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's mind was in turmoil at the moment, but his belly still needed some food. He knew he'd lost considerable weight during the pursuit of the last two weeks and right now his stomach must be thinking his throat had been cut. He reflected that a steady diet of tortillas and beans, eaten on the run, would probably lean down most anyone.
Jim remembered there was a small cafe just down the street and he was making a beeline for it when his attention was drawn to angry shouts coming from the sidewalk ahead. He recognized the man coming toward him on foot as Mayor Dixon. The mayor was a middle-aged man who Jim had usually seen impeccably dressed in a nice store bought suit. At the moment though, he had his nightgown half stuffed into his pants and his suspenders were flopping around his legs.
"My mare's gone; I've been robbed!" Mayor Dixon yelled to him.
Jim winced; he'd obviously been recognized. "Let's go check on Sheriff Tilley." Jim reluctantly told the Mayor. Mayor Dixon fell right in behind Jim as he headed for the Sheriff's office. Jim quickly tied his horse to the rail out front and stormed through the front door of the office. He already had a pretty good idea of what they were likely to find there. He called out, "Sheriff, Sheriff Tilley! Are you here?"
"Back here!" A hoarse voice urgently answered him. Jim went back into the prisoner area and he saw the Sheriff and his Deputy locked up together in a cell. "That damned injun had the drop on Roscoe when I got back here last night! We've been yelling our fool heads off ever since."
"There's a spare key on top of that gun rack out there in the office." The Deputy told Jim. Jim went and quickly found the key and returned to unlock the cell.
Jim was concentrating on keeping a tight rein on his sense of humor, but the Mayor was anything but amused; he was fuming! "So this is where our fearless law officers were while my own horse was being stolen!"
The Sheriff's embarrassed look changed to one of fury. "That had to be that danged Injun Joe who stole your horse." Sheriff Tilley complained. "He's the one who locked us up."
Mayor Dixon turned on Jim; he put both of his hands on his hips and spoke belligerently. "I thought your Captain assured me you were the one man in Texas who could catch Injun Joe!"
"He was dead right, Your Honor. It took me two weeks of rough riding to bring him in, and I delivered him right here to this office in chains last night. I woke up your Deputy and turned the injun over to him and got a receipt. Ask Sheriff Tilley yourself, he was over visiting Miss Vickie in her rooms at the saloon when I found him and told him all about it." Jim thought those innocent little clues about the Sheriff and Deputy ought to be plenty of bait to lure the Mayor off of his own trail.
The Sheriff evidently thought so too, he desperately started trying to brush over his own tracks as the Mayor turned quickly back to him. "It's all Roscoe's fault, Mayor. He's the one who let that blasted redskin get the drop on him!"
"And just who in the devil was it who insisted I hire Roscoe?" Mayor Dixon fumed. "If my mare isn't back in my barn tonight, I'll be looking to hire me another sheriff and deputy! Ranger Horn, you caught that horse thief once, where do you reckon they should begin hunting for him this time?"
They had moved back into the office as they talked. Jim looked over at the big Texas map hanging on the wall behind the Sheriff's desk. He walked over and stood in front of it as he thought out loud.
"Mayor, if I had to put my finger on Injun Joe and your good spotted mare right now I'd figure they've been movin' fast since almost two hours before midnight last night." He stabbed a finger at a point on the map. "I'd say that injun and your spotted mare are enjoying a big bait of breakfast somewhere just this side of Austin right now!"
"What?" The Mayor shouted scornfully. "That's impossible!" Jim would later describe Mayor Dixon's expression as being blown up like a drowned horned toad.
"Alright, Sir." Jim returned a little stiffly. "You asked me where I reckoned he was and I told you. As far as I've heard no other lawman has ever even come close to catching him. Last night I asked him personal' to get out of Texas when he escaped and I think he took it to heart and he's high tailin' it up north." Jim walked toward the front door.
"Where do you think you're going, Horn?" The Mayor asked.
"I'm going to hunt me up some breakfast. Unlike you city folks, it's been weeks since I've had a decent meal. I aim to keep a real close eye on that spotted stud, too, just in case I'm wrong about where that injun is."
"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard, Horn." The Mayor blustered. "Even that crazy injun wouldn't steal a Texas Ranger's horse in broad daylight on the main street of San Antonio!"
