Lacoster's Sparkler

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man must pursue the protection of his honor against all odds.

 

 

Words 5000

 

 

 

 

Lacoster’s Sparkler

 

As his shoulder struck the compacted earth, a sharp searing pain spiked through and down the left arm, obliterating what bite might emanate from the wound at his back.

He lay in the dust, whilst a fly or two buzzed about his eyes, contemplating the situation and awaiting his assailants closing. He stifled the swelling compulsion to sneeze.

Considering the several possible identities of his bushwhackers occupies his mind as his fingers deftly entwine the pistol grip in expectation of the killing yet to come.

His Stetson sailed away during his fall exposing his crown to the sun’s full weight.

His brow, reacting to the solar heat, unleashes a rush of sweat that partially leaks into his eyes, which burn from the salt.

A flash of clarity consumes him, he will not live. This revelation compels him to place his back to the rock face, push with legs and hands until he is high enough to push-drop the beautiful weapon into the horizontal fissure.

***

Grasping the bug juice bottle by the throat, that to settle a quacking hand, he sloshes the dual drinks into the glasses and onto the table.

“Zeke,” said in a voice loud enough to cause a turning of heads in the raucous saloon. Raising the glass slowly to his lips as his pour has reached to the very top of the space available and Jake is loath to waste anymore of what is left in the bottle given the dearth of funds the two cowmen share. “I’m hankering for that pistol.” Now he sucks off the brownish fire before actually tipping the glass.

Indian liquor they say, but poison the more accurate description. Not as spot-on as bottled bad judgment, headache, bellyache, the palsy and a ready ticket to the calaboose. It is what they can afford.

Now able to tip back the glass he swallows the lot, bangs the glass on the bar and says, “It is a handsome thing, them bone grips, the polished metal, gad it’s beautiful.”  

Zeke having not touched his glass watched intently as the who shot john is held from cascading over the side by the surface tension and therefor quivers just the breadth of a hair above the edge.

Now, having steadied his hand for the delicate task of raising the glass without the disastrous results experienced by his pard, he slowly lifts the glass to his lips, sucks on the red eye, tips it up and finishes in a flurry. Smacking the glass on the plank he responds, “where in hell you gon’a get thirty two dollars in winter?”

Jake’s response is a broad, toothy smile, inclusive of crinkly eye and a single word, “wolves.”

Zeke visibly pales. He feels his belly tighten, his crotch constrict and the slightest moisture paint his forehead. “Winter in the Musselshell?  Freezing cold, loose a toe or two to the frost, maybe a finger as well, likely the edges of our ears, get chased by the crazy silver tips that forgot to go to sleep, end up cabin fevered, maybe not see a wolf let alone shoot one and you want to bet we are gon’a shoot thirty two?”

“Dollar apiece, easy money,” says his drunken friend of three years past.

Jacob strokes his ruined boot upon the brass rail pawing for a grip, achieving one on the fifth attempt.

Looking down to witness his success, he loses what is left of breakfast as it is not yet noon.

“Why can’t you make the door, goddam cowboy?” Protests the swamper, with mop and bucket in hand, who begins to swab in broad strokes slathering the spew about the wooden slabbing rather than picking it up.

Jake looking to the barman says, “Gimme water.” The tender places the glass before him. He drinks off half, swishes his mouth and spits the result into the goboon.

Wiping his lips with the back of his hand he continues to argue his case, “We bait, that’s the trick. They won’t resist bait.”

Zeke, resting both elbows on the bar, hands encircling his glass. What remains of his outfit in tatters, his boots expose his bare feet within. Slowly turns his head towards Jake with a quizzical look upon his face and asks incredulously, “Wolfers all over this country, all trying to eke out a living and you believe not one has thought of baiting? What would be the difference between baiting and poisoning?”

Jake now believing he is beginning to engage Zeke, presses on. “With poisoning you miss a lot of wolves. If we go wolfing and shoot over bait, we’ll get all the wolves not lose any,” says Jake as he senses the reasoning swing in his favor.

