Authors: Elmore Leonard
|the Bounty Hunters (1953)|
|Unknown publisher (2011)|
The Bounty Hunters
Dave Flynn stretched his boots over the footrest and his body eased lower into the barber chair. It was hot beneath the striped cloth, but the long ride down from Fort Thomas had made him tired and he welcomed the comfort of the leather chair more than he minded the heat. In Contention it was hot wherever you went, even though it was nearly the end of October.
He turned his head, feeling the barber behind him, and frowned at the glare framed in the big window. John Willet moved to his side and he saw the barber's right ear bright red and almost transparent with the glare behind it. Beneath the green eyeshade, Willet's face sagged impassively. It was a large face, with an unmoving toothpick protruding from the corner of the slightly open mouth, the toothpick seeming unnaturally small.
John Willet put his hand under the young man's chin, raising the head firmly. Let's see how we're doing, he said, then stepped back cocking his head and studied the hairline thoughtfully. He tapped comb against scissors then moved them in a flitting automatic gesture close to Flynn's ear.
How's it going with you?
All right, Flynn answered drowsily. The heat was making him sleepy and it felt good not to move.
You still guiding for the soldier boys?
On and off.
I can think of better ways to make a living.
Maybe I'll stay in the shade and take up barbering.
You could do worse. Willet stepped back and studied the hairline again. I heard you was doing some prospecting' down in the Madres.
For about a year and a half.
You're back to guiding, now? And when Flynn nodded, Willet said, Then I don't have to ask you if you found anything.
For a few minutes he moved the scissors deftly over the brown hair, saying nothing, until he finished trimming. Then he placed the implements on the shelf and studied a row of bottles there.
Wet it down?
You can use it, Willet said, shaking a green liquid into his hand. That sun makes the flowers grow' but your hair isn't flowers.
What about Apaches? Flynn said.
What about them?
They don't wear hats. They have better hair than anybody.
Sun don't affect a man that was born in hell, Willet said, and began rubbing the tonic into Flynn's scalp.
Flynn closed his eyes again. Maybe that was it, he thought. He remembered the first Apache he had ever seen. That had been ten years ago.
D. A. Flynn, at twenty the youngest first lieutenant on frontier station, took his patrol out of Fort Lowell easterly toward the Catalinas; it was dawn of a muggy July day. Before ten they sighted the smoke. Before noon they found the burned wagon and the two dead men, and the third staked to the ground staring at the sun' because he could not close his eyes with the lids cut off. Nor could he speak with his tongue gone. He tried to tell them by writing in the sand, but the marks made little sense because he could not see what he was writing, and he died before he could make them plainer. But out of a mesquite clump only a dozen yards from the wagon, his men dragged an Apache who had been shot through both legs, and there was all the explanation that was needed. He could not speak English and none of the soldiers could speak Chiricahua Apache, so the sergeant dragged him back into the mesquite. There was the heavy report of a revolving pistol and the sergeant reappeared, smiling.
The hell with it, Flynn thought.
He felt the barber's fingers rubbing hard against his scalp. His eyes were still closed, but he could no longer see the man without the eyelids. He heard the barber say then, You're starting to lose your hair up front.
Willet combed the hair, which was straighter than usual with the tonic, brushing it almost flat across the forehead, then began to trim Flynn's full cavalry-type mustache. The thinning hair and dragoon mustache made him appear older, yet there was a softness to the weather-tanned face. It was thin-lined and the bone structure was small. Dave Flynn was a month beyond his thirty-first birthday, but from fifteen feet he looked forty. That's what patrols in Apache country will do.
Hang on, John Willet said, moving around the chair. I see a couple of wild hairs. He took a finer comb from that shelf and turning back to Flynn he looked up to see the small, black-suited man enter the shop.
Flynn opened his eyes.
Standing the way he was, just inside the doorway with his thumbs hooked into vest pockets, Joe Madora could be mistaken for a dry-goods drummer. He was under average height and heavy, his black suit clinging tightly to a thick frame, and the derby placed evenly over his eyebrows might have been a size too small. His mustache and gray-streaked beard told that he was well into his fifties and probably too old to be much good with the pistol he wore high on his right hip. But Joe Madora had been underestimated before, many times, by Apaches as well as white men. Most of them were dead' while Joe was still chief of scouts at Fort Bowie.
He stood unmoving, staring at Dave Flynn, until finally Flynn said, What's the matter with you?
Madora's grizzled face was impassive. I'm trying to figure out if you got on a fancy-braid charro rig under that barber cloth.
It takes longer than a year and a half to go Mexican. Flynn nodded to the antlers mounted next to the door. There's my coat right there.
Madora glanced at the faded tan coat. You're about due for a new one.
I'm not the dude you are.
You bet your sweet tokus you're not.
Flynn smiled faintly, watching the man who had taught him everything he knew about the Apache. The comical-looking little man who could almost read sign in the air and better than half the time beat the Apache at his own game. He had learned well from Joe Madora, and after he had resigned his commission, it was Joe who had recommended him and saw that he got a job as a contract guide.
I hear you're back for more, Madora said.
You know of an easier way to make money?
Just two. Find gold or a rich woman.
Well, I've given up on finding gold.
And no woman 'ud have a slow-movin' son of a bitch like you, so you don't have a choice at that.
John Willet said, Joe, let me trim your beard. Be done here in a minute.
Madora nodded and eased himself into the other barber chair. Where's Irv?
Irv went up to Willcox to get something for his wife' coming in on the train.
