They waited there in the shade of that clump of cottonwoods by the creek that already in June was an outline or mere memory of a stream, now no more than a foot wide of shallow brown water, waited there, horses sniffing at the air and looking for grass worth eating. They were: Anson, because the Major had told him it was his duty because Callie, the major's daughter, was his niece, but more importantly his sister's daughter, the sister now gone for nearly fifteen years; the Major's foreman Jack Crawford, and four riders from the Major's spread, all of them carrying carbines. Parks, the tracker, had marked the trail they had followed for the last three days.
Now Anson pointed across the bare ground to the slope of the foothills. "That's him . . . there coming between the rocks. See him? He's leading two horses."
"Yeah," Crawford said. "It's Parks and something's on one of those horses."
"Looks like a body, Jack."
"Maybe. Yep. It better not be her."
"You don't think he'd do that?"
"Not Parks, not a girl, but . . . "
"Course not Parks, but not Miguel either. Hell, why would he do that?"
Crawford grunted, then: "Damn Mex crazy enough to do anything. Had to be crazy to pull that stunt—the Major's daughter."
"He's not much more'n a kid. I seen him dance that fandango this spring with different girls. One was the major's wife."
"Careful, Anse, don't say that too loud. Besides, it's just talk."
"All right, but you know yourself how she is and what she was before, and she's not much older than Callie."
Anson meant the Major's second wife, Lucy, the one the Major brought from St. Louis. She was young and pretty with long yellow hair and laughed a lot and liked parties. She made everything lively and she sang songs as she walked around, almost dancing from room to room and across the veranda. She was nothing like the first wife, Anson's sister, who was small, dark eyed with dark black hair and as quiet and soft as early morning.
Callie, the daughter, didn't like Lucy much. And it was Callie who'd run off with Miguel. She was missing at breakfast and nowhere around the ranch nor in town. It wasn't until that evening and after the Major twisted her arm that Maria, the cook, said Callie had gone with Miguel. The Major had Crawford whip Ramon, Miguel's father, put the man on a horse, slap its rump, and send him into the night. The next day he hired Parks to track the pair and bring back his daughter. By noon he sent Crawford, Anson, and the others to follow Parks. "You make sure my daughter comes back," the Major said. "And you make damn sure you bring me that bastard. He'll dance a fandango at the end of a rope."
The three horses—one carrying the tall hard man, one trailing easily behind, and one with a body—seemed to float dream-like in the bright sun. As they got closer, they could make out the body slung over the saddle, trousered legs bouncing some on one side and long black hair swinging on the other side.
"It's the girl," Anson said.
"Damn," Crawford said and rode out and after a moment everyone followed.
Parks stopped and waited, his hat tipped back and that hard stone look on his face.
Crawford jumped down from the saddle and ran to the body as he yelled, "You son of a bitch!"
Anson saw Crawford lift the girl's head and look over at Parks. "What the hell?" A red bandana was tied across the girl's mouth.
Parks said, "I got tired of her sass right quick. I don't plan to listen to her run off at the mouth for the next forty miles."
"Why'd you tie her hands and flop her over the saddle?"
"That way she's more pleasant and easier to handle."
"Becker," Crawford called, "Come here and help me put her right."
One of the riders dismounted and helped lift Callie and set her in the saddle. Crawford removed the bandana. Immediately, Callie let loose a string of curses straight at Parks. Than she told Crawford, "Cut these ropes." Crawford took out a knife and cut the ropes. "My horse, too, and give me the reins. Now shoot that bastard."
"Callie," I can't do that."
"Why not? I told you to. You do it or I'll have the Major whip your ass. I mean it."
Parks said, "I told you, Crawford. Better put the bandana back on. Here, toss it to me."
Callie yelled, "You're all bastards!" She kicked her horse in the ribs and headed toward the cottonwoods.
Crawford shook his head. "Always was like that."
Parks tied the bandana around his neck. "I'm not surprised."
Anson asked, "What about Miguel? You kill him."
"The kid? No need to. He don't have a weapon. He said she made him do it. Promised to give him some of what he wanted if he'd take her to Denver."
