Wyoming Territory

Near The Lakota Sioux Reservation Wyoming Territory 1871

The boy stopped on a smooth flat rock. He was barefooted and sweating, trying to catch his breath. He bent over gripping his waist, panting, looking into the darkness. A bullet slammed into the tree ahead of him. He heard the men coming. It didn’t take them long to catch up to him.

He had run from the river bank, following a trail he had taken many times before looking for elk. He hoped he would be able to double back without being seen. Now that it was dark, he was stumbling and afraid he may have lost his way. His feet and ankles were sore and bleeding and he wanted to lie down and sleep.  He had made his way into the mountains, climbing as he followed the winding path higher. In places, sections of the hillside fell away beneath his feet.

“I can’t stop yet,” he thought. “I have to get back to camp.”

Crashing into a rock, he lost his balance and hit the ground. He got up and kept running, straining to see obstacles ahead. He heard the men charging behind him. A second bullet whistled past his right shoulder.

Leaving the game trail, he began to zig zag and head away from the noise of the men following up the rocky incline.  He gained the ridge top and looked down at the mist filled ravine with vapor rising in jagged wisps, like steam from a boiling pot. The night was cloudless and the moon was high in the sky. Between him and his pursuers the bushes were a shadow of black and gray.  He saw the riders with their heads pressed to their horses’ necks as they tried to avoid the dense trees, dripping with vines obstructing their way. They had to dismount and scramble up the steep trail, leading their horses as they skittered and slid, gouging out the red earth and loose rock which fell dangerously when they set their hooves upon it. If they got closer, they surely would be able to see his silhouette as he fled.

He kept moving.  He scampered down the draw, snaking through the sage and pinion and coming out downstream along the bank of the river that ran past where he was camping with his mother and Grey Wolf.

When the scrub ended, he found himself forced into the open. He ran toward a buttress of rock that was a deeper shadow on the dark landscape. Upon reaching it, he sank to his knees behind a tree. His breath was rasping and he was aware of his thirst. He flattened out on the river bank and drank. It tasted sweet and cold. His eyes began to ache from drinking too fast.

Somewhere close by a twig snapped. His heart jumped. Scrambling up into a crouch, he fought to control his breathing. He heard a hushed exchange between two men. He stayed still.

“He’s got to be in here somewhere Rory”, one voice said, very close now.

The boy shut his eyes, willing the men away.

EXCERPT FROM A CENTURY OF DISHONOR (1881, by Helen Hunt Jackson)

These Indians were taken to Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Here they were confined as prisoners of war and held subject to the orders of the Department of the Interior. The department was informed of the Indians’ determination never to be taken back alive to Indian Territory. The army officers in charge reiterated these statements, and implored the department to permit them to remain in the North, but it was to no avail. Orders came—explicit, repeated, finally stern—insisting on the return of these Indians to their agency. The commanding officer at Fort Robinson has been censured severely for the course he pursued in his effort to carry out those orders. It is difficult to see what else he could have done, except to have resigned his post. He could not take three hundred Indians by sheer brute force and carry them hundreds of miles, especially when they were so desperate that they had broken up the iron stoves in their quarters, and wrought and twisted them into weapons with which to resist. He thought perhaps he could starve them into submission. He stopped the issue of food; he also stopped the issue of fuel to them. It was midwinter; the mercury froze in that month at Fort Robinson. At the end of two days, he asked the Indians to let their women and children come out that he might feed them. Not a woman would come out. On the night of the fourth day—or, according to some accounts, the sixth—these starving, freezing Indians broke prison, overpowered the guards, and fled, carrying their women and children with them. They held the pursuing troops at bay for several days; finally made a last stand in a deep ravine, and were shot down—men, women, and children together. Out of the whole band, there were left alive some fifty women and children and seven men, who, having been confined in another part of the fort, had not had the good fortune to share in this outbreak and meet their death in the ravine. These, with their wives and children, were sent to Fort Leavenworth to be put in prison; the men to be tried for murders committed in their skirmishes in Kansas on their way to the north. Red Cloud, a Sioux chief, came to Fort Robinson immediately after this massacre and entreated to be allowed to take the Cheyenne widows and orphans into his tribe to be cared for. The Government, therefore, kindly permitted twenty-two Cheyenne widows and thirty-two Cheyenne children—many of them orphans—to be received into the band of the Ogallala Sioux.

…there could be found nowhere in the melancholy record of the experiences of our Indians a more glaring instance of confused multiplication of injustices than this. The Cheyennes were pursued and slain for venturing to leave this very reservation, which, it appears, is not their reservation at all, and they have no legal right to it. Are there any words to fitly characterize such treatment as this from a great, powerful, rich nation, to a handful of helpless people?




