Buscadero

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
An Easterner evolves into a man of the West.

Submitted: August 16, 2015

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Submitted: August 16, 2015

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5000 words

 

 

 

BUSCADERO

 

The cellulose collar chaffs as he drowsily eyes the endless expanse punctuated by a lone cottonwood standing sentinel.

Opulent conveyances have carried him to a coarse, unbroken desolation of subtle magnetism. Herein lays stark contrast to Grey’s Anglo complexion, rotund jowls and fleshy midriff.

Pamphlets inform him as to the virtues of the West. In contradiction to the reality of a face and shirt blackened with soot. Hot cinders pock his suit.

“Faroon, prepare to disembark in Faroon,” brays the conductor. Grey’s relief and delight upon hearing this call is palpable. He rises a little quicker than correctness ordains, and is embarrassed.

With arrogance he dons his derby (the apogee of his traveling costume). He espies his dusty boots with disgust, and wonders idly if shoeshine boys are extant in the west. He retrieves his stick, hefts his Gladstone bag and in full control of his bearing, strides in dignity to the door at the end of the car awaiting the train to stop.

At which juncture he will go through the egress, out onto the platform, down two steps and into a novel life.

Stepping out lively, Grey is rejuvenated by his release from the penalty of the train, in juxtaposition to the gaiety of the street.

The cacophony that greets him contains the lowing of cattle as well as the whinnying of horses standing hitched to a rail in the hot sun without the relief of grain or water, a barbarous act to Grey’s mind.

The wailing of mules complaining of their connection in a daisy chain straggling behind a mulero adds to the din.

Indians stand still as death. Cowhands race their ponies through the street in anticipation of drunken reverie.

Decorous ladies timidly thread their way through the jostling crowd. Cyprians in half dress brazenly display their attributes.

The boardwalk looks new. Grey need not step into the churned, rutted mud. Whereon dung and refuse serve as pavement.

***

Approaching the hotels’ spacious desk, he announces, “Good-day, I require a room.”

“Yes sir, the finest in town. May I ask you to sign in?” The deskman spins the register and reads out the name in the crisp, clear script, Grey Beauchamp.

Congenial is his welcome, to this obvious specimen from the east.

***

Adhering to the hotel deskman’s directions, he arrives at Hoggstle’s house. The lawyer takes a long moment to answer the ring.

A tall, corpulent man attired in a suit of several days wearing. Samples of meals dapple his linen. His hair is coated in oil. The salt and pepper beard bears the stain of his cigar drool. There is about him the odor of infrequent bathing.

Grey’s initial impression is repugnancy although mitigated by his unfamiliarity with western ways.

Following amenities they weigh into the matter, the terms and circumstances of Grey’s inheritance.

“Certainly, I have the complete file right here. You are free to read the will yourself. Essentially, it leaves fifteen thousand acres of range land, one house, several barns, assorted outbuildings, whatever live stock is on the place when you assume possession and this letter,” handing a sealed envelope over, “solely to you.”

Grey pockets the letter and puts the central question directly on the table, “Is there a market for this property?”

“There are two alternatives. The first supposes that you sell the property as is, the second that you rehabilitate which should pay off.”

“What price differential is in consideration?”

“Substantial.”

“What are we talking about in the way of renovation and restoration? I’m no carpenter and I haven’t any experience herding cattle.”

“I appreciate that, but you can hire carpenters and a cow crowd.  All you have to do is supervise them. All you have to do to supervise them is to think.”

“Have you a reason to be pushing this proposition?”

“One of the oldest in the land – money, you stick around and work this range, you’ll have water disputes, brand disputes, free grazer disputes and sod buster disputes and I will make money from all of them.”

“You appear to be a man of singular honesty.”

“In the lawyer business you have to be. You already know your uncle trusted me. I’ll give you no reason to look elsewhere to fulfill your needs.”

“How do you know I am of the type you want to represent?”

“I knew your uncle,” he states as the ends of his lips curl slightly.

***

He approaches the door of his house- before he can knock the door opens, “Si, senor?”