Parks shrugged. "I guess any place away from home would do. I left him the horse carrying the water and grub."
"Why didn't you grab him too?"
"I'm being paid for the girl, not him. You want him, then come up with more gold eagles."
Crawford said, "The Major wants him. Me and Becker and the others will chase him down. Anse, you go with Parks and get Callie home. We'll catch up with you." Then to Parks: "Which way is he headed?"
"I suppose that'd cost a gold eagle too?" Crawford said.
Parks didn't answer and started to the cottonwoods. Anson nodded to Crawford and then followed.
* * *
Callie, silent and sour-faced, rode ahead of Anson and Parks. No one spoke for nearly. an hour, then Parks asked, "I've been thinking—the Major, why does everyone call him that?"
"He was a major in the war. He was with Baylor at Mesilla in sixty-one."
"You with him?"
"Hell, no. I'm from Kansas, family's from Ohio. I only know him because of my sister. I come down in April from Wyoming to sell a string of horses to the Major and just stayed on, then this happened."
Parks was quiet, clearly going over something in his mind.
"He a slaver?"
"Changed to Mexicans now?"
Anson laughed. "I guess so, when you think of it."
"The kid, the Mexican, you know him?"
"Not well. Seems nice enough but maybe too much female on his mind."
"Comes with the age and the territory. The Major plan to hang him?"
Anson gave Parks a close look. "I reckon so. What are you getting at?"
"Nothing much," Parks said, then rode up to Callie and slapped her horse's rump. "Get going, girl, we aim to get you home quick. I got gold eagles waiting for me."
For the rest of the day and into the evening Parks pushed the girl to keep going. She complained and cursed and refused to go on, but Parks said he'd tie her to the back of the horse, and, besides, there were Indian signs.
She looked at Anson for help, but he only said, "He's right. Best we keep going." He wasn't sure why Parks was in such a hurry, but the sooner this was finished, the better.
They took a break at a small ravine, cottonwoods growing thick on one side, that had a shallow stream of clear water coming down from the hills, then went on, walking once in a while to ease the horses. The girl fell asleep in the saddle and Anson rode next to her to be certain she didn't fall off. The next day, just as the sun was setting behind them, they rode under the arch of "The Southern Star."
The Major jumped up from his chair on the veranda and stood there staring at them. His young wife slowly rose from her chair and said something to the Mexican woman servant holding the tray with the water pitcher, the bottle of whiskey, and two glasses.
Callie slipped off her horse and ran to the Major. She cried, "Daddy, he made me go and . . . and . . . he raped me."
"God damn! God damn bastard!"
The wife opened her arms and Callie ran to her. Callie sobbed and the Major stomped the wood floor. He turned to Parks and Anson, still mounted. "Where is he? Where?"
Anson said, "Crawford and the others are getting him."
The Major glared at Parks. "I sent you after him."
"You paid me to bring your daughter back. That's what I did. You owe ten eagles for that."
"I meant him too. I want that damn Mex bastard too."
Parks shrugged. "There's your daughter. Now I want my money."
"Parks, you're a damn no good son of a bitch."
"I won't argue that. Just pay me and I'll be on my way."
Anson said, "Crawford should be along in a day or two."
"If he catches the kid. He took off with a fresh horse and water and grub. Won't be easy to track in those hills," Parks said.
"Damn it," the Major shouted.
"Of course," Parks said, "pay me another ten eagles and I'll get him. I seen which way he went."
"You damn son of a bitch!"
"Up to you. Otherwise, pay me for the girl and I'm gone."
"I'll have your sorry ass horse whipped."
"You can try . . . and you just might live to tell about it."
The Major thought about that. "You bastard. All right, but not ten—maybe five."
"Well, the ten for your daughter and three now, in advance, for the kid. I will take that, although it's not enough. And fresh mounts, two plus one for me."
The Major cursed but nodded. Then he pointed to Anson. "He goes with you. I don't trust you as far as I can throw you."
Parks said, "I'll be gone before the sun drops below the horizon."
