Jim Horn survived the war for Southern Independence, and learned many hard lessons from the experience that helped when he accepted a job as a Texas Ranger.
Jim Horn rode his horse down the trail at a steady pace. Anyone unfortunate enough to be out in the blistering heat watching him would have seen a sturdily built, sun browned man of slightly above average height. He fit the square-rigged stock saddle on his horse as if he were born to it as indeed he was. A brace of worn but clean .44-40 Colts in tied down holsters on his hips and a Winchester carbine of the same caliber in his saddle scabbard showed him to be a man not to be trifled with.
The weapon only a few unhappy and often short lived people got to see was a short-barreled Colt that usually rode in one of Jim's boots. At twenty- eight years of age, Jim considered himself to be not too ugly to look at, but most women rated his looks as very attractive despite his strong features. The women were particularly attracted to his gentle drawl, and as one love- stricken Austin girl had written poetically in her diary, "Mr. Horn has eyes as blue as the wide Texas sky!"
These same characteristics had often been thought of by the men who he made his living hunting down as a blood chilling voice and the stone cold eyes of a born killer! Jim's vocation of man hunting was strictly legal; the left side of his vest sagged under the weight of the gold star of a Texas Ranger. Jim was a veteran of five perilous years of Ranger duty. He felt like he and his horse, Chief, were both wearing several pounds more than their share of the dust of that long, hot trail from the border area of west Texas into San Antonio.
Jim sat astride of one of the spectacularly spotted horses from a strain known as the appaloosa, which were bred by the Indians of the American northwest. He was personally of the opinion the horse was anything but pretty. As compared to the average Texas cow horse, this stallion was hammer headed, broom tailed, and cow hocked. His big striped hooves looked almost too big for his legs and Jim had never much cottoned to the wierdly intelligent, almost human look in his eyes. The stud also had the powerful shoulders and massively heavy neck that were then typical of the stallions of that sturdy breed.
What Jim did like about the big ugly horse was he had the ability to thrive at a traveling pace that would have killed most of those prettier average cow horses of Texas. He had an energy-conserving gait that seemed to carry him just far enough on each step to get ahead, but this mile eating pace had carried Jim and his gear almost three hundred miles down some of the roughest trails in west Texas in the last two weeks!
Jim was leading a lanky bay mule loaded down with his latest capture. Joe Three Horses, or Injun Joe as he was better known, was a half-breed Kiowa indian Jim had been sent after a couple of weeks before.
Injun Joe was a character who was notorious around some parts of Texas, not only as an accomplished horse thief but also for his many slick escapes from justice. The officials in San Antonio had finally persuaded the reluctant Ranger Captain to put his best man on Joe's trail. Joe was presently shackled belly-down in chains across the mule's narrow back as punishment for his latest unsuccessful escape attempt.
It had taken Jim four long days of tracking the Indian's faint trail just to locate Joe the first time, then it took him another three days to run him to ground. The indian had been so good at evading capture the Ranger had to resort to relying on all of his senses, even his sense of smell, to track him!
Joe had been working hard at a job of breaking horses on a ranch outside of Uvalde when he had literally seen Jim coming. He'd forced his green broken horse right through the thin mesquite rails of the corral fence and lit a shuck under him! He'd ridden that horse into the ground the first day out of Uvalde, then he'd stolen another one from a nearby ranch.
The injun's second stolen horse had given out on the evening of the next day and Injun Joe had then fled on foot. Jim had finally caught up with him on the third day of the long chase. He'd bought the mule from a ranch in the vicinity to pack the injun in on.
The saddle-worn Ranger had been leading the mule back toward San Antonio for the last four days; Joe's latest futile escape attempt had been made only the night before. "Hey, Joe!" Jim hollered back to his prisoner, "I've been studying on somethin' ever since before I caught up with you! You crossed several ranches on foot after that last horse gave plumb out underneath you, why didn't you go and steal yourself another one?"
"Kill too many good horses already!" Joe grunted as the mule bounced unmercifully. "When Joe escape next time maybe Ranger Jim sell Joe good horse with spots?"