Zeke wants to take one more stab at killing this nonsense, so he hits Jake with his heaviest thought. “Where will we get a grub stake for the winter?”

Jake says through his smile, “I spoke with Ladasur, you know range boss on the Turkey Track? He said we could hunt The Cummings Cattle Company spread this winter and he would stake us,” in triumphant.

Zeke wilts in the face of this final proclamation. He will spend the winter holed up in a desolate shack, angling out into the frigid weather, to freeze during the day and be rewarded with a plate of lukewarm prairie strawberries and tepid coffee for an evening meal.

The only joy will come of an evening when the stove will illume bright red. The cabin air will be stifling hot at the potbelly’s edge and will have cooled to perfect sleeping temperature by the time it reaches his bunk wherein curled up in the blankets he will enjoy a blissful repose.

“How will we split the take, thirty two wolves means all  we make goes to you, I get four months of beans and a blanket for freezing each day?”

Somehow his facial droop encompassing, hanging jowls, eyebrows slanting down from his nose bridge and inverted lips brings to mind a blood hound.

Jake ponders the matter the while, slowly turning his glass with both hands. Thirty two wolves was a mighty lot of wolves. But there could be no argument; me taking all the money for a winter’s work weren’t quite fair.

“What would you say, I get thirty two dollars, if there is more you get it and I make up the difference to thirty two dollars next summer, will you give me credit?” He said it, believing it a fair deal for them both.

Zeke ruminates, this offer. There is the chance they will make nothing next summer. “Alright, I’ll give you credit. I have no plans for this winter nohow.”

 

A quiet came over the two. The aquardiente is working on them. They need to find a place to sleep as drowsiness is overcoming them in the chairs they now occupy.

Zeke reaches over punches Jake’s arm just enough to rouse him. The two rise and stagger towards the door.

“You babes lay down somewhere soft now,” shouts one in the back.

Another waves his hat in a hooraw, “Bug Juice are bad for chilens, maybe you needs your mamas.”

One by the door pushes on them as they pass unsettling their balance shouting, “don’t stumble now boys, don’t stumble.”

There arises a general jollity at the expense of the two, a jollity of which the dual is oblivious.

The haystack outside the livery is their eventual destination and there they spend a congenial night.

As consciousness overtakes them spasmodically, the foul taste emitting from the tongue coating each suffers causes them to seek a douse in the horse trough.

Afterthe boys mount a search for their ponies, which by this time, range far out into the remudera, behind the livery.

Grazing unhurriedly but wild eyed the skittish shave-tails are prone to shy at the wrangler’s advance.

A goodly portion of the day is consumed in rassling the cavallos under control. The exercise provides no improvement in the lads’ disposition.

Their ride to the Turkey Track is quiet. Mostly, they sleep in the saddle.

The horses amble along until the temptation of the grass along the road overwhelms them causing them to venture off the way and onto the lea, heads down cropping the alfilaria.

The unfamiliar slant of the animals back rouses one or both of the boys. There is a brief kerfuffle while bridles are pulled, horses restored to the trace and the slow shuffling horse-walk recommences.

 

The horsemen enter the presidio guarding the Rancheria. The gateway is composed of two field stone columns about thirty feet apart and fifteen feet high.

Across the road, from column to column is a stout, twisted trunk of an ancient tree, bleached to a grayish, white and speckled with the dried grey remains of lichens.

Upon the lintel is fastened an expanse of long horn possibly half the width of the strut. The middle of the horn bears the burned imprint of the unique brand that garners for the spread the appellation Turkey Track. 

The boys pass through the gate and the quarter mile to the collection of buildings that form the headquarters of the rancho. They pull rein in front of the captain’s veranda and await his hallo.

“You boys come to shoot some wolves?” The range boss, captain of all he surveys save for the short periods when the accountants and meddlers come in from the east to buggy boss around in his affairs.

“Yes sir, all we can manage,” the boys remain mounted and display the proper reverence for the stature of the man they address.

“I believe our arrangement is that I supply the grub, shells and rifles, winter clothes, cabin, dollar a skin, you recollect the same?”