“Good-day, my name is Mr. Beauchamp and this is my place, who are you?”

“I am the housekeeper and my husband takes care of the outside. Our name is Quinzol, Maria and Cosder Quinzol. Welcome to your new home.” With that she opens the door wide and moves to one side. He nods and surveys the rustically decorated room.

***

Grey enters a saloon, addresses the barman, “I wonder if you might help me. I would like to speak to an older fellow who’s been around this part of the country for a time.”

“Bartholomew, he’s your man, known as hombre del campo.”

Advancing on the man, “Good afternoon, Grey Beauchamp, may I have a word?”

The man looks up and quickly surveys Grey’s rig. Bartholomew studies he is a belinka and says, “Already sold out to a feller like you,” and drops his head to resume his examination of the table top.

“Fair enough, how about conversation?”

The man looks up, “what of the blasted would we have to talk about?”

“Actually, I am more interested in hearing you talk than talking myself.”

“You got something in particular in mind?”

“In actual fact I have an interest in the Beauchamp ranch.”

“Fair ground, well watered, rincon for protection in winter. I said a might, what’s your say?”

“What would you like to hear, something about the east?”

“What I care about the east you could stuff in a tick’s ass, why you interested in the Beauchamp place?”

“I inherited it, I am considering selling it.”

“Well, sell out, make a profit and go home. What’s the question? You seen the lay?”

“Yes, I was out there today.”

“No feel for the land?”

Grey looks at the wrinkled, unshaven face, the faded eyes, the squint, the missing teeth, and the tobacco stain. What is this geezer’s interest? “To be frank I thought the land was, as you say, fair.”

“What’s the question?”

Grey intensely searches the man’s face. Was he, despite his appearance, keen?

“No question at all,” says Grey in the instant, as quickly deciding his fate.

“I thank you for the conversation and the sage advice.

***

“Sure footed, won’t buck jump. Get off him every ten miles or so, walk him and let him blow. At night hobble him, he’ll graze, make sure he has access to water. That’s all there is to it. If you fall off, stay seated. He won’t run far. If you jump up an’ chase him he will run forever. Any questions?”

***

Mr. Quinzol, after depositing Grey’s goods in his room, goes out and taking the reins begins to lead the horse away. Grey leaps up and shouts through the doorway, “I want to go riding.”

The Vaquero, turns and says, “I am just going to let him rest, water him. He will be ready when you want him, patron,” and continues to lead the horse away.

***

After an afternoon of riding, he unsaddles the horse in the tack shed, leads him into the pasture, hobbles him and returns to the house for supper.

When he has finished his meal, he goes outside to sit on the porch and consider what he is to do on the morrow. He observes the hand walking the horse into the barn, “Mr. Quinzol, I left the horse in the pasture so that it could graze. There is a stream, so it can water.”

“Patron, it is not good to leave the horse in the pasture, the horse should pass the night in the barn.”

“Mr. Quinzol, the man at the livery told me to leave the horse hobbled where it could feed and water.”

“Patron, the horse should pass the night in the barn.”

“Well, let’s follow the instructions of the man who owns the horse. Would you put him back in the pasture please?”

“Si, patron,” turning back to the pasture.

***

While sound asleep, he is roused by a scream akin to the wail of a tortured woman or an animal crying out its last breath.

He springs from his bed and runs out into the large room in his long johns. He flings open the front door and peers out.

Meanwhile, Mr. Quinzol obtains a lantern and coming up behind him shins past and out into the night.

He watches Mr. Quinzol’s lantern pass out towards the pasture then follows him.

They come upon the horse, lying on its side.

Its entrails have been flung into the grass, its throat ripped out, and steam rises from exposed viscera.

“Catamount, patron.”

He should have listened to Mr. Quinzol. His foolishness has cost a horse.

He resolves, in future he will heed Mr. Quinzol’s advice and others with experience in this country.

Here is not a situation one can think oneself through. Thought is no viable alternative for experience.

***

After greeting Mr. Hoggstle, he says, “I am afraid I am in need of advice and counsel. I am committed to improving the ranch prior to sale. I am somewhat at a loss as to how to proceed.”