"You may be right." Jim said as he grinned broadly. "Then again, Mayor Dixon, I know where my horse is and you don't!" Jim left the Mayor spluttering; for once Jim had seen the man speechless.
Jim was feeling right proud of himself for setting the Mayor straight as he led his horse on over to the cafe. He entered the place and looked around; ranchers and townsmen already sat at several of the tables. Jim instinctively took a seat at a small table where his back would be against a solid wall.
The half-starved Ranger stared hungrily at the slate board on the wall that had the bill of fare written on it in chalk. The good smells of home cooking coming from the kitchen stove made his empty stomach rumble.
An attractive young red headed woman in a yellow sundress and white apron came over to his table. "Might I take your order, sir?" She smiled and asked pleasantly, Jim was a little surprised she spoke English flavored with a strong Irish brogue.
"Please, ma'am. I've eaten nothing but beans and tortillas for the past three weeks, washed down with muddy water. If you please, ma'am, rope a steer and drag it up on top of that hot stove of yours for a minute and then slice me off a big steak. Put four eggs sunny side up on top of that, and I aim to wash that down with two pots of strong black coffee."
"I'll fetch you those two pots of coffee one cup at a time if it's all the same to you, Ranger." The girl surprised him a little by coming right back at him with her humor. But, with all of the rowdy cowboys that come in her cafe, Jim thought, she probably hears some real dillies.
Jim watched the girl closely as she returned to the stove. She walked the way a woman walks who knows an admiring man is watching her. She had full hips, a slender waist and more than ample breasts. Jim decided he would most definitely like to get to know her better! This little red head was an honest working woman and the way Vickie was acting the last time he'd seen her, he wasn't much likely to get any more lovin' from her anytime soon.
The young lady brought him a big hot mug of fresh brewed coffee and a glass jar full of trimmed green onion sprigs and pickled peppers, then she went back to the stove and started banging iron skillets around. In a pleasantly short time she brought him a big platter with a sizzling rare steak draped over every side of it. The center of the steak was covered with four big, orange-yoked yard eggs and several fluffy biscuits.
Jim glanced hungrily at the vision on the platter before him then he looked soulfully up into the girl's big blue eyes. "Do you believe in love at first sight, Ma'am? I reckon I've died and gone home to Jubilee in Heaven, but just in case I ain't, I aim to marry you and carry you off somewhere and keep you all to myself!"
The girl only smiled prettily at Jim in reply, but she did swish her skirts a little extra as she moved on to the next table. She answered back to him from across the room. "Love at first bite is more like it, Ranger. I ought to know all about you hungry men, that's my third proposal today, and breakfast not even over yet!"
Jim fell to cutting on his steak, he'd work on marrying the girl some more after his belly was full. He allowed as how he ought to have her perty much seeing things his way along about time for his lunch.
The pretty girl kept his coffee mug full and hot and the lean beefsteak was plenty tender for a desperately starving man. Like many a good woman, the red head seemed to genuinely enjoy watching a hungry man eat and Jim had his mind set on putting on one hell of a grand show.
He was sopping up some runny egg yolk and savory grease from the empty platter with the last bite of a biscuit when he noticed the front door slowly swinging open. In through the wide hole the open door left in the wall walked Silas Hawkins; he was so damned big and broad the hair on his greasy buffalo hide coat brushed the door trim on each side!
Jim's feeling of well being vanished in an instant. Of all the people in the world Jim knew, Silas Hawkins was the very last one he wanted to see at that precise moment. Hawkins was wanted for everything from barn burning and bank robbery to murder and rape!
He was big and he was bad, he weighed about the same as a yearling buffalo and he even smelled like one. His curly, greasy beard covered half of his big chest. Jim saw all of this and more, but he was already in action, he shoved his chair back away from the table and he was coming up with his both of his Colts when Silas looked his way. Silas' piggish eyes widened in recognition.
The girl had picked exactly the wrong time to warm up the man's coffee at the table next to the door. Silas snatched her up in front of him and he was coming out with his own gun as Jim drew his Colts! "I'll kill her, Horn!"
Silas yelled. He had the girl clutched to his chest like he was a big ugly child with a pretty, fragile doll. She had started screaming desperately and she'd dropped the coffeepot when Silas' arm had encircled her and he'd yanked her to him.
"I know you will." Jim yelled back as the sights of his Colts cleared the red head of hair in front of Hawkin's chest and he pulled both the triggers.