"Hell no, Joe!" Jim laughed! "If you'd been riding old Chief, I'd still be chasing you all over Texas!" Jim thought that, horse thief or not, you had to respect the indian for taking his chances on foot rather than risk killing more stolen horses in a chase! He called back to him, "Joe, any man who would sooner give up his freedom than to hurt more horses can't be all bad! If you'll give me your word you won't try gettin' away again, I'll set you right back up on that mule."
"No can do! Not yet, maybe later." The injun replied resolutely. Jim laughed in appreciation of the indian's wild spirit and warped sense of honor, then he shrugged and went back to his day dreaming about the cool beer from the spring house of the Eldorado, his favorite saloon in San Antonio.
The thought of that cold beer then led Jim to thinking about the pretty, brown eyed, auburn haired Louisiana woman who owned the Eldorado. That sassy little woman knew more ways to make a man want her than all of the other women he'd ever bedded.
Jim daydreamed of one of her favorite tricks she delighted in playing on him. She would wait until he had almost reached his peak then she'd wrap her ankles around behind his calves and she'd straighten out her legs. Due to the leverage involved, she could pull him almost out of her at the time he wanted to be inside of her the most, then she'd just lie there, laughing sassily and toying with him.
Jim urged Chief to quicken his pace a bit. He'd been letting the stallion choose his own pace for a spell because of the rough trip but now Jim was beginning to feel like he'd winded the barn.
Without warning, a .44 Colt seemed to jump magically from Jim's left hand holster into his hand and in the same instant he swiveled to point it directly at Joe. The lead rope had slackened ever so slightly and had warned Jim the mule was moving up. After four days of leading that same damned stubborn mule, Jim had known the slack in the rope wasn't much likely to be voluntary on the animal's part and he'd become instantly alert.
"Don't even think about it, Joe. If my reckonin's right, today might just be Sunday. It would surely ruin my day to have to kill any man on the Lord's day, even if he was just an injun!"
"Thank you, Ranger!" Injun Joe grumbled sarcastically as Jim reined his horse back to the mule to check the Indian's shackles. Everything checked out just fine and Jim swung the mounts around and back onto the trail.
He wondered some about his growing respect for Injun Joe. Hell, from the viewpoint of the law, Joe was just a half-breed, injun horse thief. Then again, Paw had always said their family had some Cherokee blood in them from back east in Tennessee. Of course, the Cherokee were called the civilized tribe; they'd even built their own schools and farms before the greedy white man had come along to run them off of their lands. So who the hell was civilized, anyway? Jim reckoned he'd best study on some simpler things.
When he finally decided to halt for the night, Jim helped the injun dismount, then he unsaddled and hobbled the mounts where they could forage for some of the slim pickin's that grew around that range of Texas. He reached into his saddlebag and pulled out the makings of a meal for him and the injun that was about as meager as the animal's poor grazing. He handed the Indian his share; it was two rolled up flour tortillas spread thinly with some refried beans. He'd bought them from an old Mexican woman whose sheep camp they'd passed through.
Jim ate his own tortillas slowly, they weren't much as far as food went but they were all the rations they had. He drank from the half full canteen of tepid water he'd been conserving then he passed the canteen on to Joe. The breed drank only a couple of frugal swallows; he nodded his thanks then he handed the canteen back to Jim.
Jim laid the canteen back next to his saddle then they went through their evening ritual with the chains. Jim moved to the scrubby mesquite tree he had picked out at the edge of the small clearing; he kicked some debris from around the base of it to check for rattlers. He gestured Joe closer and moved to the other side of the tree as Joe held his hands out to him. Jim unlocked the chains and he re-locked them around the tree, then they went through the same thing with the ankle chains.
Jim got up and draped a saddle blanket around the indian's shoulders against the chilly evening air then he went to his own bedding. "You know the drill, Joe. I sleep real light as you found out last night." As usual, the Indian kept his private thoughts secret to himself.
The night before, Jim had been awakened by the rustling of mesquite beans as Joe had tried to get the chains over the brittle branches of the little tree he'd been chained to. Joe was pretty damned slick but the combination of the chains and the dry mesquite beans Jim had pitted him against had been too much even for him.
Jim laid back and looked up at the stars for a time. The thought came to him that he had done a whole lot of sleeping out underneath those same bright stars. Rangerin' was a tough life, but it suited him just fine. Lord knows though, a man did get awful lonesome sometimes.
