Faro Bantry was never close to his old man so he traveled west as far as his finances could take him which wasn't far enough. But if notions had it, anywhere was far enough as long as there no buildings higher than a tent. He found himself in a pile of dust called El Cisco, Texas. Looked around, liked it, and called it home. He had one innate fear, though, that this wasn't a decent place where he could whet his lips with a little joy juice. He didn't blink twice when a swinging door opened and a figure came flying out, head first into the sun drenched, dust manicured street. He landed unceremoniously at Faro's feet.
"Hey, buddy! These shoes. You killed the shine." Faro screamed as onlookers snickered at the fallen, undulating mound of flesh and the figure stomped his feet. It lay there for a moment, pulsating, puking, cursing. Until it got courage enough to apologize. The mound arose on wobbling stilts, wavered slightly and threw out a hand for the dumbfounded Faro to shake as green tinted vomit gushed forth and painted Faro's astonished form.
What the youngster from New York didn't know was that it was a cementation of a friendship that would last until the cows came home. Oh! There was a dog named Chitoh that came with the vomitous evacuation.
"All free," said the salty form laying comfortably on the street. "Names River. River Rapids. Pure bred Choctaw. Mebbe a little sumthin' mixed in. Whuts yours? amigo. Never mind the mutt tryin' to hump yer leg. He does that to everybody he likes" He rolled to one side and blurted officously, "Chitoh, you horney cur. Get down. An' stay down."
Faro gave the Indian a hand to lift him up. He shook himself off, straightened his bolo and mused as he took in Faro's form. Together, the two formed a bond which would last until one or the other was six feet under full of lead. Faro assumed the Indian would go first. The Indian, however was sure a city boy like Faro would be first.
Strangely enough the twosome proved its worth. After Faro's debacle during his drive he made a vow, and cemented it with River, to become a traildrivers aid society.
So the city boy, with a face like cold cream, and an Indian with a sole-hardening core, took it upon himself to deliver some sort of justice to rustlers who were ravaging drovers and causing mayhem on the Chisholm Trail although his first try was mighty brutal. These guys, he found when he took on the task, were decidedly a different breed and needed a different kind of penalty. His horse swiveled nervously as his mind devised a plan. Thunder rolled and the sky darkened, as he called the group he formed together.
"I want Bash, Mariano, Pickles and Breadwinner to mount up and follow me and River and we'll all follow that friggin' mutt. I want the rest of you guys to do me a gigantic favor. I want you to dig eighteen holes like you was gonna bury a Western Union pole in each. Make 'em about six feet deep and spread 'em out over the middle part of the Chisholm trail about twenty yards apart in some kind of random pattern. Got it?"
"Got it," Faro said as S.O.L. and his group rode out of camp. A roundly confused look contorted his face. His sore ankle was throbbing with pain. He, Francisco and Stu got their shovels and went out to the trail and began digging.
The group raced across the barren Chisholm trail to the heavily forested region on its west side, following Chitoh and River. The sky was ominously overcast. Frightening tentacles of lightning sliced through black clouds followed by the deafening roar of thunder. As the group reached the western forest rain began to pelt down, torrential at first but slackening quickly to a gentle drizzle.
Chitoh snaked his way through the high weeds and patches of weathered and aging trees. River's shrill whistles held him in check if he got too far ahead of the riders. The forest became a parade of rolling hills, each one looking like the other. Chitoh alternately ran like the wind then stopped. He poked his black nose in the air to catch a familiar scent.
The riders were about a mile inside the forest. It had stopped raining but it remained cold and damp. Chitioh stopped to shake off the rainwater then he continued, but for just a few steps. He stopped and, like a hunting dog, set his point. He became as still as a statue.
River reined up the men and told them to tie up their mounts. They crept slowly and cautiously toward the pointing Chitoh. River went ahead and was able to crawl toward where Chitoh was pointing. He crawled back shortly. "The opening to the cave is just below that juniper there," he said softly as he pointed to a full blooming tree growing along the side of a hill.
"Sounds like they're all inside. There's about twenty-six horses tethered just outside the opening and two buckboards. We can use them as a shield if gun play starts." River thought for a minute. "But if we sneak up on 'em from above where that juniper is we might be able to get the jump on them." River whispered to Chitoh to back off his point and told him to start grabbin' strange pieces of flesh and tearin' it apart.