Jim felt the satisfactory recoil from the big Colts as they roared. Despite his huge bulk, Silas was literally thrown away from the girl by the impact of the two heavy bullets in his upper chest!
Silas had made at least two fatal mistakes. He was so vicious an animal that Jim had known as sure as shootin' that the pretty girl's life wasn't worth a plugged nickel as his hostage. Silas would have used her to hide behind while he was killing Jim and then he would've taken his time and enjoyed killing her. The second big mistake he'd made was in grabbing a hostage who was short enough for the Ranger to get a couple of killing shots in over her head.
Jim rounded the table and he moved in quickly. He hadn't heard a shot from Silas' gun as yet so the girl was more than likely still alive but Jim knew from past experience that a man as mean as Hawkins sometimes took a whole lot of killing. Jim got to Hawkins' side, the outlaw's six-shooter was still in his hand, but it was on the floor. Jim stomped hard on the hand and revolver and he felt bones crunching beneath his boot heel.
Jim was thinking that Silas wouldn't pull any more triggers with that hand. He kicked the gun out of reach and was whirling around to see if Silas needed any more killing when he felt a piercing pain in his thigh. He reached down and grabbed Silas' other calloused hand. It was limply falling away from the hilt of a buried Bowie hunting knife. Silas had lived just long enough to plant his blade in Jim!
Jim holstered his guns and turned to the girl. She was sitting in the floor staring sickly at the hilt of the knife sticking from his leg. Despite the fierce pain, his first concern was for her. He asked her, "Are you alright, Ma'am? Did he hurt you?"
"Thanks to you, he hurt me a whole lot less than he hurt you." The girl said through her tears. "You saved my life; I knew when I saw his eyes he was a killer!" She turned to speak to one of the other diners who had all nervously risen from their chairs. "Sam, run and go get the Doc." The man shot out the door as if he'd been on a spring.
Jim helped the girl up and then she immediately began helping him. "Sit down right over here." She steered him to the nearest chair. She dashed to the kitchen area of the cafe and came back with a clean cloth. "Now this is really going to hurt. Take off your gun belt and pull your britches down as soon as I jerk the knife out."
Jim took off his gun belts and laid them on a table close to hand, then he hesitated modestly and the girl insisted. "Ranger, you're losing a lot of blood, it's filling up your boot. We're both grown ups here and you just saved my life." She grabbed the hilt of the big knife with both hands and jerked it straight out. "Now pull down those pants, Mister!"
Jim raised himself enough with his good leg to get his pants down over his thigh then he sat back down again. He was beginning to feel dizzy from the blood loss and pain. The girl bound his wound tightly with the cloth. The initial shock in the leg had worn off now and the pain was worsening quickly.
Sheriff Tilley came in through the door. "Damn it, Horn. You killed Silas Hawkins!" Jim thought sarcastically, it hadn't taken Tilley long to size up the situation.
"It shore enough appears that way to me." Jim admitted to him, as the Sheriff knelt to look closer at his big catch. The doctor came through the door next; he also stopped to examine Silas. Jim was watching closely and he noticed the doctor picked up a tress of red hair off Hawkin's shirt where it had been left after one of Jim's bullets had clipped it off the girl's head on its way to the killer's chest.
The girl got a little short with the old medical man. "Doctor, if that Hawkins feller ain't dead yet this fine Ranger will just have to shoot him again. Meanwhile, it just so happens he's over here bleeding to death!"
"Hawkins is dead." The Doctor pronounced unnecessarily. "And from what I've heard about his God forsaken life, his killing was way past due!"
He moved over to Jim and expertly moved the bandage up over the wound and tightened it. "Well, this wound is in line with the muscles, at least. It's bled enough to clean it out. We'll just check it out and then stitch it up and you'll have to stay off of your feet for a couple of weeks, then you should be as good as new."
The Doctor ordered some of the bystanders to clear off a couple of the small tables and slide them together. They helped Jim up onto the tables and the Doctor shooed the crowd of spectators and other diners on out as he began to seriously work on the wound. The young red head came back over to hold Jim's hand. Jim figured that he'd just as soon have a pretty nurse if he were going to be laid up for a spell.