Cauliflower; More Than An Ear

Mike Scanlon was a big man. He stood a little over six feet tall and weighed in at two hundred and five pounds, about five pounds heavier than when he was riding bulls and broncs on the rodeo circuit down in Texas over twenty years ago. Since he purchased this property just outside Tombstone Arizona, the town that is too tough to die, which he thought applied to him as well, and started ranching, he lost the extra twenty pounds he had put on around his waist sitting behind his desk in Hollywood. His hair was still a light sandy brown but was beginning to show gray along his temples. He was told it made him look distinguished. People around Tombstone had started calling him Big Mike and he liked it.
As his horse picked up a trot, he looked over at his son, Mike Jr., sitting on his Bay gelding next to him. It was hard for Big Mike to believe that his son was seventeen years old. It seemed like it was yesterday that he brought him home from the hospital, a red-faced squawking little runt. Everyone called him Little Mike. He wasn’t little anymore. He was nearly as big as his father. He had grown into a fine young man.

Max Fly’s Last Ride



I wrapped the leather strap around my wrist until it was good and tight. My hat was pulled down as far as it would go and I adjusted my chaps. I was known for my hat always being on my head at the end of my rides, something I was proud of.
It was 1937 and I was leading in points for the all-around cowboy award with only two more events to go before the end of the season. Barring any unforeseen accidents, I was a shoo-in to beat Mike Scanlon who had won the title three years running. I looked forward to getting the silver buckle, silver studded saddle and bridle as well as the nice check that was waiting for the winner. Saying nothing about a chance of crawling in the sack with that little rodeo queen from Austin who was sitting in the crowd today.
It was Austin Texas and it was hot. Austin is a rodeo town, a breeding ground for the rodeo, not just for animals, but for the men who ride them as well. I am an outsider, from Wisconsin and nobody from Wisconsin had won this title. I am going to be the first.
I wiggled my seat around on the back of the big two thousand pound Corrientes bull named Casper, squeezing his sides with my legs to let him know I am taking over today. The bull rolled his eyes back and looked up at me the best he could in the tight chute as if to say, “I’m ready for you. Everyone else thought they could stay on me for eight seconds but nobody has lasted more than two and you won’t be any different.”
What Casper didn’t know was that I had been studying him all season. Oh, he is one tough son of a bitch all right, but I noticed that every time he shot out of the chute, he turned to the right and dropped his head and gave one helluva twist then he would surprise everybody and turn back to the left; but I would be ready for it today; it didn’t take much to outsmart a dumb ol’ bull. Eight-seconds to fame. It doesn’t sound like much time but when you are on the back of a beast like this, it feels like an eternity.
I looked up and scanned the area in front of me. The little rodeo queen from Austin was sitting in the front row off to the left of the chute and next to her was former President Teddy Roosevelt and the famous Chief Quantah Parker, both big rodeo fans. I also noticed the three rodeo clowns standing behind the barrels in the middle of the arena chatting with one another. I looked down one last time and checked my wrap and smiled at Hap Schultz, my team roping partner and header, who was standing on the railing next to me.
“Give ‘em hell Max. It’s been one helluva season. One these damn Texans will never forget.”
I didn’t say anything, but turned toward the front of the chute and nodded to the boy at the gate. He slipped the latch and ol’ Casper burst out like someone had just put a hot poker up his ass.

Marquess of Queensberry Rules According To Max Fly and The Rocco Man In Blue Magic


Rocco’s Pub is located on the Northwest corner of North Avenue and Highway 100 in Wauwatosa, a suburb on the West side of Milwaukee. Dan Cirrocco opened the place fifteen years ago. We go back a few years. We met at the Milwaukee Turner’s, sort of a local boys club, located in downtown Milwaukee. It was started by two German immigrants, named Turner, around 1900, to provide a place for boys to learn gymnastics and the fine art of boxing. It was the birthplace of some pretty famous local pugilists. I have been in a lot of fights that didn’t have a positive ending. I was bullied and learned early on to stand up for myself. The only way I could do that was through fighting and most of those I ended up on the short end of the stick. So I joined the Turners.

Danny and I trained under a scarred up ex-professional fighter whose eyes bulged like a terrier. He had cauliflower ears and a busted up nose and went by the name of Mad Dog Coogan. Mad Dog wasn’t his birth name but his mind was scrambled and he couldn’t remember what it was, so he was always Mad Dog to everyone at the Milwaukee Turners.
George Orwell once said that by the age of fifty, every man has the face he deserves. So we assumed Mad Dog deserved to look like road kill.
Mad Dog told me I was a rubbish fighter due to my inexperience. He showed me some tricks that weren’t necessarily sanctioned under the Marquess of Queensbury rules. His pep talks during my fights went something like, “When you die you want to look dead. Not now!” He was an awesome motivator.