"Jest a sec," S.O.L. whispered. "If there's eighteen of 'em and six of us, not countin' the dog, then we got to take three apiece. Should be just about an even fight. I think we should all try to get to the entrance, draw our guns, start shootin' at the ceiling and ram into the cave screamin' our friggin' lungs out. Surprise is a great weapon if you use it right."
"Come on, then. Let's get going before somebody hears us," River said.
They were able to crawl to within six feet of the cave entrance. It was a huge hole at least twelve feet wide and eighteen or twenty feet high. From where they lay they could hear constant chatter coming from inside the cave. It sounded like most were playing cards or gambling of another kind.
S.O.L. whispered so all could hear. "When you hears a loud cheer, run in guns blazin' but at the ceiling. I want them sons-of-bitches all to be alive and healthy. And try to hit some of those icicles hangin' from the ceiling. Maybe we can drop some on them. If, for nothin' else, it'll disrupt them."
He no sooner finished what he was saying then an enormous roar echoed from inside the cave. The six of them were inside in an instant with their guns blasting at the high, dark roof of the cavern. They pounced on two groups of men. Both were near the entrance to take advantage of the light. One group was playing cards, the others were rolling dice.
Several of them got over the initial shock quickly and drew their guns and began firing instantly. Bash went down with a thud. One of the highjackers dropped like a gunny sack, knocked out by a stalactite that hit him directly on the head. It embedded itself in his dome but broke immediately, leaving a piece big enough to look like an arrowhead had struck him. S.O.L. was winged in the shoulder but didn't stop firing until he had the six card players lying face down on the dirt cave floor.
Mariano cornered four between an outcropping of rocks and they fired back and forth. When they were convinced that Mariano wasn't kidding, they came out of their corner with their hands high in the air. Pickles, who said later that he didn't want to waste good bullets on bad asses, walked right up to one after another and knocked them cold with the butt of his gun or by simply knocking their brains cockeyed with a right cross to the chin.
When the last three saw that they were sorely outnumbered, they threw up their hands and gave up. S.O.L. raced to the fallen Bash. He knelt down over him and turned him face up. His shirt was a mass of blood. He had been hit squarely in the heart and died instantly.
S.O.L. received a painful and bloody bruise on his arm from a bullet that just winged him. Mariano and Pickles were untouched. But Amos Breadwinner ate two slugs, one tore a hole in his forearm, the other caught him squarely where the sun don't shine. It took Mariano several minutes for him to extract the slug from the kid's hairy ass with his pocket knife.
River got himself cornered by two of the desperados but Chitoh came quickly to his rescue by tearing one's nose off his face and sinking his teeth deep into the other's shooting hand.
In all, the skirmish lasted just over a minute. S.O.L.'s element of surprise played an enormous factor in the speed of the action. When the smoke cleared S.O.L. ordered the desperados to stand, facing him, against a cave wall.
"Amigos," he said with as lustful a sneer as he could muster. "You finally met your master. That's me. These guys are just helpin' me do the dirty work. But they love killin' much as I do." He smiled again, walking slowly up and down, nose to nose, with his shaking prisoners. "Know who I am? My name's S.O.L Boyd. You know what S.O.L. stands for?" One of the desperados shook his head in wonderment. "S.O.L. means shit outta luck. That's what you guys are. Shit outta luck. An', gee whiz, today ain't gonna wind up bein' yer lucky day."
His tone changed dramatically. "Which one of you shot our man in that cottonwood?" No one answered. "Which one of you shot our man in that cottonwood?" He shouted louder and more authoritatively. No one answered.
River and the rest stood in back of S.O.L. and let him do the talking but each was itching to cut every one of their captives in bite sized pieces for Chitoh who would have been just as happy to have eaten each of them whole.
"Well," S.O.L. snorted like he was breathing fire. "Our man didn't shoot himself. If none of you is gonna confess, you're all gonna have to pay the price." Still none answered. "Everyone of you, you greasy, no good fuckers!!" He shouted at the top of his lungs and kicked one of his captives as hard as he could in his balls, doubling him over in pain. "That means all of you if you can't understand my English. Take everything out of your pockets and put it on the ground in front of you. Everything, I said!" They followed his order. "Pickles, put all that shit in this here saddlebag. " Now take off every stitch of your clothes. You're not gonna need 'em any more."
