Ace Lone Wolf and the One-Eyed Mule Skinner – chapter 4

640px-pancho_villa_bandolierThe last time I saw Ike Clanton was after the gunfight at the OK corral. He was studded with cactus thorns and headed to jail. I figured he’d be hanged by now. Did he escape?

And what is he doing here?

Instead of shooting Ike on the spot, or maybe running out and stabbing him, the four Yaqui braves come out of hiding, lowering their guns. Which means they’ve been expecting him.

Ike climbs down out of the saddle and stretches. “Thought I’d never make it,” he says. “It’s a few more miles than you let on, and your directions were damned hard to follow.”

He looks like he’s recovered all right. Except for the ear that Morgan Earp shot off. That thing’s not looking too good. It looks kind of like someone chewed up a potato and then stuck it to the side of his head. I wonder if he can still hear out of it.

“You bring guns?” the Yaqui leader says.

That’s interesting, I think. Ike Clanton is running guns to the Indians. Not that I’m opposed to such a thing on general principles—with proper weapons maybe my people could have held onto our land—but both the American and Mexican governments have pretty dim views of the practice. Ike better hope that Colonel Kosterlitzky and his Rurales don’t get wind of him. If they catch him, he’ll wish he was back in jail in Tombstone.

“Yeah, I brought ‘em,” Ike says, jerking his thumb at the mule he’s leading. He takes off his hat and smacks it against his leg a couple of times to knock some of the dust off. I can see the bullet hole in the crown, so it’s the same one he was wearing during the gunfight, the one I shot a hole in. “I got the whiskey you wanted, too. You got the gold, Yooko?”

Yooko nods. Ike goes over to the mule and unties a burlap-wrapped bundle, brings it over and drops it beside the fire. Yooko peels back the burlap and reveals about a dozen rifles. Yooko picks up one of the guns. The stock is in pieces and the metal is rusted. “This black powder,” he growls.

“Only two of them are,” Ike replies. “I told you it might happen. It’s not as easy to buy a passel of rifles as you might think. Too many, too fast, and the authorities get suspicious. Things get hot quick.”

Yooko paws through the rest of the rifles and grunts. I can’t tell if it’s a satisfied grunt or not, but at least he doesn’t shoot Ike on the spot, so that’s something.

Next Ike unties a wooden crate from the mule’s back. He brings it over and sets it by the fire. Pulling his knife from its sheath, he pries off the lid. Inside are a dozen bottles of whiskey packed in straw. He takes one out and hands it to Yooko. Yooko’s grunt this time is decidedly more enthusiastic.

Yooko pulls the cork with his teeth and takes a long drink. He lowers the bottle in a fit of coughing and choking and I tense up. It’s probably the worst kind of rotgut. Maybe Ike’s going to get shot after all.

But Yooko smiles big, nods, and passes it to one of the braves.

“The gold,” Ike says. I notice he’s got his pistol out, though he isn’t pointing it at anybody yet. “This ain’t a charity ride.”

Yooko digs around in a rolled-up blanket, pulls out a leather pouch, and tosses it to him. Ike looks inside, pokes around a bit, pulls out a pinch of gold dust and lets it trickle back in. He closes his eyes, holds the pouch in one hand, and moves the hand up and down a few times.

He opens his eyes. “Feels light.”

Yooko scowls. “No.”

“And I say it is.” Ike spits in the fire. “Y’all trying to hornswoggle me, is that it?”

“What is this ‘hornswoggle’?” Yooko asks. “Not know this word.”

“It means cheat. We agreed on eight ounces of gold. If this is eight ounces then I’ve got chicken gizzards for guts. Which I don’t.”

The Yaquis rattle off something between them. I don’t know much of their language and only catch a few words. It sounds like they’re deciding whether or not to kill him. That cheers me right up. Maybe they’ll do me a favor and kill each other off. Be no problem to get my hat back then.

“Just so you fellers don’t get any cute ideas,” Ike says. “I brought a friend. Let ‘em know you’re here, Luke.”

From back in the darkness comes a gunshot. The Yaquis break off and get really still.

“See?” Ike says.

Yooko smiles, showing his long, yellow canines. It’s not a smile that makes me feel warm inside. It puts me in mind of a cougar brought to bay.

“A mistake. Only mistake.” He reaches into his shirt pocket and brings out another pouch, which he tosses to Ike.

Ike tucks it away and gets all smiley in return. “There’s no reason this can’t be a friendly transaction.” He puts his gun back in his holster and pats it. “Now that’s over, we can have a real pleasant evening so long as everyone plays nice.” He moves up closer to the fire.

“You boys got anything left to eat?” he asks. Yooko gestures and one of the braves picks up a quail carcass lying in the dirt. There’s not much more than bits and scraps hanging off it. He tosses it to Ike, who eyeballs it.

“Can’t see a damn thing,” he mutters. He looks down at the fire. “The hell kind of fire is this, anyway? Buncha damn savages.” He picks up a couple sizable pieces of wood and tosses them on the fire. They flare up almost immediately. “That’s better. Nothing like a good, civilized fire to make a body welcome.”