The Doctor’s Office

The gray-haired man appeared to be sleeping in a chair in the back of the room. His ball cap was pulled down, covering his eyes, dark dangerous eyes. He sat deadly still but remained alert, something he learned while in Viet Nam, in Cam Rahn Bay, a deep water bay, located in the province of Khánh Hòa, on the South China Sea where he caught some shrapnel in his right shoulder, shattering the bone. It never mended properly and the doctor’s at the Veteran’s Hospital broke it twice to reset it, hoping it would finally heal. It hadn’t.
He peered down at his hands. A slight tremor started in his left hand. This was his first episode of the day. He first noticed the tremors when he returned to the states in ’69. His nerves were damaged when the United States military started the strafing of the Viet Nam jungles with agent orange. He had been waiting twelve months to get into the local Veteran’s Hospital for treatment. They told him it would be another three months before they could get him in; before it was his turn. Be patient they said. They should try living with this excruciating pain and tremors every day. Then see how patient those fuckers would be. To top everything off, he was still dealing with the sweats and shakes from the bout of malaria he got over there.
They kept promising that things would get better at the VA Hospital, but, if anything, it got worse. Now the Nam vets are jockeying for time with the Gulf War vets. They keep piling up. Hell, he’ll be dead before he gets in to see one of the VA doctors.
His brother finally stepped in and got him an appointment with this doctor, a former classmate of his brother’s at Marquette University. Nerve damage wasn’t his specialty, broken bones were, but he said he would see him as a favor to his brother. The doctor promised to check him out and get him to the right specialists to deal with his injuries. The gray-haired man didn’t care who saw him, he just wanted some meds to stop the damn pain and the uncontrollable shaking.
The waiting area was filled with people wearing casts and braces on their hands, arms, feet and legs. An athletic young man, wearing an arm cast on his left arm up to his elbow looked nervous. He sat, guardedly watching everyone who walked through the glass doors that connected to the congested parking lot. The cars were mainly Lexus’, BMW’s, and Mercedes, bearing witness to the wealth in this community.
The people were trapped in the game of acquiring more accouterments then their neighbors. He saw it in the quality of their dress and in the sparkle of their diamonds, gold, and silver jewelry. It appeared people were getting more careless, the gray-haired man thought, as he assessed the people sitting by him. Along with their expensive jewelry, they were wearing Gucci shoes and carrying their Kate Spade Purses, all of which cost more than he made in the past year. The way they dressed communicated their wealth to everyone who saw them.
An extremely obese woman was dressed in slacks and a fox fur wrap. She wore an expensive necklace of diamonds and emeralds so large, they beg to be seen. She had a matching cocktail ring on her right hand and a diamond engagement ring that he estimated to be at least four karats on her left hand. Another middle-aged woman was adorned with gold; gold necklace and multiple gold bracelets running up her arms and rings filled with diamonds and rubies.

Beach Encounter


Harbor House Cedar Key


My Dearest Dulcina;

It is hard to believe that it has been six months since we met on the white sands of the Cape Sable beaches. The first day I saw you I watched as you provocatively stretched your lithe body on your blanket in the sand, and later when you walked by with your two small daughters, the fragrance of your perfume captured my attention.Your little girls are so charming and there can be no doubt where their golden blonde hair and crystal blue eyes come from; they look like miniature porcelain dolls; miniatures of you, my love.
I have been unable to sleep. I lie awake at night, thinking of you and that last enchanting evening we shared while walking our dogs on the beach; when we sat at the water’s edge, digging our toes in the sand while we watched the water break along the shore and how the stars sparkled and danced in your eyes; when we talked about our dreams and our lives and how unfulfilled we had become and how we let it happen. We both knew it was fate that had us find each other that euphoric night, as our dogs scampered along the sandy beach.
When we stood to go and our shoulders touched, you glanced at me and your eyes penetrated my soul. You smiled; how quickly my lips descended upon yours and your body surrendered to my trespassing hands and the soft thrust of my tongue. How we both wanted more but…