The long chase was wearing on Jim; he felt like an old horse that had been rode hard and then put up wet. The exhaustion he felt was about to cause him to doze off when the Indian uncustomarily broke his silence.
He was sitting up looking at the Ranger and he made injun sign with his shackled hands to aid his halting English. He asked, "Ranger Jim have woman?" When Jim allowed as how he didn't, Joe went on. "Joe take injun woman many moons ago. She same sky and moon to Joe. Love Joe plenty. Purty soon she fat with foal. When Joe hunt meat for her, white man take woman. Squaw run from white man and jump from cliff. After that Joe take what he wants from white men."
Jim lay there for a while studying on Joe's long speech, he figured the solemn injun had made a hell of an effort in an attempt to explain himself to the man who'd finally caught him. Jim decided what Joe had lived through would be a good enough reason for anyone to go a little wild and sour on life for a spell. "I'm sure sorry about your woman and papoose, Joe. Maybe one of these days we won't have to worry about folks doing bad things like that to each other." Joe rolled over and pulled his horse blanket around his shoulders for protection from the desert cold; Jim did the same.
Joe was back to his old stoic self by dawn the next morning. They endured the stifling heat and dust in silence. That afternoon, Jim saw his horse's ears perk up, and he knew the stallion had winded the San Antonio River. The stud and the mule had both been on a short ration of water ever since they'd crossed the almost dry Hondo.
When they reached the shallow ford, Jim let the mounts wade in knee deep and drop their heads to drink greedily. Neither of them drank their fill. He knew his horse had been in dry country long enough to be wise to bellyaches caused by drinking too much and too fast, and it's danged near impossible to make a mule hurt itself.
Jim decided to make a stop at the river to wash. He hadn't had much of a chance during the chase to clean up at least every couple of days as he normally did and now things had gotten so bad he could hardly stand to be downwind of himself.
After fording the river he turned upstream for several hundred yards to get to some cleaner water; he carefully chained the injun to a handy tree and brought him a full canteen of the cool water. Jim told the silent injun, "Soak up all of that you want, Joe. I'll wash these animals, then lose some of this dust and sweat I've been collecting of late."
Jim stripped off his boots and the gun belts; he left them well out of the injun's reach, close to the river. Jim stripped the saddles and blankets off his stallion, throwing the blankets into the shallows to soak clean, then led him into the water. The horse saw what Jim intended and when allowed to he wallowed gratefully in the cool water like a big puppy, ridding himself of the irritating salt sweat and alkali dust coating his spotted hide.
The mule put on a repeat performance of the horse's refreshing dip, then, his animals refreshed, Jim got out a cake of lye soap, his razor, and his mirror from his saddlebags and he headed for the water. The water was cool and clear and felt mighty fine to Jim's parched body.
He drank his fill and stayed there long enough to wash his filthy clothing and shave off his shaggy two-week growth of beard. Being immersed in the water felt so damned good to him he figured he'd just lie right there and soak up about a hundred gallons or so of it. The little boy left in him was even a little surprised when his clothes still fit him when he put them back on.
By this time he was thinking mighty fondly of Miss Vickie and the cool beer at the Eldorado, and he was looking forward to having him some of both pleasures, he was still trail wise enough to keep a watchful eye on Injun Joe. When they arrived back in San Antonio later that evening, Jim led the mule directly to the Sheriff's office.
It was nearly nine o'clock at night and almost no one else was on the street. Jim got down off the spotted stud and stretched his trail-wearied muscles; then he tied his horse and the mule to the hitching rail.
"You can get down right here, Injun. This is as far as you're going with me." Jim pulled Joe down off of the mule and steadied him for a moment to let him get the use of his hind legs back before walking behind him on into the stone building. A big, beer bellied deputy was sleeping like a fat slug in a chair behind the office desk; his filthy boots were resting on the scarred wooden desktop.
Jim rapped hard on the desk several times with his knuckles and the deputy reluctantly opened his eyes and looked up as Jim spoke. "I've got a prisoner here for you, Deputy."
"Got a warrant with you?" The deputy sleepily asked him in return. Jim had already figured out this man's intentions. He didn't aim to move until breakfast or quitting time, whichever happened to come along first. Jim quickly stepped to the wall and snatched a wanted poster with Joe's likeness and description from it.
