Western Short Story
Jehrico knew what he was, and right from his first pick-up, a token-type horseshoe: He was a collector of things tossed aside, and Jehrico assumed that the Indian woman he was looking upon had been thrown aside, like so many of the tossed parts he had retrieved and made something of in his foraging about the old west, which was, indeed, his land of discovery and recovery. In fact, the token-type horseshoe, at his insistence, was made into a Bowie knife by a Mexican blacksmith whose father had fought at the Alamo and came away with stories of Jim Bowie.
Unwittingly he had started his small business with that token-type horseshoe.
As for the Indian maiden, Jehrico made his pronouncement early. “She is the most beautiful maiden I have ever seen, ever been around.” It was Jehrico’s voice coming along a windswept passage in the Randolph Mountain Range. He was not talking about Lupalazo, his wife, or his oldest daughter, Kerradina, a beauty in her own right, and he was not talking to anybody but himself and a piece of the wind that would keep his secret locked in the clouds and the high mass of rock lifting his eyes to the blue sky … at least for the time being.
“I will not buy her if she is possessed now because she must be free in my mind as well as her own mind, but I will trade for her. That is my custom.” The junkman and salvager of the west had not let go of the talismans, the many of them, that brought him luck or the goodness borne in what God designed and what man made and then discarded.
And at the moment his eyes were studying another ghost town he had come across, the dust of the years blowing into the wind, to be grasped, run through the sieve of his mind for what he now called “salvagations.” He had coined his own word for what he accomplished over the years. His friend Collie Sizemore probably had some influence on the coining.
This maiden was part of the old building, for the knotted rope binding her to a beam was thick as her wrist, solidly in place, not eaten by time or vermin of the ghost town, a prisoner of the “knotter” whoever that might be. He had seen no other person and heard no other sound but her moaning.
Surely, though, someone was about, someone who would not let go of this beautiful creature, who had her hog-tied to a beam she could not break down or carry on her back.
In the rear of this decrepit building partially blowing in the wind, part of its dust making the last journey through creation, he’d found her. There was a moan riding an edge of the wind, a human in distress, and Jehrico made his way into and through the shanty-like building on its way to history. Rubble was everywhere, a mess of furniture and various implements, artifacts of a once-livable site, sitting in the last place they had been used, wrecked by time, twist or toss. But every article he spotted worthy of description and identification was slowly sifting through his mind.
He was at work, and at rescue.
Jehrico, once called by Collie Sizemore as the “razor appraiser,” carried only his sharp eyes and a rugged cudgel, a hand-fashioned weapon to ward off the first wild animal to set upon him. He had never used the cudgel for a weapon, but rather to thrust found things aside, into better view, to see what they were made of, what they had left in them, what they might become.
The stories of things he had “turned over” had assumed a legendary status, consisting of so many invaluable finds that truth built upon itself, for many believed what he had not yet found would come to his hand, without doubt, before it blew away into dust. Collie also said, “Jehrico is a savior of all things found and leave no life left on the ground.”
There were folks in Bola City who swore Sizemore worked out of some book that Jehrico had found along the way, in a deserted Conestoga or a fallen schoolhouse, who preached what he read.
Collie, one of his first friends, had become proficient in spreading his status in the west, the way his words seemed fashioned solely for Jehrico Taxico, Collector. “Don’t leave it, he’ll retrieve it.” Don’t toss your tool, you’ll look the fool.” “Don’t fling-off old gimmicks, he’ll make ‘em do tricks.”
Jehrico, it was also known, had never carried a firearm to protect himself. Excelling in bartering, in trading up or down for some target piece he noted still locked into original form, into its first intent, he followed the moaning that issued from the nearly-collapsed building in the sixth ghost town he’d come upon. Each sound, each sigh, each throaty call for help, drew him through the wrecked building, which he assumed even animals stayed clear of.
When he caught sight of her, standing in a shaft of sunlight dancing around her, his breath came to a halt, balled up in his chest, collected itself for a gasp noting pleasure without touching. She was absolutely beautiful in her horrible state. Her clothes, what was left of them, were shredded, tattered, but in such a haphazard manner they had left her as a most desirable woman, beautiful, wanton, dressed for company, undressed for company, exhibiting the shapeliest torso from hips to shoulders and slung with an obviously prominent bust, the finest and firmest of legs and arms, the perfect face of a woman of the west, her moans ascending the loveliest of throats, coming past a perfection of pale lips, sitting on his ears like a psalm of sorts, a prayer of thanksgiving before Jehrico could contemplate or conduct her rescue.
“What will I do now?” he asked aloud in the midst of dust, danger and derring-do. He had to release her from bonds, cover her, see who had imprisoned her in this dangerous site, and engineer a trade. He beheld a vision of Lupalazo when he had first seen her with the Indian he eventually traded with, and now envisioned Lupalazo looking over his shoulder, and fully noting how he viewed this new beauteous maiden of the west, this prisoner. Of all people, Lupalazo would know the unsaid that was being said, the feelings that were conjured, the minute joy being thrust into play.