The letter arrived that morning. Her heart fluttered as she read it and her knees weakened. She had to sit down. She too had been unable to get that evening out of her mind. Was it the allurement of the moment, the musky smell of his masculinity as he drew her into him while they stood, alone, under the stars? Many times over the past few months while she worked alone, cleaning the house, she contemplated what it would be like to give herself to this handsome stranger. Was it merely a lonely woman, lusting for something that was missing in her life, or was it more? Could it be more?
She couldn’t deny the response of her body when he touched her and how quickly she yielded to his demanding kiss, wanting more.
He enclosed a key, a key to his motel room. He told her he was in town on business and that he would be there for the next week.
She clutched it to her chest. Should she go? Dare she go? She couldn’t believe how nervous she had become. If they had been alone on that beach, how far would that first kiss and touch have gone?
Something stirred in her. She had to find out. She would go. If he wasn’t there when she got to the room, she would wait for him. She would buy a new negligee and underwear, sexy underwear.
Her husband and girls were at a father-daughter function with the church youth group and wouldn’t be back until the next evening. She was alone. She needed someone; someone to hold her, make her feel wanted; make her feel special.
She drove into the motel parking lot and parked in front of the door with the same number that was on the plastic key holder he sent her. There was a new BMW convertible parked next to the room. It must be his, she thought, as she climbed out of her car. The sky was dark foreboding, threatening to open up with a heavy rain; at odds with that magical evening on the beach.
She inserted the key and was about to turn the door handle when the door flew open. There he was, standing there, shirtless in tight blue jeans, the muscles rippling on his flat stomach. Her heart fluttered, her knees became weak again. He was intoxicating. She wanted him and was so glad she came. This was going to be special. Something she could remember for the rest of her life. He gently pulled her into the room and closed the door behind her. He took her purse and placed on the table next to the bed and turned her around. He pressed his body into hers and kissed her hard on the mouth. She felt herself giving into the desire of her body, the lust that had been building up for months; since that first kiss and loving embrace on the warm Florida beach so many months ago. He pulled back and she opened her eyes and gazed at him. She was startled. His eyes were calm but his stare was hard and his mouth was compressed and turned down at the corners. Something was different. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and a cold chill washed over her. Was this the man she thought she could give herself too? Immediately she knew she had made a mistake. She had to get out of there. She turned to leave. But he reached out for her; he grabbed her arm and threw her back in the room. The back of her legs hit the bed and she fell.
She looked up as he stood over her, her breasts rapidly rising and falling. She began to shake. He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He grabbed her wrists and wrapped them in plastic straps, the kind the police use to restrain criminals. He climbed on the bed and straddled her body. He reached up and took a roll of tape from the bed stand and tore off a piece. He smiled down at her as he put the tape over her mouth. He shook his head as a muffled scream escaped her mouth. He pulled out a knife from the right front pocket of his jeans. He placed the point at the hollow in her throat. Fear covered her face. A small speck of blood bubbled up where he penetrated the skin. He turned the blade and cut down the front of her blouse, ripping it away from her body, exposing her black lacy bra. Next, he hooked the blade of the knife under the front of the bra and pulled it up, snapping the fabric away, exposing her small breasts. She noticed his breathing had become shallow and rapid, his eyes glazed over. It was at that moment she knew what her fate was going to be. She thought of her husband, Mitchell, and her betrayal of his love and trust. She thought of her two little girls and prayed that they would know better and not succumb to the weakness of lust and desire like she did; to be more careful and watchful. Who was going to take care of them; answer their questions as they reached puberty? “Oh Mitchell, I’m so sorry.”
She began to cry and then scream as the knife cut through her neck, severing her carotid artery. Her last thought was, “I wonder who is watching his dog?”

Arizona Ranger

He set up camp under a stand of Mesquite trees, gathering as many crooked shaped Mesquite beans as he could stuff in his saddle bag. They were durable and would store for years. Both he and his horse lived on them when he ran out of hardtack and oats while riding across the eastern New Mexico territory. He might need them again at some later date.

Coyotes like the beans and he saw three lurking in the darkness, staying outside the light cast from his campfire. He pulled out his rifle and fired off a round in the air, scattering them into the night. He respected Coyotes and wouldn’t harm one if he could help it.

The lonesome cry of a Coyote in the distance brought back memories from his youth when his grandfather, his mother’s father and a Comanche warrior, would tell him stories that were handed down from one Comanche generation to the next regarding the special powers of the Coyote. His favorite was about Clever Coyote who got the buffalo back from the monster who stole them. The monster stole the buffalo so he would have enough food to last forever.

Clever Coyote called all the people and all the animals together to figure out what they could do. No one had an idea. They were too afraid of the monster to think at all, but Clever Coyote figured out a way to get the buffalo away from the monster and that is why the Comanche say it is Coyote to whom they owe the buffalo and they give thanks to clever Coyote. The Comanche say if it had not been for the smart head and warm heart of one little dog, the Coyote, that horrible monster would have kept all the buffalo for himself forever.

He thought of his grandfather, a wizened and withered old man, still believing that story. He closed his eyes and fell asleep with a smile on his lips as pleasant memories of his childhood and his grandfather passed through his memory.