“I am confident we can help you out. You need to hire probably eight cowhands, good brush-poppers. You’ll have to add in a cocinero, a wrangler, a bronco buster and a top- waddie.”

“Where would I find such men?”

“I believe, what would work best would be for me to assemble a group you could choose from except for the cocinero. He you will have to hire him based on reputation. It is important to have a good cook. You will have to conduct a cowhunt and brand all the critters you find on your range. You will need to have a brand and branding irons. Have you given any thought to a brand?  You want something that is unique and difficult to blot.”

“I think “GB”, that should be singular and difficult to modify.”

“I believe you are right, sounds good. You can go to the blacksmith. Have him make you up two or three branding stamps. I’ll see what I can round up in the way of men.”

“Thank you so much. I appreciate all you have done for me.”

“Think nothing of it. It’s my job.”

***

Grey sat astride a cowpony, boughten off the man at the livery.  Although the animal is a little long in the tooth, he is well trained, sure footed and no tom foolery.

His outfit is beginning to wear in a might. The shine is off the boots. The Levi’s are faded. The shirt has been patched. His bandanna is soiled. His hat no longer sports a band and sweat stains it half-way to the crown.

Riding with ease, noticeably lighter, he is as yet a pilgrim. He turns east to west, as his skin turns pale to dark.

Grey watches the branding crew work. The roper takes a cow from the branding corral, the bulldogger and the flanker hold it, and the brander brands it. The butcher castrates it and swallow forks its ear. A tallyman counts and a boy tends the fire.

The cow crowd is out prowling. The cook in the chuck house produces the appropriate amount of complaint.

He is rather copasetic as to his situation, expecting to soon have his herd all branded and inventoried. His horses branded, broken and in remuda with a wrangler to tend to them.

***

He rides out to a barranca with bosky along the sides that he employs as his shooting range. His proficiency is at a satisfactory level. He gives no consideration to the skills of a shootist, leaving such arts to other men.

***

After several weeks of participation in the work and observation he designates a man top-waddie. A selection, that appears to go down well with the remainder of the outfit.

***

Grey takes notice the toll of cattle being rounded up for branding is dropping but the top-waddie does not reduce the size of the branding crew and reassign the extra hands to assist with the cowhunt. Nor does he undertake to participate in the roundup himself. Although somewhat troubled, Grey lacks sufficient experience to intervene.

***

“No, there are many cattle that have not been brought in,” observes Mr. Quinzol in response to Grey’s query.

“Wouldn’t it make sense for the branding crew to be reduced and the extras sent out to assist in the hunt?”

“Si, they have nothing to do.”

“Shouldn’t the top-waddie be going out on the hunt?”

“Si, the top-waddie should be going out. You have a bad man. Many of your men are bad men.”

“How do you know this?”

“Many of these men are cattle thieves. The rest are bums from the saloons. No good hands here.”

***

 

Grey thinks to seek the counsel of Bartholomew once again, “Excuse me I would like to ask a question, are you agreeable?”

Bartholomew raises his eyes from the table, considers Grey minutely, nodding slightly.

Placing the glasses on the table before him, Grey fills each and pulls out a chair.

Reaching for the glass Bartholomew says, “Sure, glad to oblige.”

“I’ve been given to understand the hands that were suggested to me by the attorney Hoggstle are but thieves and barroom trash.”

Bartholomew sits studying his glass, having not uttered a sound after the passage of several minutes.

“Nothing to say?”

“I haven’t heard a question.”

Grey is slightly irritated by his coyness, “do you know the men working on my range?”

“Rather expansive for what is but a shirt-tail outfit. I am aware of who you have working out there, as well as their reputations.”

“Can you reason as to why Mr. Hoggstle would have suggested such men?”

“No worse nor better than other men. I dare say you aren’t going to find choir boys to herd cattle. If you are having trouble it ain’t the men but the range boss. You made one man top-waddie not foreman. So you must have wanted to retain that position for yourself. Now you will have to work it.”

“I see.  Thanks for your assistance. Keep the bottle,” Grey turns on his heel and heads for the door having been thoroughly chastened, to his thinking.