Jim stepped back to the desk; he grabbed the deputy's dirty boots and swept the man's feet to the floor. The big deputy's brutal temper flashed and he started to rise from the chair, but something in Jim's angry eyes told him he really didn't want to try it!
Jim slapped the wanted poster down on the desk hard! "This here poster is from your county. I've ridden over three hundred miles in the last two weeks tracking this man down and bringing him in for you fat, lazy sons a' bitches. I'm either turning him over to you right now or I'll go look up Sheriff Tilley personal!"
"Now, there's no call for you to go and do that, Ranger, I'll take him off your hands. Bring him back to the cell." The Deputy rose quickly and reached for some keys. Jim decided his saying the Sheriff's name must have been what did the trick in getting the lazy Deputy on his feet.
Jim glanced over at Injun Joe. The injun was standing there gazing stoically ahead, but after all of the exhausting events of the last two weeks Jim was so in tune with Joe he could almost hear his thoughts. The Deputy was lazy and slow-witted and Joe knew it as well as Jim. Jim decided it was no skin off his nose if the injun did escape again. Hell, maybe he'd even go straight now that he'd been shown there was a lawman who could catch him and put in chains.
Jim decided he wasn't going to put Joe in the cell for this deputy he had no respect for. He said out loud, "Deputy, maybe you'd better write me out a receipt for Joe then you can take him back to the cellblock yourself." Jim stared intently at the Deputy until he nervously turned his eyes away and started scrabbling around in the desk for a scrap of paper.
Jim unlocked his manacles off of Joe. "Joe, I want you to know these chains are going to be hobbling that appaloosa stud out there tonight. This key will be hung around my neck and I've already shown you I can sleep real light. If you're aiming to be riding spots tomorrow, it'll have to be on somebody else's horse."
The deputy wasn't paying any attention at all to Jim's earnest speech; he'd just finished roughly scribbling out the receipt. Jim took the paper from him and held it up to the dim kerosene lamp to read it. He saw the Deputy had written it out on the back of a feed bill, but he decided it was still legal enough and he turned to go.
"Ranger." Indian Joe called to him. Jim turned and looked back at the injun. "It take plenty good man to catch Injun Joe."
Jim waved his receipt at the renegade and grinned wickedly. "You're a hell of a man for an injun, Joe. You'd do to ride the rough trails with. Why don't you ride on up to the Indian Territory and find you another good woman; there are still places up north or in Mexico where a man as good on the trail as you could stay away from the white man. I'm askin' you kindly not to come back to Texas, or at least not to steal horses here. Keep your record clean a couple of years, then come back and contact me and I'll find you a job. Adios and good luck."
Jim led his horse and the mule to the Sheriff's barn and he turned the mule into an empty stall. He threw a couple of pitchforks full of hay and several ears of dried feed corn to the mule then he filled a feed sack he found hanging from the fence with more of the same. He tied the sack to his saddle horn and then, deciding he still needed to stretch his legs a bit, he led the spotted horse over to the Eldorado.
Somebody must have heard the loud clip-clop of the stud's heavy shoes on the wooden porch and warned the folks inside because Jim was met at the door by the white shirted and aproned bartender. "Where do you think you're takin' that damned horse, Mister? Oh, it's you, Jim, I should've known it had to be you! You takin' that horse to bed with you or is he thirsty, too?"
"Hell no, Farley. I ain't bedding this damned horse, can't you see he's a stud?" Jim led the horse on through the large open room and put him in a corner that was more or less out of the way. He swept peanut hulls from a small area with his boots, and dumped the contents of the feed sack out on the floor, then unsaddled the big stallion.
Jim hobbled the horse's front feet with the shackles then he hung the key's leather thong back around his own neck. When the big horse shook himself, glasses tinkled all over the building. "Any of you folks here riding an Appaloosa, you'd best go and see to it. It appears to me like Injun Joe's goin' to be stealin' one later on tonight."
A dapper looking man at one of the poker tables raked in his big pile of winnings and quickly finished his drink. He spoke urgently as he stood up. "That'd be me, I guess. Sorry, gentleman, I've got to go see to my horse. I'll give you folks another chance at me tomorrow night." The man hurried on out the door.