He woke to a raw wind blowing across his exposed face. The cold from the ground penetrated his back. He stretched out his six-foot frame to remove the kinks before reaching under his blanket to grab his boots. He let out a grunt as he slipped them on. He threw back the canvas bedding and stood up. He looked around before slipping into his shirt; pinned on the left chest was the silver Arizona Ranger badge with the word Sergeant engraved at the bottom. Next, he pulled up his suspenders and walked behind the stand of Mesquite trees and unbuttoned his fly and relieved himself. When he finished, he buttoned up and walked back to his bedroll and rolled it up. He placed his hat on his head and strapped on his gun belt holding his single action Colt .45 revolver. He tucked his Bowie knife into his right boot then he pulled on his white duster to keep the morning chill at bay. He reached into his saddle bag and pulled out his coffee pot and a package that contained what was left of the coffee grounds he purchased the previous week before he left Brushy Creek. He walked down to the stream and filled the pot with water. He noticed his buckskin horse grazing contentedly along the riverbank. The horse softly neighed as he watched the ranger drawing water.

He walked back to his campsite and grabbed a stick and stirred the ashes of what was left of the campfire. There were a few coals that glowed a bright red. He gathered up some twigs and leaves and started to rekindle the fire. Once he had it blazing, he placed a flat rock in the center and put what remained of the coffee in the pot and deposited it on the rock. He removed some hardtack from his saddle bag and bit a mouthful off and started to chew. He wouldn’t have a full meal until that evening. He had a long way to go before he reached his destination and he couldn’t waste time cooking a breakfast. Hardtack and coffee would have to do.

The coffee started to boil out the spout of the pot so the ranger grabbed a stick and removed it from the fire. He grabbed his tin cup and filled it with the steaming black liquid. The first swallow sent a jolt through the ranger’s body, clearing the cobwebs in his head that were left over from his deep sleep. A soft wind blew in from the North, causing the nearby Mesquite to softly bend and its leaves to gently caress one another. He could smell the rain in the air. If a heavy downpour was coming, it would make his coming ride difficult and dangerous as he had to negotiate Guadalupe Pea, known as Signal Peak, which was challenging enough when the ground was hard and dry; it became treacherous when wet. Before he reached it, he would be traveling through the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert in North America. The desert had plenty of Yuccas and agaves, Creosote Bushes and Tarbush, Prickly Pears and Mesquite. He knew he would find some grasses along the way so he could let his horse graze; time would dictate how long. He poured the rest of his coffee on the fire and kicked over the hot coals. It was time to go. He was looking for a man, a bad man.


Americans have always been fascinated by ghosts towns. A town often becomes a ghost town because its economy fails, or due to some form of disaster. Ghost towns exist in America from Montana to the southern tip of Florida.
One town, Middle of Nowhere, Texas, located in the middle of nowhere, is where Texas Ranger legend, known as Ranger Mike, is headed. He is looking for a femme fatale named Kitty Leroy, wanted for murder. But, when Ranger Mike arrives in the Middle of Nowhere, he encounters more than he bargained for. Could it be that ghosts actually exist?
I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that’s on its mind and can’t make itself understood, and so can’t rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving.
— Mark Twain