At this point he raises his head for the first time in the conversation, allowing his eyes to meet theirs in the unwritten pledge of honesty.

This ubiquitous oath renders the intercession of lawyers, judges and adjudicators unnecessary, in the affairs of men of character upon the high prairie.

Jake speaks through a steady gaze, “That is my understanding, Mr. Ladasur.” He pulls his reins to settle his horse more for something to do then to calm the animal.

Zeke pushes down on the stirrups with each foot, trying to tense his legs and ease them a little. He wishes this palaver would end so he could climb down to walk about a bit. 

Mr. Ladasur moves his jaws. The bulge of his chaw moves in his cheek. A dribble of amber juice trickles out the corner of his mouth and into the grey of his beard joining the substantial amount of stain previously accumulated therein. “You boys step off if you’ve a mind, take up in the bunk house this night and in the morning we’ll hitch you up with your truck and you can be on your way.”

With that he launches an arc of juice out over the rail and into the dust where the splat raises a tiny cloud.

The boys swing down and pasear the horses to the corral, remove the saddles, bridles and blankets, array them upon the rail fence and turn the animals into the wrango for water and feed.

There appears above Zeke’s head a dark cloud of concern noticeable only to Jake, “What’s your problem?” Perplexed is he by his pard’s concerns, since to his mind, all is as smooth as pudd’n.

“There was nothing said about horses. We goin out for the winter with only one horse a piece and I’m wish’n I’d had said something about extra horses, if one of ours comes lame, we’re in a fix.”

Their rowels sing as they scuff along to the bunkhouse, each man sports a cascabel attached to a spur to amplify the music of their stride.

Zeke pushes the bunkhouse door wide open and advancing into the dark cavern is temporarily blinded due to the contrast with the bright sunshine without. He stands just inside awaiting his eyes to adjust allowing space for Jake to enter and do the same.

A bellow from within carries a message, “Swing the door yack, I prefer to sleep in the dark.”

Jake reaches for the door and swings it too.

Zeke, eyes adjusted now surveys the contents of the bunkhouse. Two striplings sit on a cot and the bellower is laid out abed boots on. “Zeke and this is my pard Jake,” so saying he flings his roll onto a bunk and goes to work at the piggin’ strings he uses to secure his fixins.

Jake takes up a bed and begins to unroll his blankets.

The bellower sings out, “where youse from?”

Zeke freezes for an instant at the question. Here is as blatant an insult as is possible. To ask a man where he’s from is an unseemly intrusion.

The myriad of options and their potential consequences whirl through his mind. There is the distinct juxtaposition of two desirables, the job with its potential for remuneration and the easing of his honor.  

With a visible swallow he mumbles, “Around” hoping to sidestep the issue and preserve his integrity.

It is not enough; the lout isn’t to let it go. He asks, “Around what?”

This time Zeke ignores the question, continues with his unpacking.

“Eh is youse deaf boy (a second insult)? Answer me up (that’s a third).”

Zeke spins intending to obtain the benefit of surprise, but the man is in ready expectation and swings up, putting his boot in Zeke’s midriff.

The air leaves Zeke’s lungs in a whoosh as he is propelled backwards across the lower bunk and against the wall, a position from which he promptly slides to the floor.

The bellower stands, grasping his belt in anticipation of hitching his pants, which as he does he growls, “Damn whelp.”

Hell if this is just a friendly way of saying hello, if there is good nature behind it, if the purpose is just a little fun, they can and will let it go. But this fellow means it. He is malicious. He is nasty. He has to be put down.

Zeke looks up to Jake, and placing his hand on the floor begins to push his way up.

When he is up, Jake is on the bellower’s back and before he can be dislodged Zeke is raining blows on the man’s face and to his gut. In short order the man crumples and the two boys stand above.

The man does not rise; he raises a hand, spread eagled towards the two, and says, “OK, enough, the hell with you, enough.”

The boys return to their preparations for sleep, the striplings never utter a sound.

***

The dawn sees them breakfasted, loaded and trailing out of the rancheria towards a far line shack.

***

They pass through the fall, dry wolf peltry piled in a corner. Those drying are on the racks leant against the walls.