Several began to undress. When one didn't, S.O.L. shot him in the stomach, making sure the shot was not fatal. He undressed faster than the rest. "Put all your clothes in a pile in back of you. Kiss 'em goodbye." He noticed that one of the captives had kept his boots on. S.O.L. shoved his pistol into the man's quivering mouth. "I thought I said for you to take yer boots off didn't I?" With his pistol still stuffed into his mouth the man was able to nod. "Well, then, please, sir, will you kindly take yer boots off." The man struggled to get his boot off. When he did, S.O.L. shot his big toe off. "Now you can kindly put yer boot back on. I don't want this place bloodied up too much."
"Mariano, I wish you and Pickles would wrangle all the horses and hitch up a team to one of these buckboards so that we can take Bash back to bury him. I sure do appreciate it."
"O.K., let's mount up. We're gonna follow River," He winked at the smiling Indian. "And have a nice walk back to our camp."
One of the captives yelled, "Hey, you don't mean we're gonna have to walk all that way. I ain't gonna do it." He sat down. S.O.L. shot him right through his left hand that he had raised in protest. He got up instantly and slid into line.
With Faro supervising, the boys had dug all the post holes S.O.L. had asked for. The rain had made the prairie as soft as butter so digging was a snap even for even a crippled Faro. One of the digging crew looked across the vast open trail and suddenly saw the ludicrous sight emerging from the forest. For the moment it was laughable.
S.O.L. came riding ahead and faced Faro. "Well, look what we found." He said. "But we lost poor Bash in the battle. I feel so bad about that, almost as bad as I did when poor little Jed got it."
"I'm sorry, Mister Boyd," Faro said. "Real sorry about Bash. He was a good cowhand and a right bright kid." He leaned on his shovel. "We got all your post holes dug. What in hell are you going to do with them?"
"Just watch." He turned around to Stu and Francisco, "I want you to take each one of these decrepit mother-sucking sons-of-a-bitchin' bastards and drop him, facing south, into each of the post holes right up to his mother-sucking neck. Then fill the hole with dirt so only his mother-sucking head is showing."
"Dio mio," Calderone said. "Such a cruel way to die." But he and Stu did what they were told.
""Now, my friends, all the fun you had is over. Remember all that pogey you had stashed? It's gonna be a gift from you to us, how's that? Pray that the cows do a good quick job on you because there are about ten herds coming right behind the one that's just down the hill."
They were all stricken with fright but made no resistance. When the boys were finished burying them they all strode about fifty yards away. S.O.L. laughed a hearty laugh.
"I wish poor Bash could see this," he said. They looked like grave stones in some long-ago abandoned cemetery, all knowing that soon they would be meeting their maker. Some were screaming for their life. Others just stared at the great red plume they could see in the distance that would soon descend upon them. Before the next moon the herd of over five thousand cows would have stomped their heads like a hammer would do to a watermelon.
S.O.L. called the group together. "In that cave is more money and other valuable shit that any cowboy would give his erection for, 'sept maybe Pickles. It's all yours. Go and get it. We'll wait for the herd to come through and ride along with them jest to spread the good news that their problems is over. Faro, I sure hope I meet up with you and River again. We made a great team. Take all those horses, saddles and wagons, start yerselves a business. Guys, listen up. Between you and us, none with hardly a brain in his head, rightly saved this little piece of the west. And what would we have done without little Jed?" he paused to wipe a tear from his eye and to clear his throat.
"Gosh, S.O.L., you and that God blasted cur, Chitoh, were a salvation to the Chisholm trail. You're the one who deserves all the credit." Faro said, loud enough for all to hear. "And, by the way, all that booty is yours. You go take it. River and I are doing just fine the way we are," Faro said to S.O.L.
'Just a friggin' minute, white man. You might be doing just fine but what about your cerise tinted brother. I ain't got a sink hole to piss in," River sobbed falsely.
"You whiney little crybaby. Try to think beyond that hook you got for a nose. Then come complaining to me," Faro laughed. The others began to jostle River jokingly.
"If that's the way you want it, that's alright with me. These boys sure deserve it. We'll hit the cave on our way up the road to Blackwater. But you should still keep the horses and buckboards to carry all those good saddles in. They'll bide you well some day." S.O.L. said solemnly.