The sky was empty of birds and clouds. The sun beat down on the small town in the middle of nowhere. Tumbleweeds blew across the dry rutted street. The town hadn’t seen rain in months and everything was dried up. The streets were deserted as if the town was forgotten.
The tall stranger rode in from the East; the sun scorched his eyes. The wind bit at his raw and sunburned face. A stubble of beard ran from ear to ear; the lines around his mouth etched a story of a desolate and rough life.There was no sadness, no anger, and no emotion.
He shifted in his saddle and squinted into the afternoon sun. A film of water covered his coal black, hardened eyes, reflecting the light from the fading sun. His long scraggly hair hung in greasy strands from under his sweat-stained hat. His horse, a brown and white paint, was covered with dust. They had been riding for four days.
The stranger gazed to his left and right as he rode down the deserted street. The town was eerily quiet. Nothing moved, not even a stray cur.
A face suddenly appeared at the window of Maude’s Saloon and Hotel; but just as quickly, it was gone.
He dismounted and tied his horse to the post in front of Maude’s, the only hotel in town. A town named Middle Of Nowhere, because it is located in the middle of nowhere. The air suddenly stilled as if it was tense with nerves for what was to come and seemed to suck even the sound of his footfalls into the nothingness of the street. He stopped, and in the distance came hoofbeats of horses; getting closer, louder, he turned but saw nothing.
The wind picked up and whipped the white duster around his legs. He pushed it back, exposing the pearl handles of his two Colt .45 Peacemaker’s, each perched on a hip in a shiny black holster, adorned with silver conches, fashioned from silver dollars by a little señorita he spent time with down in San Antonio in ‘58. He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow with a red bandana.
He turned and gazed at the sheriff’s office and the General Store; both were deserted. He removed his duster and folded it over his saddle, securing it with his quirt. The Texas Ranger Star pinned to his chest, shimmered in the late afternoon sun. He untied his saddle bags and threw them over his shoulder before removing his rifle, a Henry Repeater, from the leather scabbard on the side of his saddle. The smooth metal glimmered in the sun. He reached down and loosened the saddle’s latigo, allowing his horse to expand his belly and drink of the warm water in the trough in front of him. The stranger entered Maude’s. He walked to the check in counter and ran his finger across the surface; it was covered in a carpet of dust. A pen sat in a dry inkwell and next to it was a small stack of the most beautifully embossed notepaper he ever laid eyes on. He turned around. He felt a chill in the air, a shimmer of mist, something.
He noticed the curtains rustle as if blown by the wind, but there was no wind. The curtains were made of a delicate white lace, embroidered and fringed in crimson cloth, covered with cobwebs, and yellowed from the constant exposure to the hot West Texas sun. The fixtures were expensive and lavish. Dust covered the lampshades, chairs, tables, and divan, as well as the burgundy and gold inlaid Persian rug on the floor.
He laid his saddlebags and Henry Repeater on the counter and rang the bell. There was no response. He didn’t expect one.
He heard a scraping noise, like a chair being slid across the floor. He glanced to his right and saw a form that shimmered and waved, it appeared and vanished, there one moment, gone the next. It wasn’t ghostly, not transparent in any way or frightening. It was some kind of an apparition. He shook his head and turned and walked into the bar. Chairs had been stacked on all the tables; dust and dirt covered the bar and floor. In the middle of the bar, there was a mirror, framed in gold, hanging on the wall. Above it was a picture of a woman, covered in a gauzy dress, draped over her reclining body while sitting in a carriage being pulled by two stallions, one white, one black. It appeared like she was smiling at him. He tipped his hat and smiled back. The bar was long and made of mahogany. At one time it must have been polished to a splendid shine. A tarnished brass foot rail encircled the base of the bar. A row of dusty spittoons was spaced on the floor next to the bar. Along the ledge, towels used by the patrons to wipe the beer suds from their mustaches still hung. In the middle of the bar sat a half-empty bottle, alone and corked, with a glass next to it. He picked it up and pulled the cork with his teeth. The pop of the cork leaving the bottle echoed in the empty room. He put his nose to the bottle and inhaled. “Smells like tequila,” he mumbled and wiped the dirt off the top. He poured two fingers in the glass and held it up in a salute to the lady staring down at him. Did she just smile or was it his imagination? “I need to wash down some of that dust in my throat. I have been ridin’ for four days. Left Nogadoches last Friday. Come lookin’ for a lady; heard she was in the Middle Of Nowhere. I thought that was a joke the first time I heard it.” He chuckled. “Don’t look like she’s here. Looks like nobody’s here; just you and me. Well, here’s to your health, if it ain’t too late,” he said with a grim smile. He threw back the drink and shook his head. “Wow, I drunk some mighty strong stuff in my day, but you got something here, Miss, and it tastes very good. I might have me another; I hope you don’t mind?” he said, as he poured a generous portion into the glass. He threw it back and shook his head. “Damn, that’s mighty good. Tastes like Cactus Wine, tequila and peyote tea, Is that what I got me, Miss? Stuff can kill a snake.”
He poured another and lifted his glass to his nude lady friend, hanging on the wall.
Before he could throw it back, he heard a voice ask him, “What’s your name ranger and what are you doing in the Middle Of Nowhere?”