The girl sweetly told Jim, "I ought to know your name, Ranger. I'm Kathryn Connors and as a man who has saved my life I'd be pleased if you called me Katie"
"Yes Ma'am. I'm Jim Horn. I'm pleased to meet you, Katie. I just wish the circumstances were different. Since I won't be riding anywhere for the next few days, I'm going to be sitting around right here eating in your fine establishment. Seeing as how I expect to be moonin' around and sparkin' you the whole time, you'd just as well save us some time and effort and send someone for the preacher and marry me right now."
"What?" Katie acted like she was a little flustered by his speech, but she went along with the bantering. "If I married you it would make my regular customers jealous, Mr. Horn."
"But just think Katie, you'd own half of that big spotted horse out there, ouch, and a good saddle, and you'd have an armed guard in here whenever I was in town." Jim knew he was really reaching for arguments now, but at least it seemed to be taking his mind off of whatever painful thing it was the Doctor was doing to his leg.
Katie squeezed his hand a bit harder. "I never needed an armed guard in here before you came in and threw down on Hawkins and I've already got my own pony."
"Well, alright Katie, but please tell me that you'll at least go riding with me after you close up this evening. Ouch! You did that one on purpose, Doc."
"You're talking about going riding and I just told you you have to stay off your feet for two weeks, young man." The Doctor sure had some mighty convincing ways about him, but Jim hadn't given up quite yet.
"I rarely ride a horse standing up, Doc. Ouch! I think Hawkins was gentler on me with that big pig sticker of his than you're being with them little bitty needles."
"Aha! Just as I thought." The Doctor exulted. Jim saw he was holding up something triangular and bloody with a pair of even bloodier pliers. "I got the tip of the blade, it was broken off in the bone and it would have given you a lot of pain in years to come."
"Thanks a lot, Doc." Jim said. "But did you have to use them big ole fencing pliers to do it?" Jim's leg was hurting like the devil now. It looked like he'd be laid up for at least a week, and he had a good hold on pretty Katie's hand, but he didn't think he was making much progress with her.
Jim decided it was time to give her the hard sell! "Katie, my love, I guess I'm going to have to quit being so shy and bashful and get right down to brass tacks. I think I might just be fallin' in love with the idea of having me a pretty Irish bride who can cook and a little white cottage plumb full of rowdy redheaded children."
Vickie chose this awkward time to come through the door of the cafe. She looked frightened for Jim at first, but her next glance must have seen his hand in Katie's because her face changed and by the time she spoke there was pure-dee rattle-snake venom in her voice. "I heard you were stabbed while killing Silas Hawkins, Jim. It looks like you're in good hands, though."
Vickie whirled and stomped back out the door and Katie pulled both of her hands away from his as if he had the plague. "I didn't know you were a personal friend of hers, Mr. Horn!" Katie said. Four men were carrying Silas out and Katie left Jim's side to begin cleaning up the mess.
Jim's spirits sank lower than a snake's belly. He saw that the old sawbones was pouring a bottle of something into his wound to clean it out.
The label said carbolic acid, but Jim found out that it must have really been some kind of infernal liquid hell fire because he passed plumb out from the pain while the sawbones finished sewing him up and bandaged him. When he came back around, he shakily spoke. "Thanks, Doc. What do I owe you?"
"Don't worry about it, Ranger." The crotchety old Doctor replied. "I'll take it out of whatever Hawkins has in his kit; he owed you that much, anyway."
"Alrighty, Doc. I sure do thank you, sir." Jim weakly got up and buttoned up his britches and buckled his belt. He put on his gun belts and then he turned to Katie. "I'm plumb sorry I caused you so much grief, Ma'am. Here's you some money for cleaning up after me and for that fine meal. It was the best I've eaten in a coon's age; maybe I'll be back through here again some time." Jim was disappointed to see Katie didn't look up from her work or say a word to give him any encouragement. "Goodbye." He said awkwardly.
Jim laid the money on a table and hobbled out the door and over to his horse. He mounted shakily and reined the stud over toward the telegraph station. Katie ran over to the door; as she watched she saw Jim was weaving in his saddle. "Doc, you can't let him ride off all alone and wounded like that!"
The Doctor took off his spectacles to look closely at Katie. He was thinking of the many mistakes he had personally made in his long life, of the missed opportunities and of the many promising paths he had not taken.
"He's a grown man, Katie. What do you want me to do, shoot him off of that spotted stud? You could have kept him here, young Lady, but certainly not me." The Doctor was starting in to thinkin' that, sometime in the future, Katie might look back at today as a time she had taken the wrong path.