That's good, Madora grunted. He's a worse barber than you are. He looked at Flynn then. I heard about your new job. Taking that kid down into the Madres' He stopped, seeing Flynn glance toward the barber. John, you keep your ears plugged.
I never did pay attention to what you had to say, Willet answered.
To Madora, Flynn said, How did you find out?
I been guiding for Deneen. I heard him talking to this Bowers kid. Did he talk it over with you yet?
This morning for a minute. He kept reminding me I didn't have to take it, saying, 'yYou can back out,' using those words. Then he said, 'yThink it over and come back later.'
Madora smiled in his beard. What about Bowers, did you see him?
Flynn shook his head. He said then, In the war we had a division commander by that name.
Maybe he's a kin.
What kind is he?
If you keep him from wettin' his pants he might do.
They all are' that doesn't mean anything. He's been out here a year and that's Whipple Barracks. He looks brevet-conscious. He wants to move up so bad he can taste it' and he's afraid going away on this job might get him lost in the woods.
It could get him a promotion.
It could get him killed, too. But he thinks it's more a job for a truant officer than a cavalryman. He said to Deneen, 'ySir, isn't bringing an old Indian back more a task for the reservation agent?'
Did you tell Bowers what it's all about?
He didn't ask me.
Flynn shook his head. It doesn't make sense.
You ought to be used to that; you've worked for Deneen before, Madora said. His naming Bowers doesn't make sense' though he must have a reason. But it's plain why he's sending you.
You know as well as I do. He wants to make you quit again. You've done it twice before. Maybe he thinks one more will finish you for good.
What do you think? Flynn asked.
I don't blame you for anything you did before. Deneen's Department Adjutant' with more weight than you got. When he says dance, you dance, or else go listen to a different tune. I wouldn't blame you too much if you backed out of this one. Only I think it can be done. I think you just might be able to drag Soldado Viejo the old Indian, as the kid calls him back to San Carlos.
Two of us?
Two make less noise.
Give me a better reason.
Because I taught you what you know. And I'll give you one more, Madora added. Because you might be mad enough to do this one just so you can throw it back in Deneen's face.
Flynn smiled. You sound like you want to go.
Maybe I should.
Maybe you volunteered Flynn was still smiling but they said it wasn't something for an old man who looked like he was standing in a hole.
Madora shook his head. I was wrong. You'll last down there about a day and a half.
I've lasted ten years so far' plus three in the war when I didn't see you around.
I was watchin' the frontier for you sword-clickin' bastards back East.
About three thousand miles from Lee.
Madora was composed. David, he said quietly. All during that war of yours we had us a Mimbre named Soldado Viejo' the same one you're supposed to bring home. And I'll tell you something else. Bobby Lee, in his prime, couldn't rear-guard for Soldado if all the old Mimbre raided was whorehouses.
John Willet had looked from one to the other, trying to piece the conversation into some sense. Now he put down his comb and scissors and offered a hand mirror to Flynn.
See how it looks, he said.
His gaze went to the window, idly, and he watched a man come out of the Republic House and start diagonally across the street toward the barbershop. Over the thick green lettering that read WILLET'S from the street side, he watched the man approach; long strides, but weaving somewhat, carrying a rifle in his right hand and saddlebags over his left shoulder. Then he recognized the man.
God, I hope he hasn't been drinking.
Neither Flynn nor Madora had noticed him yet.
Willet spoke hurriedly, watching the man reach the plank sidewalk. That's Frank Rellis' sometimes he acts funny when he's had a drink, but don't pay any attention to him.
Flynn, holding the mirror, glanced up. What?
But Willet was looking toward the door. Hello, Frank' be with you in a minute.
Frank Rellis stood in the doorway swaying slightly, then came in and unslung the saddlebags, dropping them onto the seat of a Douglas chair next to the door. He eyed the occupied barber chairs sullenly; a man about Flynn's age, he wore range clothes: a sweat-stained hat, the curled brim close over his eyes, leather pants worn to a shine and a cotton shirt that was open enough to show thick dark hair covering his chest. His pistol was strapped low on his thigh and he still held the rifle, a Winchester, pointed toward the floor.
He looked at Willet. Where's Irv?
Irv had to go to Willcox, John Willet said pleasantly. I'll be with you in a minute' take a chair.
I don't have a minute.
Willet smiled. Frank, this being herd boss keeps you on the go, don't it?
Rellis looked at the barber impassively. His deep-set eyes were half closed from drink and an apparent lack of sleep and a two days' beard stubble made his heavy-boned face menacing. I said I don't have a minute.
Willet smiled, but now it was forced. I'm finishing up, then I have to trim this here gent's beard he nodded to Joe Madora and I'll be with you.
You can do better than that.
Frank, I don't see any other way'
I do' you're taking me right now.
You can finish them up after.
Flynn glanced from Rellis to Madora. The chief of scouts was watching Rellis closely. Are you in a hurry? Madora said then.
Rellis ignored him, moving toward the first chair. He stopped at the footrest, in front of Flynn's boots. The mirror was still in his hand, but Flynn was looking over it at Rellis.
You look prettier'n a French pimp, Rellis said. Now get out of the chair.
Flynn felt the sudden flush of anger come over his face, but he took his time. His eyes left Rellis as he raised the mirror and studied his reflection, and he was surprised that his anger did not show. Perhaps the brown face had a reddish tint to it, but that was all. Then he said, quietly, John, you're a little uneven right in through here his left hand following the part let's try parting it a little higher.