered “This time you ain’t decidin’ how it goes.”
Slim shrugged. Jess glared. They stared each other down again.
Finally Jess looked away. “You still got that 20 dollars?” he asked punching his palm against the wall.
“Yeah” said Slim wondering if he ought to be grateful there were bars between him and Jess.
“Give it to me” Jess ordered.
Slim started to put his hand in his vest then he stopped suspiciously “You comin’ back to Wyomin’?” he asked .
“No” said Jess.
“I’ll keep the twenty” said Slim calmly.
Jess threw his hand in the air “You stubborn mule headed…”
“You said that” Slim told him then went back to lie on the wet bunk in the cell.
Jess stalked toward the office door. Slim watched him go. Jess stopped, hit the door hard then turned around and stalked back.
“You gonna bust me out?” Slim asked not looking at Jess
“No” said Jess.
“You busted Pete Morgan it of one of these jails” Slim pointed out.
“He was a criminal not a fool” Jess snarled.
“You son of a…” Slim started to say getting annoyed.
“Watch it” Jess interrupted. “Give me the twenty” he ordered.
“No” said Slim still lying on the bunk.
“You wiped me out o’ cash” Jess complained as Slim acknowledged it with a smile. “Don’t figure we’ll be movin’ for a while, unless you’re plannin’ on showin’ some sense. You want to starve them horses?”
Slim frowned then hesitated while Jess glared at him. “Not if you don’t bust me out” he agreed then he slowly put his hands into the inside of his shirt and pulled out the $20. He stood up and handed the note to Jess, who took it, then smiled smugly for a second which instantly made Slim suspicious.
“Be seein’ you around Mr Sherman” Jess smirked and turned on his heel, slamming the corridor door hard.
“Hey” Slim yelled at him but the only response he got was the sheriff roaring at him to shut up.
Slim started to get worried. He had calculated that Jess’s options would be the same as those for Pete Morgan. Leave him there or an easy bust out. And knowing Jess the way he did he was sure it would be bust out and that meant he could get Jess just about home. Jess was not going to leave him stranded nor was he going to leave him with the possibility of a crooked lawman chasing him down. He was certain, fairly positive, if he knew Jess and he did, if he could talk Jess into busting him out he had Jess as good as home in Wyoming.
Slim prowled the cell. He spent a long and restless night worrying where Jess was and what he was doing and half expected with every noise that it was Jess coming back to break him out.
But the only intrusion was the deputy, very late bringing him a plate of mush that made Slim think longingly of Jonsey’s Mulligan stew.
Slim asked him where Jess was and the deputy took smiled maliciously “What did you do? Give him your bank roll?” he asked.
Slim sucked his lip and the deputy openly laughed. “Your pal is over in the saloon losing it all” he said. “Just saw him lose quite a pile out to a fella bluffin’ over a pair of nines. That pal of yours better stick to cow punchin’. He ain’t much of a poker player.”´
Slim groaned. Jess was right, he was trouble. And stubborn and never knowing when he was licked. Anyone else would have just given in and gone home when the girl first made her move. Not Jess, no taking the easy option, he had to stubborn it out. Slim worried all night hoping Jess was not doing what he thought he was doing. And if he was, he worried that Jess was doing it well enough to not get caught. Disturbing the peace may have been a game in Cordossa, cheating at cards would be a near lynching.
Slim barely slept, worrying. He prowled the cell and waited, listening for every noise, listening for gunshots, raised voices, but by late into the next morning no-one not even the lawman had appeared.
Slim had just about worked himself up into deciding Jess had got himself killed and getting ready to the bust out himself the first sign of a lawman when to his relief just before noon, Jess finally appeared. He was walking in front of the sheriff, scruffy unshaven and looking the worse for wear and Slim’s heart went jump that this might have to be a double bust out. Until Jess stood aside as the sheriff opened his cell.
“You can go” the sheriff smirked his beady little eyes glowing. “Your pal here paid the fine.”
“My pal don’t have any money” Slim said.
“Get movin’ unless you want to go before the judge…. Next week….. go for $800” the sheriff snarled.
Jess far from happy, stood back as Slim far from happy went to pick up his hat. The sheriff shrugged and left the cell door open but went into the office.
“Where did you get the money?” Slim demanded furious with relief.
“How you reckon?” Jess said sweetly.
Slim glowered at him
“Had a lucky night at poker” Jess said.
“You told me you never won over two hundred dollars in your life. Before.” Slim snapped.
“I haven’t” Jess answered slowly. “Not when I wasn’t cheatin’ anyways.” he drawled.
“You know how stupid that is” Slim yelled. “Didn’t you spend half the ride from Tumavaca warnin’ me about places like this one. What they do to cheats and fools. You get caught in a town like this, they shoot you soon as look at you.”
“This from a man bellyachin’ because he I didn’t bust him out of jail” Jess said to the wall. “And there was me thinkin’ you hadn’t listened to a word I said.”
“I listened” Slim snarled.
“Trick is not to win so big anyone figures you out for big money. Let ‘em take a few hands, play lucky and careful.” Jess explained.
“What if that sheriff figures it out” “Slim demanded “He wants $400, you win it. It don’t take many brains to work out you was playin’ crooked.”
“Probably has already” Jess conceded “But this way he gets the lot. If he makes a fuss he only gets a cut of the twenty. So shut up and get movin’.” Jess smiled with the satisfaction of someone who had just won the game. Not only poker but out stubborning Slim. “Sometimes Slim you gotta figure things don’t go the way you plan. You play a good hand and you still lose.”
Slim threw his hands in the air “In the name of heaven, of all the stupid, fool headed… you warn me about bein’ careful and then you…” Slim roared “You got trouble printed on your forehead. You’re cursed dangerous.”
“That’s what I been tellin’ you” Jess scowled “You comin’ or you want to go for a court appearance and go for 800 dollars?” he asked scathingly.
“You comin’ back to Wyomin’?” Slim asked.
“No” muttered Jess.
Slim took a deep hard breath. “Guess we wait for the judge and try for the eight hundred” he said going back to sit on the miserable cold bunk.