Western Short Story
He was almost as big as his horse, Patchwork, and saddled and riding high, they were a gigantic sight practically clear across the small desert outside Walker’s Hill, Texas. This day of out first introduction, Big Buck was searching for the backside killing of his foreman, Chet Lilly.
He did not have any solid clues about the shooting, but he had a damned good idea about the triggerman, the one and only Harry Kosko, “Been there and done that” might be said of him from inception, his way of doing things, keeping ahead of the law, making amends on his own, often some poor critter in the way of personal justice.
Buck had run across a set of horse tracks that featured a strangely-marked horseshoe that leaped up at his eyes, seeming to lead toward the hills beyond, a good scenario for another
killing, perhaps his or someone following the marked shoe. Buck finally agrees with himself, that the marking was intentional; so was its intention, lure of lures.
Buck had followed tricky men before, those who laid out an easy trail to follow, to a tight twist in a mess of fallen rocks where unwary targets could lose themselves without seeing anybody at all. He patted Patchwork, rubbed his main, said, “Patch, old boy, go slow and easy and let me know what smells new to you, who or what might be hiding from us right now.” He patted him again, spoke in a low whisper, which Patchwork had learned earlier was as good as an alert. “He’s up to something, buddy boy.”
The shot went through the brim of his sombrero, as Buck cleared the saddle and brought Patchwork in close to a chunk of fallen cliff. The shot had come from above, perhaps 70 or 80 feet higher, the echo ringing for seconds among the rock fall. Buck had seen nothing, Patchwork had not smelled the shooter, the echo died.
Buck took a sip from his canteen, then tucked it tightly against the cliff, out of sight; no sense in leaving things about for the shooter. “Looks to me like Kosko’s at it again. He might have run without taking water and food with him, and I’m damned sure not going to leave anything of mine for him.” He patted Patchwork again, the horse steady, at trust, as Buck added, “I’ll sneak around tonight, old boy. Try to shake him loose.”
Patchwork did not move, as Buck added, “He’s going to need water, if nothing else, just like we will. He’s not about to get any of ours, I’ll see to that, so I best try to shake him loose tonight. If he shoots, we have an idea from where.”
The night, without a moon, thickened, crawled onto midnight, with silence like a presence over the whole mountain; no animals howled, no night birds fluttered, Patchwork as silent as if ordered to be so. No sounds came from above. Buck might have closed his eyes for a while; he was not sure, and still nothing from above.
He gave Patchwork a bit of water, took a sip himself, tucked the canteen out of sight. “Be back later, old buddy,” came in a whisper as he slipped away into the night, feeling his way, hand after hand touching rock after rock in an incline against the mountain, his pistols holstered, his boots at command.
The night was silent as he moved, and when he had climbed a dozen feet higher, he paused, picked up a loose stone and flipped it beyond him a couple of dozen feet.
The crash of stone against stone came as loud as a bugle, a shot ringing out from above, a dozen feet to his right, at a higher level, the gun blast like a flare in the thick darkness. He marked the approximate location above him, waited ten minutes, silent as a bug on the lookout for food. When nothing more came, no wild shot seeking him out in turn, he flung another stone and saw the flash of the gun in the same spot. He flung four more stones in the next hour, the shooter not moving from his original spot.
The silence came back. The darkness stayed where it was. No sound came from Patchwork. And Buck worked his way off to his left, still climbing, until he was surely on the same level as Kosko. The eerie, silent, strenuous climb, had tired him. He worried about his breathing being a giveaway, and slowed his ascent to search about his feet, and found a small boulder, sure to cause a reaction if tossed as wanted. It fit, in both hands, with a warm feeling, having lain in the sun for this whole day.
He had to set his feet under him as he swung the boulder in some sense of comfort, before he flung it as hard and as far as he could back along the trail he had come. The boom of boulder on rock was cannon-loud, and brought at least half a dozen shots fired wildly from Kosko.
He waited in that silence and heard Kosko probably loading his pistol or pistols in the darkness, now and then a mutter of a curse, a finger pinched, a surprise in hand, and the mountain mute again.
Big Buck threw more stones and heard no more shots, saw no more gun flashes, Kosko now wise to it all, but Buck knew by that time that he was above Kosko, perhaps a dozen feet and off to the left. He threw a stone down on Kosko, guessing at closeness, and Kosko, in a mad sense of anger and desperation, seemed to empty his guns at total darkness, not caring where the shots went.
Big Buck figured Kosko was out of ammunition, laid himself down to rest, fell asleep for a while, heard Kosko’s horse below him, pictured him dry as a bone, waiting water from his owner. It never came.
Kosko, also dry as a bone, hungry, out of ammo, was easy pickings for Big Buck, who led his prisoner and two horses down off the mountain and directly into Walker’s Hill by noon of that day, his own body aching, but the whole town welcoming him back, nobody ever knowing what the chase had been like, only guessing.