What they have so far, they’ve taken off kills the wolves are infrequently making in anticipation of the snows to come which will make the work of the pack that much easier. Given the difficulty bison and elk have breaking through the drifts.

Eventually, the time comes when they are obliged to put out the baits. They have a number of putrid wolf carcasses available to the purpose.

They drag two out and hang each in a tree about a mile apart. The trick is to dangle the thing about ten feet off the ground, high enough that the wolves can’t reach it and low enough that they keep trying.

 

The boys traipse out of a morning; settle themselves where they have an unobstructed view of the bait, but far enough away to be unnoticed by the wolves and downwind so that their scent will not give them away.

The day passes, with stories, sowbelly, biscuits and cold coffee as well as a lot of dead time.

Occasionally, the pack will come upon the bait and pass time a’jumpen at it. Eventually, as the wolves tire, a few will begin to loll about in the snow, rolling in it, batting at one another, playing at fighting or just lying with their muzzle on their paws.

When several reach the stage of inaction, the boys take a bead, each to their own wolf and pull the trigger. In most instances the result will be two skins to add to the pile.

It so happens that on one such occurrence a catamount approaches the bait. Here is an animal of significant stealth and caution. The fact of its being abroad in the day is extraordinary.

The boys are mesmerized owing both to the magnificence of the beast and the potential income to be gained from the pelt.

Something on the order of twelve to fifteen dollars is to be realized.

With careful aim both boys prepare to fire on the animal and having done so run down to the location of the freshly minted corpse.

Each slows the pace of their advance, proceeding cautiously, rifle at the ready.

The cat springs straight up ten feet into the air, twisting in flight it is able to flip itself into the underbrush and is away.

The boys stand too in astonishment, it is a sight neither of them has previously beheld and in truth cannot grasp how the feat has been accomplished.

Slowly, the realization that they must pursue the animal into the brush emerges and strengthens. Both tremble at the thought. Overcoming their fear, they advance each to his way.

Within minutes Zeke carries the cougar on his back. Screaming he runs towards the open space of the set, flailing about with his arms to keep the brute from sinking it teeth into his head.

Jake goes from a stalk to a dead run back to the bait site and the kerfuffle raised by the two locked in combat.

Zeke appreciates that he must remain standing for if he falls the beast will have the opportunity to sink its fangs which will spell Zeke’s end.

Their spinning, bobbing and twirling, prevents Jake from placing the muzzle of his piece against the head of the cat and putting a pellet in its brain.

Finally, of desperation he fires without having secured the barrel end as firmly as he desires. The result is the instant demise of the beast and another wound for Zeke.

Fortunately, the round passes through the soft below his shoulder blade, forestalling the breaking of bone but making a muddle of the meat.

There is now a matter of the hours required to secure Zeke’s wounds, skin the cougar, and load both aboard the horses and to trail slowly, of necessity owing to Zeke’s injuries, back to the shack.  

Once there Jake makes Zeke as comfortable as possible, stretches the varmint’s pelt and prepares their evening meal.

***

Now time slows, Zeke recuperates on his pallet. Jake undertakes what activities are necessary for Zeke’s comfort.

An accounting of their success so far reveals that with the wolves obtained previous to the accident and the cougar skin, they have pretty near what they need and Jake figures hunting alone he can make up the balance.

In truth he does.

When the wind changes and begins to blow warm, the snow softens and the hunting ceases. Still they cannot travel out until the mud dries and the ground hardens. This is a matter of weeks.

Finally, they are able to travel. Jake rigs a travois on which Zeke can take his leisure and the spare horse is loaded down with boodle.

Zeke is not without pain, but travels not in great discomfort.

They make their way through the spring prairie, sighting the occasional bison, elk, deer or rabbit. The grass painted an emerald green. The freshness of it is fragrant to the nostrils. The azure sky populated with scudding white puffs.

They cross a vereda of trampled grass, cow plops and rutted ground.

Jake is bemused by the early round-up; the calving is not as yet finished. “They are a might early.”

