LONG RIDE HOME
“Cordossa’s over the rise” he said “Slim quit the games” he said seriously “If you’re figurin’ on playin’ somethin’ to get me… get your own way, it won’t work. I’m tellin’ you this is not the place. Maybe you know for sure about home.”
And Slim swallowed wondering if Jess had finally been thinking hard
“But I know what’s it’s like driftin’.” Jess continued “Some of these towns out here make a real habit of takin’ from any one they think is takin’ or maybe could be takin’. Like a fella on the drift. Just get the horse shod and get goin’ home. Don’t say nothin’. Don’t figure. I knowed a few fellas who got themselves into some trouble in these towns sayin’ howdy. Slim I ain’t jokin’.” He added as Slim watched him contemplating.
“I hear you, I heard you all the way from Tumavaca” Slim finally answered. Very certain if he knew Jess and he did, that Jess was not going to leave until he was sure Slim was safely out of Cordossa.
“Cut the games” Jess told Slim as he vaulted back to ride double on his own horse, when it became obvious Slim was not going to hand it over.
They rode into Cordossa a very small town that had about 30 buildings, lined up on a narrow twisting street, one of which was quite a substantial looking jail. The town had a desolate air of a place turning in on itself, something about the shabby pain signs on the stores, some bordered up houses and a couple of hitching posts that were fallen down. In fact the town had such a sinister feel to it that in any other circumstances, Slim would have been more than willing to listen to Jess’s advice and keep his head down and get out as fast as possible.
There were a few people around, but Slim and Jess seemed to be the only ones moving. There were some women resting in a balcony above a general store, some men on a veranda in front of a feed store playing checkers, two men with badges sitting outside the jail whittling.
“Don’t anybody work around here?” Slim asked Jess over his shoulder.
“Just getting’ ready to start” Jess said “Seein’ us comin’ in, fleecin’ folks is their-business” he said. “Slim you just remember you promised you wasn’t gonna pull anything.”
“I remember what I promised” Slim said calmly. “But ain’t we partin’ ways?”
Jess made a muffled growling noise behind him.
They arrived in front of the livery stable that had a sheltered blacksmith’s shop beside it and a coral on the other side. The forge was going but a nuggetty little man wearing a leather apron seemed more interested in talking with a group of men lounging round than working.
Jess slide off the horse in front of the forge. “Just don’t do nothin’ stupid” he told Slim in a whispered voice. “Get the horse done and get out o’ here. No matter what.”
Slim dismounted and shrugged innocently. “You got me here” he said. “Figure we’re gone our separate ways from now.”
“You figure nothin’ like it” snorted Jess. “I’m warnin’ you Slim. Sometimes you just don’t get things your way. I swear you pull anythin’. I ain’t stayin’.”
The man in the blacksmithing apron came over. “Something I can do for you gents” he said eying the led horse.
“Missin’ a shoe” Slim said “didn’t have spare.”
“Take a real fool to go wandering around this country without a spare” said the blacksmith. The blacksmith picked up Slim’s horse’s foot. “Walked him down just getting him here” he said examining the foot. “Good thing you bought him in for a hot shoe” he said “Reckon you’d have lamed him some just jammin’ a cold one on.” He examined the hoof again and made some tutting noises “Starting to crack. Heels are kinda contracted anyway. I can fix it though.”
“There is nothin’ wrong with his heels” Slim said. “Shoe ‘im myself and I know what I’m doin’.”
“Shut up” said Jess digging him in the ribs.
“Awful wore down” said the blacksmith “See for yourself.”
“I told you to keep on the soft going” Slim snapped at Jess.
“You was the one ridin’ most of the way” Jess replied between his teeth.
“You did the damage” Slim said.
“Shut up” said Jess.
“Thought you had some place to go” said Slim nastily “Why you still hangin’ around?”
The group of onlookers around the forge, all sat up looking from Slim to Jess with interest.
“Don’t start up” Jess said through his teeth. He took his horse’s reins, and looked as if he was about to mount.
“That’ll be $5 mista” the blacksmith said to Slim.
Slim glanced at Jess who was giving every indication he was about to mount and ride away. He turned back to the blacksmith. “What” roared Slim. “$5 to put a shoe on a horse. Ten minutes work.”
The blacksmith looked at Slim, winking at the onlookers “Horse needs hot shoeing.”
Slim was watching Jess who to his satisfaction stopped mid mount and came back to the ground leant slightly against his horse before slowly turning around.
“You gonna start” ain’t ya” he said to Slim. “You listenin’ to anything I said.”
“Sure have, every word. So you know what I’m gonna do” Slim said smiling maliciously.
Jess snorted viciously to the amusement of the spectators, then with some deliberation went over to lean back against the corral fence his hat pulled low over the eyes, standing away from the assorted group of onlookers who were gathering closer about the forge ready to enjoy the show.