He'd taken Jim's warning to heart, or he'd decided to get far away from his fellow card players before they got to talking among themselves about his exceptional card playing ability. Either way, Jim heard him kick his horse into a gallop and ride off down the street moving fast.
"What in tarnation's all this commotion about?" A big bulky man came from the short hall that led to Victoria's bedroom; he was still buckling on his gun belt. Jim recognized the big man as Sheriff Tilley.
"Howdy Sheriff, I brought in Joe Three Horses for you, I woke your Deputy up long enough for him to write me out a receipt and he took the injun out back to lock him up. Joe done got himself a strong hankering to ride this appaloosa stud I run him down with, so I'm keepin' an eagle eye on him."
Sheriff Tilley started in to looking plenty worried. "You didn't leave that crazy red skin alone with that stupid brother-in-law of mine, did you? If he loses that damned injun I'll send him out after him and he won't come back without him!" The Sheriff hitched his britches up quickly and left; he was in just about as much of a hurry as the card sharp had been.
Jim looked over at the bartender who'd been enjoying the stir he'd just caused. "Farley, set me up a pitcher of that cool beer of yours, I've been working up a craving for some of that beer for the last two weeks and that cursed injun ain't none of my business any more!" Jim wasn't any too sure of why he was cussing like that about an injun horse thief, then he admitted to himself that maybe it was because he had messed up and started in to caring.
"Here's your beer, Jim." Farley had easily anticipated Jim's order and drawn the beer; after twenty years as a bartender he could tell when a man had worked up a thirst. He sat a moisture-beaded crock pitcher and mug on the counter. Jim left some coins on the bar in payment; he moved the beer to a table in the corner of the room and sat down thankfully. He licked his lips and watched the water beading up and running down the side of the full pitcher for a moment.
Jim took off his hat and hung it on the spindle on the back of another chair. "Farley, would you have your swamper rub down my horse with a handful of that hay; it's either that or he's going to want to roll when he gets done eating and that sweat dries!"
"Yeah. Thanks Jim, that could present a problem in here." The bartender immediately told his Mexican swamper, "Brush down that stud with some straw before he sets in to itching and rolls. You'd best throw down some more sawdust and peanut hulls, too." Jim tossed the swamper a coin as he walked past him and watched him snatch it deftly from midair.
Farley turned to Jim and spoke conversationally. "The only other Appaloosa I know of around here is a nice little buggy mare that belongs to the mayor, but she'd be safe in his barn on the other side of town."
Jim quickly told him what he thought of that idea. "If she's within twenty miles of here, that slick injun horse thief's probably smelled out her spots by now." He thought that idea over as he leisurely poured himself a tall beer. He decided he'd never much liked the mayor anyhow. Jim took several luxurious swallows and drained the mug. He sighed loudly in satisfaction, that first beer had tasted every bit as fine as he'd anticipated!
Jim surely admired Injun Joe's abilities, and held him almost in awe, but it never occurred to him to be proud or vain that he'd been the first man to ever catch him and bring him in. It was just another job of work to him. He was savoring the luxurious enjoyment of slowly pouring himself a second cool beer when a woman spoke in a sultry voice from behind him.
"Now there's a man who truly enjoys his rare pleasures!" Jim turned in his chair to see the owner of the Eldorado, Victoria Gastian. Jim spoke heartily. "Vickie, I've been day dreamin' about Farley's beer through the last two weeks of hard riding. Honey, come on over here and take a load off your feet." Jim reached a boot over and pushed a chair away from the table for her.
Vickie's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper as she perched in the chair next to Jim. "I bet I know what else you've been dreaming about, Sugar!"
Jim grinned conspiratorially at the sexy woman; she ought to know he'd been thinking of her. Jim had made a practice of visiting her regularly whenever he could since they'd first met three years before. "You'd sure win that bet, Vickie. You know an awful sight about how a grown man thinks."
"So do you or you wouldn't be so damned good at catching them." Vickie said. "We're both a couple of pro's. We heard from a cowboy a week or so ago that you were off chasing Injun Joe all over most of west Texas and sundry parts of Mexico. Did you catch him?"
"Does a bear shit in the woods?" Jim and Vickie had long ago gone beyond the point in their relationship of his being uncomfortable in cursing around her. "That little job of work took me two long weeks of hard riding to catch him and fetch him in. You know, that danged horse thief ruined two good horses running from me, then he took off on foot rather than hurt another one!"