He grunts and sits down next to the fire, brushes some dirt off the quail carcass, and starts gnawing on it. He looks up. “Pass that bottle over here now, and let me have some.”

The brave holding the bottle looks at Yooko, who frowns a little, then shrugs. He hands the bottle to Ike, who takes a long drink and wipes his mouth on his sleeve. “Not bad. Not bad t’all.” He takes another long drink and passes it on.

“Now, isn’t this better than all us shooting at each other?” Ike says. “More neighborly and all?”

Yooko grunts. From the look in his eyes I get the feeling he’d prefer to be shooting. But there’s an armed man out there somewhere in the darkness, he doesn’t know where, and he doesn’t want to chance anything he might regret.

Ike eats most all of the quail carcass, noisily chewing the bones and swallowing them. I’m pretty sure I even see a piece of wing, feathers and all, pass down his gullet. He wipes his hands on his trousers and burps. “Pass that bottle back on over here, now. Don’t be selfish.”

Yooko shakes his head. “No. Drink your own.” He adds something in Yaqui which I’m reasonably sure isn’t a compliment.

Ike’s eyes narrow down. “Is that it, then? That’s how this is going to play out?” I see his hand drift down near his gun. Still a good chance of all of them shooting each other.

Yooko takes another drink of the whiskey and gives it to one of his braves, deliberately bypassing Ike. Ike bristles, then says, “Have it your way.” He goes to his horse and pulls a bottle of whiskey out of the saddlebags. He comes back to the fire and sits down.

“Godammit, Ike! You better not drink all that hooch without me!” comes a voice from out of the darkness.

“We drew straws and you lost!” Ike yells back. “Shut yer yap! You’ll give your location away!”

“The hell with my location. How long I gotta sit out here in the dark anyway?”

Ike grumbles and takes another drink.

“What was that?” Luke yells.

“I said I’m thinking about it! Don’t get your knickers in a twist!”

Ike grumbles some more and stares at the Yaqui braves. They’re drinking and pretending he doesn’t exist. Finally, Ike straightens up and yells, “Come on in then, Luke!”

There’s some crashing in the bushes and another man appears. The first thing I notice is he’s got no hat. His head looks strange without it, the top of his forehead strangely white, the lower part and the rest of his face scorched brown. He’s wearing this shiny vest with silver buttons and a neckerchief. The neckerchief is bright red with flowers patterned on it.

“Give me some of that bottle afore you drink it all!” he yelps.

“There’s plenty left.”

Luke sits down and looks at the Yaquis. His gaze fixes on Yooko. “Where’d you get that hat? I’ll trade you for it.”

Yooko takes my hat off and looks at it. He looks like a man admiring a beautiful object, turning it this way and that. Then he puts it back on. “Mine,” he says.

“What do you want with that hat?” Luke says. “Injuns don’t wear hats. It’s like putting a dress on a dog. You ought to give it to me.”

“Trade you for cloth.” Yooko points at Luke’s kerchief. “Gift for squaw.”

“The hell you say!” Luke squawks. “I just got this. It’s brand-spanking new. You want too much for a beat-up nasty old hat.”

Hey, that’s my hat you’re talking about.

Yooko shakes his head. “No trade.” He picks up the bottle and takes another drink.

“Serves you right for getting too close to that mule,” Ike says, taking a drink. “I done told you he was ornery.”

“How was I s’posed to know he’d eat my hat?” Luke grabs the bottle from Ike and takes a drink of his own. “Goddamned malicious critter is what he is.”

“Just give him the neckerchief already,” Ike says. “It ain’t fit for a man to wear no how. Flowers all over it. What’re you, some kind of dandy?”

“My girl gave it to me!” Luke protests. “A sign of her undying love. I cain’t just toss it away.”

“Then go about your day without a hat. Makes no difference to me,” Ike says.

“God damn your eyes,” Luke says, taking off the neckerchief and throwing it at Yooko. “You’re cheating me. Taking unfair advantage of a man in need.”

Yooko catches the neckerchief and tosses over the hat. It’s a bad throw, and for an instant I think it’s going to fall into the fire, but Luke snatches it just in time. Yooko ties the cloth around his neck, lifts his chin and shows the other braves, who nod and make approving noises.

“It’s not much of a hat,” Luke says, eyeing it doubtfully. “More like something you’d stick on a scarecrow than a man.”

Okay, now I’m really starting to dislike this man.

Luke sniffs it. “It smells. Don’t these Injuns ever wash their hair?”

If things get ugly, I’m definitely shooting him first.

Go to my books on Amazon.

Go to Chapter 1 of this story.

Go to the next chapter.

Go to Chapter 1 of Ace Lone Wolf and the Lost Temple of Totec.

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One thought on “Ace Lone Wolf and the One-Eyed Mule Skinner – chapter 4

  1. Pingback: Ace Lone Wolf and the One-Eyed Mule Skinner – chapter 3 – ericTknight

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