“Tell you what I ain’t gonna do” said Slim watching Jess. “What I ain’t gonna do is pay $5 for maybe 15 minutes work.”
“You ever in your life figure you ain’t gonna get your own way” Jess said without looking up. “ You son of a ….”
“Watch it” said Slim.
“Pay the man $5” Jess said “and get goin’.”
“You comin’?” Slim asked.
“No” said Jess digging his heels in.
“Then I ain”t goin’. ” said Slim. “An’ I ain’t payin’ $5.”
The blacksmith winked at his supporters. “What it’ll it be?” he asked.
“We all got problems Mista “ Slim said. “Goin’ rate for a workin’ cowhand is $1 a day. You rob banks in your spare time?”
“I got costs” the blacksmith drawled. “Got to get them coals burnt down, and the tools and import that steel all the way from Denver. You know the cost of blacksmithin’ apron. And I gotta put something aside in case I get hurt. Why last year danged if I didn’t get kicked by some old mule and couldn’t work for near two weeks an…”
“Just pay the man the $5 Mr Sherman” Jess interrupted. “An’ get on the horse and go back to Wyomin’.”
“No” said Slim.” Slim said stubborn. “I’ll do it myself.”
“Sure” said the blacksmith “$2 for usin’ the tools and $2 for the shoe, $3 for renting the forge.”
“What” roared Slim.
Jess ground his teeth. “Well Mista Sherman suh, why don’t you just go break somethin’ in that big bank roll you carryin’ and pay the man the $5.” Jess pushed. “An’ go back to your nice big ranch in Wyomin’ and stop bein’ a fool. I know what you’re tryin’ to do and’ it won’t work.?”
“Workin’ pretty good so far” Slim said to Jess who responded by pulling his hat down harder. “Score for you Jess,” Slim thought “that takes the drifter name away.”
The group of spectators eyes lit up at the thought of the bank role.
“You think it’s so reasonable you pay him” Slim smirked. “Figurin’ what you owe me.”
“Score for me” thought Slim.
“I’m goin’.” said Jess gathering reins over his horse’s neck
‘I’m stayin’.” said Slim.
They stared each other down.
“You want me to call the sheriff” said the blacksmith.
“What for, you haven’t done anything yet.” Slim snarled.
“Questionin’ a man’s good name, don’t go well in this down mista” said the blacksmith winking at the onlookers.
“Go get him” said Slim watching Jess.
Jess took a deep breath then looking away clearly recognising his best option was to get Slim out of the town. He dug deep into his pants pocket eventually pulling out an assortment of coins and counted out the five dollars, before shoving the rest back in the pocket.
“Score for me” thought Slim. He watched Jess pay “I’m goin’ to get a drink.” he said.
Jess grabbed his shoulder. “You listen’ to me Mr Sherman, maybe we jus’ wait here and get the horse shod and be on our way” Jess said in a patient determined voice. “I told you about keepin’ goin’.” he said
“I listened” Slim said shaking Jess’s hand off his shoulder. “and I’m gettin’ a drink”. He strode away toward where he could see a sign with saloon written on it, leaving an exasperated Jess behind him.
The blacksmith took the money “That’s one mean tempered son of … Wyomin’ rancher you say?” he asked Jess
“Young fella like that and mean as …” said one of the bystanders. “You wonder what makes a young fella that mean.”
“Inherited the ranch” Jess said, loud enough for Slim to hear “ makes a fella feel real entitled inheritin’ a place.”
“Score two for you Jess” thought Slim, not moving so far away that he could not hear what was happening. “Figure they won’t be so quick on someone who is somebody do you?.”
“Yeah” said another bystander. “Them inherited fellas sure think they is somebody. Work for him do you sonny?”
“I’m debatin’.” said Jess and Slim still in hearing range stopped.
“Dollar a day workin’ for someone mean as that” said another bystander “Couldn’t stomach a fella like that myself.”
“Takes some doin’.” Jess agreed “16 hours a day, nothing but warmed over mulligan stew for supper and preachin’ every Sunday. Goes off fishin’ after lambastin’ everyone else for maybe takin’ a minute to breath” said Jess enjoying himself.
“Them inherited fella sure are entitled” said bystander. “Once they want somethin’ their way cain’t convince them noway they won’t get it.”
“Yeah so I’m figurin’.” said Jess watching as Slim amused strode away. “Get the horse shod” he ordered. “I’ll go get him out of the bar and we’ll be on our way.”
Slim slowed down enough to make sure an increasingly angry and frustrated Jess was following. Slim was congratulating himself. Considering Jess had started riding away that morning and they had turned south, things were turning out pretty well.
Inside the saloon, which may have started out quite grand but was now a shabby place with peeling paint and splintered furniture, Slim ordered a drink, making a big fuss about what he wanted. The bar man, a table full of gamblers and a couple of girls, a buxom not very natural blond and a surly looking brunette already at work, watched the show. Slim fussed about the whisky, made some remarks about it looking watered and the cost.