***

Morning finds him in his saddle, as the men tumble out of the chuck house. He motions for Matroy the top-waddie to attend him, “I’ll have attention paid to your business.”

“In what regard, Mr. Beauchamp?” There is within the words a sneer.

“In regard that if you don’t get with it your goddam ass is off my range.”

Matroy sits for a moment, considering his options and concluding he needs the job for he says, “Yes, Mr. Beauchamp.”

In short order most of the riders are sent out to assist with the hunt. What remain is sufficient to handle the meager number of cows needing branding.

***

He goes out occasionally to ride with the cowhunters. Although their work does not carry the same appeal as the branding, being somewhat tedious and requiring superb riding skills (his skills as yet do not measure up to the mark required).

He takes to riding sign, with a secondary objective of circumnavigating the range to determine exactly the lay of his land. The cairns, stakes, blazed trees and rocks encircling the spread, assist him in this effort.

Coming upon a solid vereda of trampled grass, cow chips and heavy grazing, he recognizes a significant vaca throw off from his range.

He follows for a considerable distance. After a piece the trail diminishes until it disappears as the cattle drifted from the herd and scattered over the prairie.

Not knowing where the hunting party is located he returns to the branding pen and awaits the arrival of riders with a bunch of cattle to be branded.

His intention is to return with them to the hunters and direct the top-waddie to accompany him to the trail he has discovered and recover his stock.

***

When they reach the top-waddie, Grey instructs him as to his desires.

Matroy says, “Mr. Beauchamp since the cows are unbranded there will be no way to know which are yours. We could be rounding up another man’s animals. If so, it’s likely the man will not take kindly to you taking his vacada.”

“We’re going to collect up those cows and bring them back on my range. If we come into possession of branded animals, we will release them on that range. Otherwise they will come back to mine, have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, Mr. Beauchamp, you have made yourself clear, I’m just allowing for what might happen.”

“I appreciate your concern, let’s get going.”

***

The cowhunters round up approximately five hundred head and drive them back upon his range. None bear a brand.

***

Mrs. Quinzol makes up an outfit with sufficient grub to sustain him on the prairie. He returns to the area where the cattle moved off. During the day he maintains a vigil from the highest point, scanning the range with field glasses.

***

He now determines that he is ready for the contents of the letter included in the inheritance. He retrieves it from his shirt pocket and reads:

“Dear Grey:

I leave you with these thoughts:

Always think first

Maintain the moral high ground

Watch everything that moves

Be stone honest

Keep your own counsel

I believe these thoughts will serve you well. I wish you happiness and health.

Uncle, Jacob”

The wording is as ascetic as the relationship with the uncle.

***

After several days he observes a couple of hide-thieves who, having shot several beeves, are in the process of skinning them out.

Grey is yet lenty in the land. His circumstances being undesirable, in approaching two men obviously well versed in prairie ways. Expecting to best them is sheer folly. However, his position as patron of the ranch requires of him that he deal with such situations. If he desires success in that office he must prove himself worthy.

Steeling his nerves, he scrounges about for an advantage however none comes to hand. Finally, striking upon the idea of using his obvious pose as a green horn as a foil, he proceeds to the confrontation.

He rides on them. His lingering tender foot appearance exacerbated by his attempt at emulating western dress disarms them to the point of blitheness, “Ho, hombre, where y’a headed? Y’a lost out here?” The men standing too, he assumes awaiting a moment when his reins would be ready to their hand and they could gain control of his mount.

“Just out for a ride,” he pulls his pistol and wrests control of the situation in the instant.

He bids them to continue skinning so that at least the hides will not go to waste. He has them load the hides on their mule.

After they have mounted their horses, he ties each with a pigging string.

They ride back to the ranch house. He presents the hide rustlers to the branding crew. “What is the appropriate punishment for this offense?” he asks of the men.

None make reply.

“Well, strip them clean, put them on their bare backed ponies, ride them out past my range and let ‘em go. Divide up their outfits amongst you, as you will.”