His hand dropped to his hip and he turned around; no one. He pulled out one of his Peacemakers and looked behind the tattered curtains in front of an elevated stage that was by the far wall behind him; nobody there. He returned to the bar and finished his drink.
“Musta been my imagination,” he said to the naked lady in the carriage over the bar. “Name’s Mike. They call me Ranger Mike. I come lookin’ for Kitty Leroy, one of the best poker players in the West. She also dances; started at the age of ten, they say. I heard she was sittin’ at one of them tables over there,” he said, pointing at the round tables in the corner with six chairs turned upside down on each of them.
“She’s from Michigan. Know where that is? No? Well, neither do I. She worked dance halls and saloons from Chicago to Houston before she supposedly ended up in the Middle Of Nowhere. Along the way, she picked up some other skills, specifically, I heard she’s savvy with a gun and knives. Heard she would shoot apples off her husband’s head. She got restless, I guess, and wanted to take her show on the road, so she headed for Texas and left her husband behind. By the time she was 20, they say she was the most popular entertainer in Dallas, but she gave up dancing to become a faro dealer and was knowed to bring knives and revolvers to the faro tables.”
“What did she do that makes you come lookin’ for her?”
“Killed a man, they say,” the tall Ranger answered as if the voice was coming from someone standing next to him at the bar, but there wasn’t anyone there. The stranger acted like it was as normal as could be, that he would be, talkin’ to a voice coming out of nowhere.
He swung around and looked over the empty bar again, his eyes squinting in the sunlight, slicing through the window.
The Ranger stared at the lady lounging in the horse carriage on the wall and said, “I think I better sit down. This here stuff is going to my head. Ain’t had much to eat but Pecos Strawberries for the past four days. That’s beans in case you don’t know.”
“I know what Pecos Strawberries are, cowboy,” the woman’s voice replied.
The tall Ranger shook his head and said, “This Cactus Wine is hittin’ on an empty plate.” He picked up the bottle and glass and went to the table in front of the stage. He took down a chair and was about to sit down when he heard a woman’s voice ask, “Mind if I join you? We won’t be gettin’ busy for another two hours and I sure am working up a thirst havin’ these two stallions pullin’ me around town. I sent out invitations to all the principal gentlemen of the city, including the tax collector, mayor, aldermen, judges of the county, and members of the legislature. A splendid band of music will be in attendance. I hope you will stay and join us.”
The tall stranger’s jaw dropped as he saw an apparition of a woman in a translucent and silky dress, step out of the picture and float to his table.
“Offer a woman a chair, cowboy?” she said.
“Why, why, yes, yes, of course; here, take mine.” He stood up and pulled out his chair for her and she sat down. “Are we going to share that glass or are you going to get me my own?” she smiled.
“Well, of course, where are the glasses?”
“Behind the bar,” she replied.
The tall Ranger found a dusty glass and was using one of the bar rags to clean it when he saw the figure of a man, walking on air, materialize out of nowhere; a man he knew quite well, another Texas Ranger, William Alexander Anderson Wallace, known as Big Foot Wallace, a rough and tumble frontiersman. They rode together with Captain Jack Hay’s Texas Rangers.
Wallace sat down next to the lady and turned with a far-reaching smile, Cheshire-cat like. Ranger Mike watched him, transfixed, waiting to see if he would speak. At last Big Foot Wallace opened his mouth, but instead of words, he set in motion a stream of thoughts from his mind to the Ranger’s; thoughts of days gone by.
“Crazy? I’m not crazy,” Ranger Mike said. But he couldn’t move his hands. His head was clear, no trace of the “madness” that he could tell; but he couldn’t budge. His back began to hurt from the top of his spine to his tail bone. His mouth was dry and his heart was pounding and felt like it was ready to explode, his eyes scanned left and right for signs of someone or something to make sense of all this.
What sort of hell am I in? I knowed Wallace and he was never one to repeat the same story twice; I was with him in Mexico when we participated in what was knowed as the “Black Bean Incident.” It was a lottery where 159 white and 17 black beans were drawn from a crock to determine which men would be executed. A black bean meant execution; a white bean meant prison. Wallace, always the non-conformist, drew a gray bean. The Mexican Officer in charge determined the bean to be white and Big Foot was spared death. We survived an 800-mile march to Perote prison in the state of Vera Cruz. Once Big Foot Wallace went without water for six days and then drank an entire gallon at once. We attempted to stop him, but he fought us off and collapsed in sleep. We never expected him to awaken but he did, the next day, refreshed and famished for the remainder of the mule meat he had been living on.
The last time I saw him was on Rattlesnake Ridge, outside of Austin. He went South and I went West. I sure as hell didn’t ‘spect ta see him sittin’ here.
“Why are you here, Big Foot? Lookin’ for revenge?”
“No, Ranger Mike, I’m here to see a friend.”
Ranger Mike heard laughter and voices coming from the hotel lobby. A group of “painted ladies” wearing make-up and dyed hair, floated into the bar. They wore brightly colored ruffled skirts that were scandalously short. Under the bell-shaped skirts, their legs were covered with net stockings, held up by garters; their boots were adorned with tassels. Their arms and shoulders were bare, their bodices cut low over their bosoms, and their dresses decorated with sequins and fringe. All were armed with pistols or jeweled daggers concealed in their boot tops or tucked between her breasts, in case they needed to keep boisterous cowboys in line.