* * *
They rode toward a sky of pink, green, and yellow. Parks led the two spare horses, one carrying canteens of water. Anson rode up next to Parks and said, "You didn't think he'd send me along, did you."
"So what are you planning to do with me?"
Parks glanced at him. "I suppose you're not as dumb as the others."
"Maybe yes, maybe no. It took me a while to catch on. You figure Miguel don't deserve to hang and you got no use for the Major . . . or the girl."
"Now you have to figure what to do with me. I don't see you killing me, so it'll be tying me up and leaving me someplace along the trail."
"Yes, I considered that, but . . . "
"It would be easier with two of us."
"You want me to help you?"
"Of course, it would put you in bad with the Major."
Anson laughed. "It sure as hell would." He thought a second or two, then said, "You know, I don't give a damn about him."
"Good. Now we'll take two hours or so rest soon as it gets good and dark before we go on. I figure it had to take Crawford and that bunch most of the day, if not more, to catch the kid. I told him to head into the hills. So they won't get to the water at the ravine before tomorrow night. We can wait there. I got an idea that might work."
"Anything to do with Indian signs?"
"Could be Apaches here abouts."
* * *
It was night when Crawford and his crew reached the ravine. Both men and horses rushed to the stream. Crawford said, "We'll spend the night here. Becker tie Miguel to a tree."
"What do you think? With a rope."
"I mean which way."
"Hell, put his arms around it. Let him hug a tree for a night, rather than a young girl."
They removed saddles and tied the horses to a line stretched between two trees. Then, after eating cold canned beans, tired, they stretched out on the ground.
Parks waited over an hour before slipping between the trees and cutting Miguel loose. He whispered, "Quiet, kid. Stick next to me." He went by the horses and cut the line to set them free. He said to Miguel: "Keep going that way. Someone's waiting for you with a horse."
Miguel mumbled something. Parks pushed him. "Get going."
Miguel moved off and Parks waited. He heard the kid stumble a few times, then it was quiet. Suddenly he slapped the rumps of two horses and shouted a loud warbling Indian-like whoop. The horses ran between the trees, down the slope to the water, and raced away along the stream.
Crawford and his men jumped awake and someone shouted, "The horses! The horses!"
Parks ran to the edge of the trees, on the side toward the hills. Anson was there with Miguel. Parks said, "Fire a couple shots so they know we're serious."
Anson took out his carbine and sent a few rounds high into the trees. Then all three turned their horses and raced toward the hills rising to the dark outline of the mountains against the midnight sky.
* * *
The next morning Parks was awake at dawn. He shook Miguel, wrapped in a blanket, and said, "Time to get up, kid. You got to get out of here. You understand?"
Anson said, "Miguel, the Major was going to hang you."
"He sure as hell was. Callie said you raped her."
"No, no, I didn't. She said we'd marry in Denver. We couldn't do it before that."
Parks said, "Listen, you get on your horse and take a canteen and head west. You go west for twenty miles or so then—"
"All right, ride until tomorrow. Then cut south. In the morning the sun will be behind you, so turn left."
"I know north and south."
"Good. Keep going until you cross the border."
Anson said, "Find yourself a girl that does the fandango."
"Yes," Parks said, "should be plenty of senoritas who like to dance."
When Miguel was mounted, Anson shook his hand and wished him luck. Then Parks gave him two gold eagles and said, "A gift from the Major."
Miguel didn't understand.
Anson said, "A joke. It was money paid to capture you."
Miguel smiled and rode away.
As they watched him go, Anson said, "The Major paid you three, not two."
"Yeah, but I need to get something out of it."
"So where are you headed?"
"Not sure. What about you?"
"Well," Anson said, "not back to the Major. Most likely, I'll wind my way back to Wyoming. Maybe go into raising horses."
Parks indicated the spare horse he'd got. "Start with that one—another gift from the Major."
Anson smiled, nodded, and walked toward the horse.
"You know," Parks said, "I think I'll go aways with you before I turn off."
"Fine with me. You decided where you're going?"
"Yep," and he smiled, "Denver."