***

“I’ve got a man by the name of Quinzol working for me.”

“I know him well. Fine man, good man, hell of a wrangler in his day.”

“I am glad to hear someone in my employ is held in such high esteem by you. Anyway, I lost my top-waddie.”

“How’s that?”

“He disappeared with a partida of hands. So I asked Quinzol if he knew anyone that would suit and he recommended Jesus Hernandez. I was wondering if you knew him and if so if you had an opinion as to his qualifications.”

“Hernandez is a good man. He will suit well, but Texicans and Anglos aren’t gon’a want to work for him.”

“They’ll work for who I say or be off’n my range,” Grey pours two more and leans back to enjoy the drink.

He feels much better with the collaboration of the only two men who have steered him righteously.

Not much more is said, eventually the bottle is emptied, “You-all want a steak?”

“Yeah, I could eat a steak.”

Grey turns and signals to the bar tender for two steaks and two glasses of beer.

“Who owns the land west of my place?”

“That’s public land, but Hoggstle keeps it bottled up and everyone but him off’n it.”

“How does he manage that?”

“He has riders who are willing to push anyone who ventures on that land.”

“Why doesn’t anyone oppose him?”

“As I say he has the riders and he is a lawyer. Sort of has the whole package wrapped up, wouldn’t you say?”

“Maybe, maybe.”

Grey makes his way to the hotel with thoughts of this fellow who has taken advantage of him when he was supposedly looking out for Grey’s interests. Exactly a situation where in one would feel absolutely no qualm in extracting revenge.

***

After a brief conversation with Jesus Hernandez, Grey offers him the position of caporal with his outfit. The principle question put to him is, “Mr. Hernandez, you can imagine on this range, we must protect our animals from those who would rustle them. Are you prepared to protect my animals from theft?”

“Si, patron.”

“Why, what’s in it for you?”

“Although you own the rancho, we will live here, it will be our home, we will have our wives, and we will raise our children. We must protect the hacienda.”

“Alright, Mr. Hernandez, you’re hired. I have sent the outfit to round-up cattle and bring them in. I have instructed them to be out for three days. I suggest we use that time to hire more hands. Where do you believe we should look for them?”

“Patron, I will hire the men, how many should I get?”

“We are four short.”

“Si, patron.”

***

“Well, Mr. Beauchamp good morning. I must say I did not expect to find you upon my range. You’re a bit off course I’d say. Maybe you want to travel your back trail to find your way home.”

“Mr. Hoggstle, I understand this to be free grass. I got grazing rights here as well as anyone.”

“That don’t figure, nobody is going to leave all this range to just anybody what wonders by. No, I staked this plain and it’s mine by law and right. I’ll thank you to stay off’n it and your cattle too.”

“Mr. Hoggstle, I figure you already wronged me once or twice and now’s the third time. I don’t take it kindly.  Now you got the best o’ me at this moment, so I got to back track but don’t get the impression this is the end of the matter, cause it ain’t.”

Brave talk while Grey feverishly contrives to get off the ridge alive. They have three guns to his one. They have height on him and his back to them as he rides away.

His pony fidgets, although he knows the animal to be of sound spirit. Relying on just that spirit Grey digs the rowels on both heels into the cayuse’s flanks. The pony shoots up with forelegs high, snorting and crying.

The three men’s mounts immediately start to buck and the men are fully consumed with trying to get them under control.

Grey scampers up over the crest and down the other side to where, to his good fortune, lay a brasada in which he is instantaneously hidden and lost.

Completely disoriented, he has no idea, where the three men are nor the way out of the thicket.

Grey dismounts, thinking of that old survival tenet, when you’re lost stay put.

He pulls the reins of his bridle up to the chains and twisting the horse’s head bids him lay over. Removing his bandanna he wraps it about the pony’s eyes, hoping the animal will not neigh nor whiney.

Grey takes his long gun from the scabbard and places his pistol on the saddle and nervously awaits a rush from his assailants.

For a time he hears the riders crashing about in the brush, occasionally expressing an oath at having been scratched or caught or some other calamity.