A couple of the onlookers from the blacksmith’s forge came in.
“One of them rich ranchers from up north” an onlooker explained to the barman. “One of them inherited guys.”
The two girls watching the poker game both looked up interested. The taller of the two, the buxom and decidedly not natural blond, who had quite an air about her, narrowed her eyes suggestively and smiled at Slim. “Hey handsome” she called across the room.
Slim raised his eyebrows and smiled at her, as Jess walked up beside him and slapped his hands on the bar hard “You havin’ fun?” he asked Slim nastily.
“You gonna pay mista” demanded the bar man getting nasty.
“You know what they charge for a drink in this town?” Slim asked Jess.
“About 5 times what it’s worth” Jess said. “Pay for the drink and lets go Mr Sherman” he ordered.
“Don’t reckon I got that much change on me” Slim said feeling in his pockets.
Jess snarled “Slim I’m warnin’ you” he said “ It ain’t gonna work.”
“Doin’ pretty good so far” Slim said happily.
“You gonna pay for that drink’?” the bar man demanded starting to reach below the bar.
“Ain’t got that much change on me” Slim said watching Jess.
Jess snarled furiously then dug in his pants pocket and slammed some of his rapidly diminishing coins on the bar.
He tried grabbing Slim’s shoulder to pull him away. But Slim resisted, picking up his drink and wandering across to the table where the gambling were leisurely playing. As he stood there the blond girl moved around the table to stand beside him, arching suggestively in his direction. Slim could hear Jess’s teeth grinding even though he was some distance from the bar. He smiled at the girl.
One of the bystanders from the blacksmith who had followed Jess over to keep watching the show was standing at the bar beside Jess. He called out to Slim. “A rich rancher ought buy the fellow who works for him a drink mista” he commented to the bar at large.
“Gets a fair wage and keep” Slim called back. “He can buy his own”
“You don’t know nothin’ about lookin’ after a fella who works for you mista” the bystander said to Slim and there were various snorts of derision from interested parties in the saloon.
Jess looked at Slim and bit his lip.
“Here mista the drink’s on me” the onlooker said to Jess “Any fella working for a piece like that can do with a free drink. Them inherited guys deserve everythin’ comin’ to them” said the bystander nodding toward the blond woman, who by this time was holding on to Slim’s arm and draping herself against him.
Jess groaned. He accepted the drink and went over to Slim, who was watching the game. He grabbed hold of Slim’s jacket trying to pull him into moving.
“You know that game is crooked” Slim whispered.
“I know” said Jess pulling at his arm “Let’s go.”
One of the players stood up. “Want to play mista, fella who inherited a ranch sure can afford to play a little poker.”
“No he can’t” said Jess quickly “Drought and all.”
Slim smiled “Maybe” he drawled.
“Shut up” said Jess.
“How big is that ranch?” asked the girl in a breathy voice.
“Miss it if ya took a short cut” said Jess nastily “Are you leavin’?” he demanded trying to prod Slim into moving.
“You comin’ home?” Slim asked.
“No” said Jess.
“I ain’t leavin” said Slim.
Jess raised his eyes.
“Sure you don’t want to join in mista?” one of the gamblers asked very friendly.
“No he don’t” snapped Jess.
The blond girl leaned in on Slim “Hey handsome” she said to Slim who smirked. “Your ….partner surely wants to stop you having fun.”
“My….partner is a fool” Slim said. “Thinks havin’ a little fun could get me into trouble.”
“Want to prove him wrong?” She asked slyly looking Slim up and down and licking her lips.
“Nothin’ would make me happier.” Slim smiled at her. “I thought you was riding off” he said to Jess who was hovering by his side glowering at him. Slim then put his arm round the girl and she moved in even closer.
Jess let out an exasperated breath then wandered back to the bar.
“That friend of yours is sure lookin’ for trouble” the bartender told Jess.
“Let me guess” said Jess kicking at the bar irritably. “She’s the sheriff’s girl.”
“Nope” said the bartender. He grinned smugly as Jess narrowed his eyes. “Deputy’s. But the sheriff‘s his brother. You know your pal is really looking for trouble” he repeated. “You gonna let him?” the bartender asked.
“Fella goes lookin’ hard for something you ought let him find it. Might learn gettin’ what he wants ain’t worth it.” Jess said angrily thumping a fist on the bar. He deliberately turned his back on what Slim was doing and slowly sipped his beer.
Jess finished his beer and slammed the glass on the bar. He looked over to where Slim and the girl were in close communication after moving over to a corner and settling down. Slim noticed Jess take a step to the door, stop, punch a fist into his hand and walk back.