Vickie shook her pretty head in admiration and wonder. "Just goes to show you there's still some honor in a lot of low professions, Darling!"
Jim reflected that Vickie herself was a good example of what she was talking about. She was the proverbial whore with a heart of gold. She'd often boasted to Jim that a drunk had never been rolled or mistreated in her place and he'd personally helped her distribute food to the poor folks around town several times.
Vickie grasped Jim's arm strongly with one hand. Her other hand was on his thigh and inching slowly toward his crotch. "Why don't you quit that damned Ranger job and stay right here with me? This saloon could make a good living for both of us." Vickie repeated an offer she'd made to Jim many times before. The circumstances were a sight different this time, though. She usually half jokingly asked him to stay with her just before he left.
"Vickie, you know me better than to think I could ever be a kept man." Jim's body was reacting predictably to her practiced touch; it was his mind that was having a problem with all of this. Their relationship had been strictly business, then had developed into friendship. Jim had never been happy with having to hire a woman's body for his pleasures, but with his kind of job he hadn't stayed in one place long enough to have much of any other kind of relationship with a woman.
He'd always been the type of man who was considerate by nature of all women's feelings, but through the years he had grown comfortable in returning the shallow, and all too transient affection of dance hall girls. Most of whose only serious thought was where and when the next party would be.
His and Vickie's business relationship had grown into one of mutual affection and friendship, but Jim was concerned now that she was feeling something for him he could never feel for her. Vickie had been sitting there trying to read his face as these thoughts had run through his mind.
"I'm sorry, Jim." Vickie said as she smiled. He could tell from the strain in both her voice and her smile that she was bravely trying to face the facts. "I won't ever ask you that again. Drink up and let's have some fun!"
Later on in the night Jim found himself lying in Vickie's bed. He had evidently let his empty stomach, his fatigue, and the beer get to him because he didn't remember her having helped him into bed. She was busily applying herself to reviving one of his lower extremities. He could tell from the pleasurable sensations coming from that region of his body, she was being very successful!
Jim reached for her arms and pulled her up on top of him. She kissed his lips feverishly, and then she reached to place him within her. Vickie began sobbing as soon as she began her wild ride, Jim tried to pull her to him, to stop her and comfort her, but she refused to stop and after a moment of the warmth and silkiness, he no longer had the willpower to try to stop her!
Vickie leaned backward to take all of him within her; then she leaned forward and began rubbing her soft breasts up and down his chest. The weeks of hardship and loneliness had heightened his sensitivity; she felt just so damned good to him! When they came together she toppled into his arms; she was crying hysterically and gasping desperately for air. Jim held her close while she cried. After her crying ebbed a little he began stroking and kissing her affectionately; which led to another passionate interlude that left him senseless.
Jim woke up to find Vickie gone, he got up and looked out the window and could see it was barely twilight. He was hungry enough to eat the north end off of a southbound mule. He pulled on his clothes and boots and he was ready to head for the door when he remembered Vickie's money.
He pulled a generous amount from the poke in his pocket and was placing it on the bedside table when Vickie came back into the room. She was freshly bathed and dressed in a clean nightgown. Her thoughtful expression changed to one of distress as she looked at the money on the table. "That's all I'll ever be to you, isn't it. I'm nothing but a whore and I'll never be good enough for you to love!"
"I'm sorry, Vickie." Jim told her. "I don't quite know what to say."
"Well, don't say anything then, just get your hypocritical ass the hell out of my room!" Vickie went past him to the bedside table. She picked up the money and threw it at him Knowing that discretion is always the better part of valor when dealing with a woman, Jim beat a hasty retreat.
The disconcerted Ranger unhobbled the stud. He threw his saddle on its back as Vickie yelled caustic profanities at him he'd never have taken from a grown man without a hell of a fight. Her yelling turned to crying and begging when Jim began leading his horse toward the door.
Jim turned and spoke gently. "I'm sorry, Vickie. I'd give anything if this hadn't happened between us." He turned back around and led Chief on out of the door. "Damn it!" Jim swore as he confided in the stud. "Maybe I am a hypocrite, but I just can't see myself falling in love with a whore!"