He is unable to detect whether they are getting any closer or moving away, since the sound does not increase or decrease in volume.

He waits sweating, fiercely running various scenarios through his mind and rejecting them as quickly as they appear.

Grey then spies Mr. Hoggstle upon the brim heading for the knoll which was Grey’s original objective earlier this morning.

When he is upon the knob Grey will have full sight of him over the brush. His long gun can reach Hoggstle easily and this becomes Grey’s intention.

The other two riders will have no reason to continue the pursuit once their employer is deceased. All Grey will have to do is await their retreat.

Flies are landing on his face, crawling in his nose and mouth. As he now has a plan in place, time seems to slow to a crawl.

He is completely focused on the sweat which courses down his face from his temples. This is the natural order of things on the summer plain. Under normal circumstances, one’s mind is otherwise occupied. However, under these circumstances, the travel of each drop of sweat is accentuated.

Now Mr. Hoggstle is completely visible to him. His confidence in successfully making the shot erodes. If he misses his location will be revealed. The two men will ride him down in short order and dispatch him without delay. His mind is as though fat-witted. He lies sweating, unable to choose a course of action in which he has conviction.

Presently, he is able to recognize his immobilization is a result of his fear and not the inadequacy of his reasoning.

Taking the long gun shot while keeping his pistol close will sufficiently protect him from the advances of the two men who will be as afraid of the concealing powers of the undergrowth as he.

Further, he has five rounds in the pistol and will have six left in the long gun assuming he only shoots once.

Regaining his composure, Grey puts his back against the horse (since the shot will have to be over the brush) and rests his elbows on his knees to steady the piece. He aims to hit Hoggstle square in the body avoiding the possibility of a missed head shot.

Placing the forward sight of the rifle upon the lawyer’s chest, he aims for a shot to ruin his heart and maybe a lung, a death shot, a mortal wounding. Grey holds, barely breathing, checking all mentally to assure success and squeezes the trigger …at that instant Hoggstle’s horse bucks, removing his heart and lung from the path of the bullet and presenting for penetration his right bicep, which the .44 calibre bullet tears to shreds, causing Mr. Hoggstle to scream in surprise and agonizing pain.

Grey as quickly swoops up his hand gun and rifle, diving into the underbrush, wiggling his way through as quickly as earthly possible, he covers about thirty yards in short order, stops and awaits events.

The crashing about in the underbrush starts anew, apparently the two men are unaware of their patron’s wounds or they are and he has miscalculated and their blood lust is up. They care not if they are compensated. The man hunt now counts more than the pay.

Hoggstle screams again, the two men jolted from their rapacious pleasure foolishly thunder to his aid.

Reversing course, Grey follows the sound allowing him to come to the edge of the brasada whence he attains a clear view of the three.

Now somewhat closer than when he took the shot at Hoggstle, he is more certain and is able to disable both and dispatch their horses.

With wounds in each and one horse amongst them, Grey no longer fears their assault.

He returns to his animal and pulling on the reins, throws a leg over and rises in the saddle. He restores the long gun to its scabbard and holsters his pistol. He rides to the ridge below the mound where now three men lay moaning in pain and agony. They try desperately to staunch the flow of blood from their wounds with their bandannas.

Grey’s spirited pony stands, quivering, stomping with a forefoot, head occasionally shaking away the flies. Grey’s lithe body now reduced to muscle, sinew and bone is bundled in a leathery cover of sun cured skin.

The right leg encircles the saddle horn, draped in faded Levi’s, capped in well-worn boots. Grey’s hat no longer retains a shape and is blotted with sweat stain. His long bandana encircles his neck, knotted at his breast plate. What remains of the blue of his shirt, hanging loose on his reduced frame, is as pale as his eyes. All the pallid that remains lies covered from burning sunlight.

He pulls a cigarito and a blue tip match from his pocket, fires up his smoke and squints in the sun.

With remembrance of the deception this man has visited upon him and retribution due, he languidly says, in a jaded manner: “Mr. Hoggstle my cows’ gon’a graze this free grass; any trouble about it, y’a know ya’ll be a dead man.”

THE END


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