Stu chimed in," I'll tag along with S.O.L. if you don't mind. Faro, Riv, hope you don't mind if I leave you two here all alone," he said apologetically.
"Ah, gee. I didn't wanna hear that Stu. You made up a great part of our little team. Riv and I will really miss you and don't forget where we live. Paramour. Got that?" Faro stammered as he spoke. We sure enjoyed having you with us even though you were a low-life Brooklynite. Both laughed and hugged each other.
"I sure hope so," Stu answered. "Then you can tell me again about steps one through four."
"You horny piece of condemned matzos," Faro said. "I love every bone in your kosher body, including the one you can't get up any more."
"What the shit do you mean, I can't get it up any more. My sheer Kosher Hebrew will shall make it rise to ever greater heights. And if Miriam is around, forget it."
"Stu, you could change the rotation of the moon and I would believe you. Adios, amigo. If there was one more Stu Mulligan on the earth the world would be twice as great a place as it is now." Stu put his arms around Faro and then River. They wept unabashed. Stu refused to say goodbye. He just mounted his big, mud splattered roan mare and rode north in a quick gallop. He stopped and turned when he was about two miles away, took off his Stetson and waved it high in the air.
"Sometime the world is the cruelest friggin' place that ever was," River spat out as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Cruel just ain't a good enough word, I'm afraid, River. After all that fussin', look, it's just you, me and that blasted cur." Faro clasped River's hand and held it tightly. He stared as long as he could still see Stu. When he disappeared over the horizon, he turned to S.O.L. and the boys.
"We'll be pullin' out shortly, Faro. We'll jest clean up the mess we made in camp. We can wait for the herd out here on the edge of the trail. I kinda wanna see how this little show turns out. If it works, I can use it again. There's a gang of bad men doin' the same kind of highjackin' on the Western trail. Reckon I can have an encore." S.O.L. leaned down off his saddle and shook Faro's hand roundly. River gave him a cuff on the arm. Both smiled broadly. Their eyes were riveted to each other.
"Maybe Bash would like to be buried close to the trail," S.O.L. said. "How about under that spread-eagled mesquite over there?"
Mariano, Calderone and River cleared a large space and began digging. When they decided the grave was deep enough, River got the buckboard with Bash's body in it and road it to the grave. They covered Bash with his yellow slicker and lowered him down. S.O.L. covered him with dirt.
"Well, Faro, we're gonna make some kind of a preacher outta you. How 'bout a prayer fer good old Elvin. He was the first kid I met on this blasted trail. He had good blood and a great shootin' eye."
Faro removed his hat. "Here we are again, Lord, almost too soon. But life plays painful tricks on us poor drovers. Here's Bash. Now he's in your hands. Could you please take him up to where Jed is so he can teach the kid how to shoot? We thank you, dear Lord, for everything good you do for us. Keep us all close to you. We're not a mean bunch. We're just plain drovers." He cleared his throat. "Amen."
"Thanks, Chum," S.O.L. spun his mount around. The other boys sputtered their goodbyes and followed S.O.L. to the edge of the trail. The highwaymen were still screaming and shouting although two or three of them looked dead. "What a shame," S.O.L. said to himself. "They got the easy ride home."
Faro and River rode the short way to their camp with their heads hung into their chests. Even Chitoh appeared in low spirits. The rain that had pelted down through the early part of the day had dampened the forest so that there was a sweet smell of freshness about it. Neither Faro nor River cared.
River lit a fire. It was not a good fire but River didn't give a rat's ass. He hunched over on a fallen log and watched it as it threw red sparks into the forest night. Faro, too, sat low in a clump of dirty blankets, almost as though he was about to meet the hangman's noose.
Suddenly he leaped up out of his lethargy and ran to his saddlebag. He pulled out a bottle of dubious character. It was full and had a pale yellow tint.
"River, you asinine, imbecilic excuse for a decent human being, it would be my distinct pleasure if you would join me for a drink of this thirty-day-old rotgut."
River, ever the adventurer accepted. From that moment both he and Faro got drunk to the gills, alternately swilling and puking until the bottle was empty and so was their innards. They finally fell asleep. River snored Choctaw music. Faro dreamed.