He stalked over to the corner where Slim and the girl were sitting angry ready for action. “I’m goin’.” he told Slim his voice rasping.
“Then I’m stayin’.” said Slim smiling down at the girl, who licked her lips suggestively.
Jess glanced at the girl and then glowered at Slim “You ain’t so stupid you don’t know she’s playin’ ya. You tryin’ to prove somethin’ about getting’ into trouble?” he demanded. “It’s a game” he said rudely “She’s only after that great big wad o’ dollars you’re carryin’.”
“Somethin’ I need to prove?” Slim asked innocently. “Lady says there ain’t no trouble.” He smiled down at the girl “You ain’t figurin’ on bein’ nice just ‘cause you think I got some money on me are you?” he asked her.
“Me, hey handsome, you know how long is it since I saw a man like you come in this place.” She said archly reaching up to twist the front of his hair in her fingers and Slim sighed happily.
“Hey lady, how long?” Jess demanded ripping his gloves on harder as if he was aching to hit someone.
“Hey Handsome you keep mighty impolite company” the girl said sniffing at Jess. “What’s a little trouble if you have some fun?”
“You’re one smart lady” Slim told her. “What I’ve been tellin’ you” he said to Jess “What’s a little trouble if you have some fun?”
“Are you leavin’?” Jess said through his teeth.
“Are you comin’ back to Wyomin?“ Slim asked.
“No” said Jess.
“Then I ain’t leavin’.” Slim said
“I am” Jess said turning.
“Suit yourself” said Slim turning his attention back to the girl.
“Hey Handsome” said the girl working her hand on Slim’s shirt buttons. “You really inherited a ranch in Wyoming?”
“Yes” said Slim smiling smugly at Jess, who let out his breath in a frustrated sigh.
“Three mule place with the fences fallin’ down” said Jess.
The girl narrowed her eyes.
“On the day you left, you were talkin’ about it bein’ one of the finest ranches in the territory.” Slim mused. “You goin’ to deny it.”
“You know cursed well I was talkin’ about maybe’s” Jess muttered pulling hard at his gloves again.
Slim smiled again knowing he had Jess in a spot and Jess knew it. The girl moved in closer to Slim if that was possible, both hands on his face. “Hey Handsome,” she sighed her voice all whispery “You know I’ve been waiting forever for someone just like you.”
“Forever” Slim said sighing. “You’ve been waitin’ for me forever.”
“She’s been waitin’ since the last fella she suckered got out of jail. Maybe yesterday” snapped Jess. “You think you’ll be spendin’ tonight anywhere but in jail, you’re a fool” he told Slim.
The girl pouted at Slim. “You gonna let him talk like that?” she asked petulantly.
“Thought you were leavin’,” Slim said to Jess.
Jess turned to walk away. Then he came back “If you ain’t the most stubborn, mule headed, … fool I ever laid eyes on.”
“Takes one to know one” said Slim enjoying himself.
“You always let the hired hands talk like that?” The girl asked breathily moving her hand down his shirt.
“I ain’t his hired hand” said Jess “You comin’?” he demanded again trying to pull Slim away by his jacket.
Slim shook himself free. “I ain’t leavin’.” he said. Slim, then he grinned. “Unless you’re figurin on comin’ home. Then I’m leavin’.”
“Aw Handsome you ain’t leavin’ me” whispered the girl.
Slim looked at Jess who punched his fist into his hand.
“Doesn’t look like I’m leavin’.” Slim told the girl as she draped herself closer.
“How long you gonna keep this up?” Jess demanded.
“How long is it goin’ to take before you give in?” asked Slim.
“You’re a fool” said Jess.
“Takes one to know one” said Slim still enjoying himself.
Jess ground his teeth again and stalked away. Slim watched out the corner of his eye as Jess headed for the door. He took a relieved breath as Jess stopped then came back and leant angrily on the bar, digging in his pocket for what must have been getting close to his last coins and bought a beer.
“Hey Handsome” said the girl “He tellin’ the truth when he said you was carryin’ some of that nice cash.”
“Almost all I got” said Slim aware that Jess could hear him.
“Hey Handsome” said the girl, her voice sugary sweet “it sure ain’t often a man like you walks in a place like this. You pleased to meet me” she purred loud enough for the bar to hear.
“Couldn’t have worked out better if I planned it” Slim smiled back at her.
Jess leaning against the bar glowered in Slim’s direction.
“You look like a fella who knows his way around” the barman said “Can’t say the same for your pal.”
“Man’s a cursed fool” Jess said “Stubborn don’t know when to call it quits. Don’t know not everythin’ goes his way. ” He snorted “He knows what he’s doin’.”
“Why would a man who has been warned and warned he’s courtin’ trouble try and prove he’s a fool?” the bar tender asked shaking his head as he watched Slim and the girl in the corner.
“Reckon because he’s tried everythin’ else.” Jess said exasperated.