They reined in their animals and Shoots Plenty scanned the area looking for a comfortable and protected place to camp.
“Wasichus, I do not wish to sleep here.”
“Why not, you old squaw?”
“You see that bird with the horns?” Sleeps Plenty asked, pointing to a large pine tree to the west of where they stopped where a bird perched near the top.
“Yes, it looks like an owl.”
“It is a Screech Owl. They are the most dangerous of owls. My people believe that not all Screech Owls are real birds. Some are a transformed witch, an unquiet spirit of the dead that practices bad medicine. Only the Peju ‘ta, or holy people have the special knowledge to tell them apart. It is at the time of our sleep that we are vulnerable to spirit forces. We must not camp here. We go higher up the mountain beyond the bad medicine of this bad spirit.”
“Gray Wolf told me the Lakota Sioux view the owl as a symbol of hope and power and wisdom,” Esben responded.
“That is so, mi lita cola, but not all owls are such. Many Peju ‘ta wear owl feathers and get their power from dreams at night such as clear dreams like the owl’s sight. They promise never to harm the owl. I do not know a real owl from a transformed witch that has shape-shifted into an owl. That is why for our safety that we avoid all owls and go higher up this mountain.”
The next morning they rode slowly into town
It was as they were preparing to dismount that Sybil Cortez, who owned the crib where Carmen worked, came running into the street, grabbing the side of Shoots Plenty’s saddle.
“Something terrible has happened,” Sybil said. The older woman’s features were tear streaked and strained and her hands were shaking.
“Bad men came and they have kidnapped Carmen. They are angry because you killed their friend and because Carmen has an Indian man. They said they were going to teach her better.”
Shoots Plenty closed his eyes, wishing this had not happened when he felt someone shaking his shoulder. He opened his eyes and was staring into Sibyl’s pale blue eyes.
“They told me to give you this,” she said, handing him what was left of the dream catcher he had given to Carmen a short time before.
Shoots Plenty turned his horse, giving it a sharp kick and headed out of town at a gallop with Esben on his one-eyed mule desperately trying to keep up. A light rain began to fall as they disappeared over the horizon.
Shoots Plenty figured the best place to start looking for Carmen was to the north into the wasteland of the Texas panhandle. It was home to many of the outlaws and cattle rustlers who roamed the Arizona and New Mexico Territories as well as Texas, stealing cattle and killing innocent people, Mexicans, Americanos, and Indians alike. Why did they take Carmen? Was it to teach her a lesson for being with an Indian, or was it more? Were they after him because he shot their friend, that cowboy from Austin, and they knew Shoots Plenty would go after her, to find her and bring her back?
He was considering that question when they reached the rocks. They halted there, listening and thinking.
“One thing is certain, Shoots Plenty, we must find Carmen quickly. A pretty girl like Carmen in the hands of several outlaws like them would be in for a time of horror.”
Shoots Plenty nodded in acknowledgment and squeezed his horse into a trot.
They turned onto the flat and again halted to search the country for a sign of the outlaw camp.
Rain was beginning to fall again, this time in large and scattered drops. Ignoring it, the two men continued, scanning a dark band of trees that extended along the trail, hoping to see a fire glow somewhere in the thickening gloom. They saw nothing and by now Shoots Plenty was sure that taking the girl for their own pleasure wasn’t all they had in mind. They wanted him and Esben too. They knew that the two bounty hunters would follow.
They started their animals, walking slowly, along the edge of the grove. They drew their Colt’s and kept in the shadows as much as possible although the rain-filled darkness was more than enough to mask their presence. The moon was hidden behind a mix of clouds again and there were no intermittent surges of light as there had been earlier. The shower ceased for a brief time and then began again.
Far to the northwest lightening split the sky and thunder rolled ominously.
“It looks like a storm is raging in the mountains. Let’s hope that it stays to the west of us,” Esben said.
They moved on.
Abruptly, Shoots Plenty drew his big Appaloosa to a stop. Not far ahead, to the right of the grove, he caught sight of the glow of a fire. It was very faint, but it was there. He motioned for Esben to follow him as he cut back into the trees.
His mind was attempting to ingest what was happening and it was happening too fast. His heart began to pound and his whole body quivered with fatigue from riding all day but he continued to push on. He had to or Carmen would be hurt, or worse, killed.
He studied the situation. He knew they would have to make a move that in no way would endanger Carmen.
There were three men in the vicinity of the fire. Carmen was with the younger of the three outlaws. He appeared to be talking to her.
They picketed their mounts to an oak bush and circled the camp, coming to a halt when they reached a point almost directly opposite to where they had been. Carmen was now out of their line of fire as well as that of the outlaws, and they were in a position to cover the three men with no problem.
“Hello, my friends,” Esben yelled.
The two older outlaws came to their feet. The one engaged in talking to Carmen also rose and stood, facing the direction of the call.
Their hands reached down to the guns at their sides.
“Damn you, Nate, slice the girl.”
Nate lifted a large knife and swung it at Carmen’s neck.
Shoots Plenty opened up with his Henry Repeater. The rounds struck the young man closest to Carmen in the chest. An almost perfect shot pattern. While he was falling to his knees, Carmen started to scream and fell to her knees as well.
Esben unleashed a volley of shots fired directly at the other two outlaws. Shoots Plenty quickly followed. Both men fell to the ground. They looked more like raw shredded meat then the men they were only moments before.
Shoots Plenty ran over to Carmen. Her shirt was soaked in blood. Her blood. As he took her in his arms she looked up at him and smiled before she closed her eyes for the last time.
Shoots Plenty held Carmen’s body close to him.
“It is that Screech Owl. It was bad medicine for Carmen. The bad spirit was trying to tell Shoots Plenty.”
Esben saw the pain in Shoots Plenty’s face and noticed that his eyes began to tear up.
“Go ahead, you can cry, there is nobody around to hear you.”
“But I would hear,” he replied and he began singing a Lakota death chant.
They rode alone into town the next morning with Carmen’s body lying across Shoots Plenty’s saddle.
“Do you know what Carmen told me?”
“No, what did she tell you?”
“She said the white eyes now come to your cattle towns and they buy prairie dogs to take back to the East and keep with them in their boxes, that they call houses. They play with them and call them pets. Prairie dogs are the only animal left that your people have not been able to take from our lands. Perhaps we should stop this hunting of bad men and sell prairie dogs It would be safer. If they didn’t taste so bad, my people would eat them. Your one-eyed mule would taste better, Wasichus. We should eat him.”
Shoots Plenty pointed toward the sky about where a great eagle, with his headdress of white, flew. “Look at him, Wasichus. “Eagles are good medicine birds with magical powers. He is waiting for Carmen to fly away with him. Or, perhaps he is making sure the white eyes have not killed all the prairie dogs. Do you know why I wear this eagle feather in my hat?”
“To give you magical powers?”
“That and because in a talking circle the person holding the Eagle Feather is the only person who can speak.”