In reply Zeke says, “Yeah, mighty anxious I’d say, I wonder where they’re bound for?”

Now it strikes Jake that the trail heads away from any known rancheria. “Don’t make much sense.”

After a piece riders pass, out of hailing, but the boys are able to make out one of the bunch is mounted on a painted pony.

Reaching the ranch, they report into Mr. Ladasur, take the night in the bunkhouse and ride out the next morning with their money in hand.

 

Approaching the saloon they see tied to the rail a piebald Indian pony. Inside they sidle up to the bar on the far end away from a boisterous cow crowd at the other end of the bar.

Zeke taps the bar. The barman says, “Howdy, what’ll be?”

“Tangle leg,” says Zeke, “hey what ranch them boys from?”

The barman gives him a quizzical look, drops the drinks on the bar, figures it’s harmless and says, “The Hashknife.”

Zeke taps the bar with his finger.

Zeke and Jake study on the matter some, occasionally eyeballing trying to identify the rider of the pinto.

Not long after the boys having drunk their fill, they make a parade down to the mercantile and purchase the piece.

Holding the treasure in his hand Jake is even more taken with it than when it lay in the display case. The sheer magnificence of the thing, silver and ivory, every surface covered in curlicues, little ponies, dogs and birds with a shiny brass rib for the grips. Now he is able to take note of the heft and balance. He spins the empty chamber which sings as it spins.

He asks the clerk for an oil cloth and carefully wraps the gun to be nestled gently in his alforche.

Out into the sunshine Jake builds a smoke, Zeke pulls out a cigarito. They establish themselves in two chairs, lean back with their boot heels up on the hitch rail.

They calculate thru on the matter, then Jake says, “I don’t see nothing but we got’a let Mr. Ladasur know.”

After a space, Zeke replies, “I can’t figure exactly what we are gon’a let him know, this ain’t the only painted pony and we don’t even know who made the vereda.”

“I believe we got’a tell him what we saw and let him decide.”

That’s all of it; they up and make for the Turkey Track.

Afterwards Mr. Ladasur tells ‘em to take up in the bunkhouse and wrangle the remuda for a couple of days at thirty and found. The boys are happy to oblige.

They’re abroad trimming the mustangs wanting to separate out the fuzztail and cavvy broke. They put the animals they want in the wrango and allow the others to drift.

They notice when a top screw and a group of waddies gallop out of camp and when they gallop back in.

Soon after, they’re summoned by Mr. Ladasur. “We might as well take a ride into town.”

As they ride along everyone is in high spirits and sky lark along having a good time due to the break in routine and the sense of adventure.

Mr. Ladasur goes in to have a word with the bar-dog and comes back out. Squinting into the sun as he looks up to the men, he says, “We’ll take a ride out to The Wilmot Land and Cattle Company.” He forks his horse and the waddies sail away.

Once through the tall gate, as they approach the house, everyone quiets down in consideration of the solemnity of the accusations.

At the porch Mr. Ladasur hails the house, “Hallo the house anyone to home?”

The door opens and a sturdy, clean woman in a white apron made of flour sacks stands on the porch with her hand across her forehead to shield her eyes from the sun.

Her head atilt she says, “Hi, Mr. Ladasur, nice weather.”

“Yes, Mrs. Blanders, nice weather, I wonder could I have a word with Mr. Blanders?” He puts both hands on his apple-horn and heaves the remainder of his body up out of the saddle to ease his legs.

“He ain’t to home, won’t you step down and have a cafecito, all yawl, have a cup.”

“I thank you kindly ma’am, but we sort a need to talk with Mr. Blanders, have you a thought to where he might be?”

“Up the crick several miles there’s a pup off to the left, he’s in there branding. You sure you won’t take coffee?”

“Thanks again ma’am, we best be on our way.”

“Is there trouble I should know about?” Now, her head straightens up and the softness of her smile abates.

“No ma’am, no trouble just now.” He reaches up and courteously doffs at the brim of his hat while simultaneously pulling the head of his pony about.

The bunch moves off and up the crick, reaching the arroyo.