One of the ladies with beautiful red hair, twisted into a bun on top of her head and held in place with red and white roses, sat down at the table next to Ranger Mike. She wore a shell pink chiffon gown, complete with sequins and seed pearls, imported from Paris.
“That’s one purty dress, madam,” Big Foot Wallace said.
“Why thank you; I was buried in this gown with much pomp and circumstance, the funeral parade was led by the Elks Band. They played the Death March and were escorted by four mounted policemen. Carriages followed filled with business men, girls from my house, “The Row,” and many miners from the camp. My casket was lavender and covered with red and white roses They buried me at the foot of Mt. Pisgah Cemetery at Cripple Creek Colorado. It was a lovely way to dispatch me.”
“They dispatched me in San Miguel Creek. That’s in Frio County,” Big Foot said. “I lived on prickly pear and red pepper and followed my own cow with a dog for a living and ain’t nobody played the Death March for me and I ain’t much for roses, ‘cept the Yellow Rose of Texas.”
“And what’s your name?” Pearl asked, looking coyly at the tall ranger sitting to her left.
“Folks call me Ranger Mike,” he replied.
“Well Ranger Mike, my name is Pearl de Vere. I come from Cripple Creek Colorado and I come here to have some fun. Wanna dance with me, Ranger Mike?”
Ranger Mike looked up and saw the full orchestra appear on the stage and all the painted ladies were dancing with cowboys. The judges and the mayor of the city, Middle of Nowhere, were also present and dancing. They were all floating across the dance floor while the orchestra played “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.
Big Foot Wallace was smiling and dancing with the lady from the picture over the bar.
Suddenly, the music stopped and everyone on the dance floor turned and looked at the door as five cowboys entered and encircled Big Foot Wallace. The lady he was dancing with faded away and the rest of the dancers shimmered away in a smokey mist. The five cowboys were close to Big Foot in height. They called him names, but then they pushed him and the leader poked him in the chest. Big Foot held it back as long as he could, his veins swelled, he smiled; it didn’t reach his eyes. It appeared he was waiting to explode; then he did.
Big Foot grabbed the hand that poked him and bent it back to the cowboy’s chin while punching him in the stomach at the same time. One cowboy grabbed Big Foot’s left arm. Big Foot whirled and landed a blow solidly on his jaw, right below his eye. He went down. Two of the other three held Big Foot’s arms while another cowboy hit him in the stomach twice. Big Foot kicked the cowboy solidly in the midsection, knocking the breath out of him. He bent over but didn’t fall. When Big Foot kicked the cowboy in the gut, he pushed the others back and they all went down.
Ranger Mike stood up and entered the fray. One of the cowboy’s was on all fours, and Ranger Mike kicked at his chin and landed a hard one on his head. The other cowboy was up and ran at him to tackle him. He stiff-armed the cowboy and pushed him to the ground. While they were regaining their balances, he pulled out his guns. He turned and he saw Big Foot Wallace standing there, smiling.
“Thanks for the hep, pardoner,” Big Foot said, as he held up two of the cowboy’s who were still knocked out.
Ranger Mike nodded and turned and came face to face with the cowboy that he stiff-armed. He had pulled his gun and was pointing it at Ranger Mike’s gut. The cowboy’s eyes were hard-rimmed and fixed like they’d rusted into place. Ranger Mike could not see the whites of his eyes nor the vessels that flowed through them.They contained a greater darkness then any night Ranger Mike had witnessed. His fingers curled tightly around the triggers. He smiled and then he fired. So did the cowboy. The gunshots cracked in the air as loud as thunder. The cowboy dropped to the floor.
Ranger Mike looked at the cowboy lying dead on the floor. There was no spark left in the cowboy’s eye, the blood pool darkened around the stain on his shirt and spread from his stomach to the floor. The cowboy lay as lifeless as a cadaver and just as pallid.
Ranger Mike’s pulse was thready and his hands were shaking so badly, his guns slipped out and landed softly on the body, before falling to the wooden floor. But Ranger Mike was no longer watching the guns. Or even the body. He was watching his own pale hands, covered with scarlet blood, his blood, oozing from the wound in his gut, deep and warm.The pain throbbed. It felt like someone had their hand in there, squeezing his organs as hard as they could. When it waned he could move and he stumbled, when it returned he could only hold still and breathe, breathe slow and deep until it passed. There was no blood anywhere but on his hands and his abdomen which turned purple and lumpy where it should be smooth. Every step felt like a bomb exploding in his innards.
His breathing was ragged, loose hair fell over his features that contorted with pain. Silently he crumbled.
The next thing Ranger Mike saw was Big Foot Wallace bending over him. He wasn’t illusory, or frightening. He was like spectral, ghostlike. His skin was as brown as acorns and his plain black cotton pants were held up with black suspenders and his ranger star was pinned on a stained white undershirt. His beat up hat was pushed back from his face. He held out his hand toward Ranger Mike in a gesture of friendship. “Come along now, Ranger Mike, it is time for us to go. Captain John Coffee Hays needs our help fightin’ that Mexican General, Adrian Woll, down San Antonio way.”
Ranger Mike smiled and nodded. He looked down and saw that his gut was no longer bloodied. The pain he felt had turned to an unpleasant warmth and then disappeared. His body then elevated from the floor and floated out the door with Big Foot Wallace. They mounted their horses and rode south, toward San Antonio, traveling to meet up with Captain Hays and his contingency of Texas Rangers.