This new woman of the west was easily the most handsome and beautiful he had ever seen. She was not an artifact, not something to improve, alter, absorb into some new element. She was perfection, unalterable, inalterable. He dared not close his eyes; he was concerned, afraid, disturbed by what he might do, hope for, end up with.
Then he realized she had not spoken a word, uttered only the moans of imprisonment, the pain of roped limbs, but she raised her eyes and stared off to her left; she was alerting him to something, someone. Her eyes squinted tightly and her jaw dropped slack. Fright broke out on her face, her mouth atwitter, her eyes begging salvation.
Jehrico grasped his cudgel tighter, swung around and saw two Sioux Indians standing at the door behind him, one with a lance, one with an arrow in his bow. Neither one carried a stone ax or a long knife.
Jehrico screamed the name “Wakan-Tanka,” one of the gods of the Sioux he was familiar with, then he swung the cudgel and hit above his head a cross-piece running across the room. The walls of the old decrepit building shook dust from secret places, echoed along other sections of joists and beams, shaking the whole building. The two Sioux dropped their weapons and stood entranced in place as Jehrico held out one hand in a sign of peace, even as the shaking of the old structure slowed down, and ceased. He showed no scowl on his face or any part of a smile, neutral for the moment.
But the next move was Jehrico’s and he knew it. Withdrawing his Bowie knife, he cut the bonds off the woman, knelt down in front of her, took her hand and held it on his head for a second, stood up and said again, in his most solemn voice, “Wakan-Tanka. Wakan-Tanka.” He wondered what the pair of them looked like, her in her tattered clothes that showed most of her body, him with a mighty cudgel in hand and saying the name of one of the Sioux gods.
Then Jehrico, not through any bartering as yet, made another strange move; he flipped the cudgel in the air, caught it coming down at its thickest end and held the handle toward the Sioux. Both Indians stepped back, refused to grasp the cudgel, and fled the building without their weapons, the god’s name leaping from their throats, “Wakan-Tanka! Wakan-Tanka!” From the dusty, barren road for more than a half mile he could hear their cries as they carried off fear and surprise in departure.
It was not his old pal Collie Sizemore who first saw the strange pair coming into Bola City, Jehrico leading his mule and a lovely Indian maiden, blanket-wrapped, sitting on the mule as though she owned it, her eyes looking straight ahead into the center of town. But it was Lupalazo from the porch of their home who saw them. The maiden did not see any of the men eventually staring at her, but saw Lupalazo and three children clutching at her knees while staring at the man with a strange woman on his mule, a sight they had never seen.
But it was Collie Sizemore, ever alert, who saw them next, who yelled it out, “See what Jehrico brought home now. She’s a beauty, a bubble of trouble does appear the way it looks from way off here.”
The saloon emptied into the street to see the sight. There was noise galore, roaring guffaws and aws and ahs, as the crowd looked upon the Indian maiden when the blanket fell away from her loveliness.
“Did you dig her up from one of those holy places, Jehrico?” Collie yelled out. “She looks godilly and quite bodily. And your wife is bound by strife.”
There was laughter and wonder and daydreaming galore as Jehrico threw the blanket back onto the maiden still sitting on the mule. Lupalazo smiled, knowing her man, throwing Collie Sizemore a quick look of condemnation for his remarks, but allowing a smile as punctuation, knowing what and who Collie was from near the beginning.
One of the older patrons of the saloon, who had heard or seen Jehrico at bartering before, asked, “What’d you give up for her, Jehrico? You still got all your arms and your legs.”
Collie Sizemore had to laugh at that one, and snapped his fingers in joy, and then Jehrico said, “I only had to use the bait of one of their gods for a couple of Indians.” He threw his head back, his mouth open, as if to show shock of some kind.
“Which one was that?” asked the old man, as though he was plumb familiar with the whole tribe of gods that ran the heavens above.
Jehrico said, “Why, Wakan-Tanka, of course,”
The old patron of the saloon simply said, as he turned and looked out over the congregation of drinkers, his eyes finally settling on Jehrico, “Oh, that one. Serves him right getting used up like that. You’re still ahead of the game, Jehrico. Gotta hand it to you.” He slapped his thighs with both hands.
All of them, including Collie and Jehrico gave the old man credit with heavy laughter; it was loud and lush and long. But it was Lupalazo, the Collector’s wife, the mother of his six children, who threw her arms around the still-frightened Indian maiden and said, as she ushered her away from the crowd, “Come along with me, dear, and we’ll get you cleaned up and into a proper outfit. Something special for what you’ve been through, something right out of my own collection, something a little more attractive for you.”
Looking back over her shoulder, she added, to one and all, “You will be welcome as mistress of our household and then we’ll see who wants to venture close to an Indian maiden.”
She was sure Jehrico understood every word but, just in case, she said it in her own tongue, with no twist in the meaning, "Le dará la bienvenida como maestra de nuestro hogar y, a continuación, vamos a ver quién quiere aventurarse cerca de una doncella India."
The Master Collector of Junk understood every word, in both languages and, for sure, the full intent.