At which point the boss, stops his mount and turning to the band says, “I don’t want no foolishness. You don’t do nothing unless I tell you, otherwise you sit silent.” His whole demeanor is rather stern.

They ride up on Mr. Blanders. “Hallo,” he says, “fine weather, will you step down for coffee?”

“Good day Mr. Blanders, we seen a vereda, a lot of cows moving, we wonder would you know anything about it?” It is a little too direct. Mr. Ladasur regrets the bluntness as soon as the words leave his mouth.

Mr. Blanders raises his hand to shield his eyes. They are level like, “I’m taking your question as friendly, nothing intended and offering the coffee again. After you want to look over my beeves for any reason you are welcome.” He holds his hand over his eyes.

Mr. Ladasur turns in his saddle and looks Jake over real good. Turning back he says, “I’m thanking you Mr. Blanders.” He swings out of the saddle, crouches at the fire and waits for the cocinero to pour.

In the bunkhouse Jake sits on the cot edge, holding the precious gem in both hands. “I could a’ got somebody killed, innocent people.”

“What did you do wrong? You had to tell Mr. Ladasur. You had no choice,” he says attempting to back up his compadre.

“Zeke, this puts me in a tight, certain.”

Jake scowls at Zeke, who unable to discern the depths of his pard’s despair reaches into his cantina and produces a bottle of forty leg.

The boys nod in silent agreement and head for the door.

Mr. Ladasur prohibits the drinking of spirits in the bunkhouse but is completely tolerant of the pursuit out on the peraira.

Settling down comfortably they pass the bottle with less and less vigor until eventually it comes to rest between them.

Thereafter the heavy breathe of slumber is all that remains.

The next morning Zeke is awakened by the sun. Taking notice that Jake has skedaddled.

Jake misses breakfast a fact which causes Zeke concern.

 

Jake is on the range, heading for where he first saw the vereda. Time has passed since that day, rains have fallen, the grass has risen, and the cow shit melted. Now it is almost a blind trail.

Still in all with austere attention he is able to pick it up and tail along.

In time he comes to an abra with the gather bedded inside and the men as sentries at the mouth. They’s comfortable.

Jake having had time to think the matter through has settled on hitting each with a mortal blow and wounding the last man to take back to headquarters where the bandido can tell the tale to the captain.

He ties his pony in a grove with a walking rope so it can graze and water. Then he draws the saddle gun from the scabbard and checks his Sparkler, the hammer on the empty chamber.

He puts a round through one man’s head from the creek bank and after the shot moves up to a rock face.

All have kited so he waits.

A man sneaks through the barbed mesquite towards the remuda.

When the man reaches up to untie a horse from the picket rope, Jake shoots him in the shoulder and then through the chest.

Before the report of his rifle fades Jake is struck in the back. Simultaneously a bullet grazes his head.

With extraordinary effort he push-drops the valued pistol into a horizontal crevice, in the rock face.

 

Days later a gully-washer puts a rush of water from the rocks above thru the channel below the fissure sufficient to force the exquisite three pounds of steel and ivory out onto the ground.

***

Zeke brings along the silk bandana and the spurs with the little bell. He rides his cayuse to a tree and standing on the saddle and cantle ties the spurs to the tree with the bandana.

After, he wanders around leading his pony by the reins; imagining the last of his amigo’s life. As he does so he kicks up the handgun.

Holding the magnificent gem in his hands his mind races in wonder as to how Jake arranged to bequeath him this fetching gift. For Zeke surely this is a bequest from beyond the pall, a spiritual substance.

The Sparkler is held gently, reverentially. The significance of the iron is beyond the intrinsic splendor, it is the embodiment of the bond between all but brothers. Men of like mind and bent, companyeros bone deep.

Additionally, he is staggered as well by his compadre’s having felt the sting of error, played a lone hand in pursuit of atonement, and cleared his name, Jacob Lacoster.

And he, Ezekiel Elenthal will emulate for his honor and the enriching development of his character. He will be known as a man to ride the river with or die trying.

The End

 


Submitted: August 16, 2015

© Copyright 2022 jeffrey a paolano. All rights reserved.

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